Corpus Christi, the Feast of Who We Are

David Oatney Catechism, New Evangelization, Prayer, Priesthood, Vocations, Year of Faith

expositionToday is the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, which is often referred to by its Latin term, Corpus Christi. Many Catholics tend to overlook today’s feast, coming as it does two weeks after the Easter Season. In my own mind, however, today’s feast is perhaps one of the most important of the Church year, because it is the day that is singularly devoted to the celebration of the most important Sacrament that the Church has been given by Christ: The Holy Eucharist. In the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus left us not only a sacred action by which to remember him, but his very Body and Blood (cf. John 6:32-71) Indeed, the Feast of Corpus Christi is intimately connected with Holy Thursday for this reason, and the feast has been transferred from Thursday to Sunday in many countries in order that the faithful may be better disposed to celebrate it.

Blessed Pope John Paul II called the Eucharist “the source and summit of the Christian Life,” which means that the Eucharist is literally the source of all that we are, since it is Jesus himself, and it is the summit of our being as believers. The Eucharist defines us as a people-as God’s People. Pope Francis has recently elaborated on that truth even further, saying that “Jesus speaks in silence in the mystery of the Eucharist and each time reminds us that following him means to come out of ourselves and not make our life our possession, but a gift to him and to others.”

One of the ministries that I have been most personally involved in at our parish over the years is to serve on our RCIA team, and this year I had the privilege during Lent to teach the class on the Sacrament of the Eucharist, which I have also done in the past. One of the things that I always point out to the catechumens and candidates is that the Eucharist is so critical to our identity as Catholic Christians that the Church would not exist without it. It was instituted by Jesus at the as a gift to us of his very self, and that with no Eucharist there is no need for priests to consecrate it, deacons to serve as ordinary ministers of it, there is no need for bishops to oversee that the Eucharist is being regularly and frequently offered to the faithful. There is no need to come to Mass without the Eucharist, because the very reason we go to Mass is to receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In fact, there is no Mass at all without a consecration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist has been so critical to Christian identity that the earliest scriptural mention of it (in terms of the date of authorship) comes to us from St. Paul the Apostle, who is warning the Corinthians not to profane the Blessed Sacrament, because to do so means that the one who does brings God’s judgment on themselves. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:23-29 that he received the Eucharist from the Lord, and he hands it on “to you.”

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself.

At every Mass, the priest prays in this way with his hands extended over the gifts, before he says the words of institution (for this post I am using Eucharistic Prayer I, called the Roman Canon):

Be pleased, O God, we pray,
to bless, acknowledge,
and approve this offering in every respect;
make it spiritual and acceptable,
so that it may become for us
the Body and Blood of your most beloved Son,
our Lord Jesus Christ.

He then says the very words of institution recorded in the Gospels that Jesus said on the night of the Last Supper, the very Rite that Paul was describing to the Corinthians that he received “from the Lord.”

Jesus gave us the Eucharist-his own Body, his flesh. Without the Body of Christ, there is no Body of Christ. We become what we receive. We are what we eat.

Earlier today, Pope Francis had a Holy Hour, a roughly hour-long service of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction, and he asked Catholics around the world to join him. Our parish had our Holy Hour after the 11:30 am Mass today. It was truly a blessing to be able to spend this time with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in a time of solemn worship and prayer. It is my personal opinion that these Sunday afternoon Eucharistic Exposition and Benedictions should become regular habit. There is nothing like praying before Jesus in the Eucharist…you aren’t just there with him spiritually, he is there with us physically in the Blessed Sacrament as we take our prayers to him. It is a time to reflect on the source and summit of the Christian life.

This is a beautiful Latin rendition of my favorite Eucharistic hymn, and I have included a rough translation below:

Sing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.

On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.

Down in adoration falling,
This great Sacrament we hail,
Over ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.

To the everlasting Father,
And the Son who made us free
And the Spirit, God proceeding
From them Each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
Amen.