The Holy Eucharist, recently celebrated on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ also known as the feast of Corpus Christi, is the source and summit of our Catholic faith all year round. The primary focus of this feast is to focus our attention on the Eucharist and Christ’s presence in the Church.
St. Thomas Aquinas, the poet of Corpus Christi, said, “He shed his blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin. But to ensure that the memory of so great a gift would abide with us forever, he left his body as food and his blood as drink for the faithful to consume in the form of bread and wine.”
Feast of Corpus Christi
Since the year 1264 when Pope Urban IV introduced Sollemnitas Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi – the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Catholic Church has celebrated the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ with a solemn procession. This celebration takes place on the second Thursday after Pentecost. This celebration recognizes the abiding presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
On Maundy Thursday we celebrate the institution of the Eucharist when Our Lord celebrated the first Mass and the institution of the priesthood. However, the main focus of the Holy Week being the Redemption, it was fitting to have a feast dedicated only to the mystery of love which could be celebrated with great joy.
A Biblical Take
At every Holy Mass, the Church fulfills the mandate of Christ, who on the evening before his death instituted the Holy Eucharist and commissioned his disciples: “Do this in remembrance of me.” (1 Corinthians 11:24) In doing so, the Church takes literally the words that Christ spoke over bread and wine: “This is my body… this is my blood.” (Mark 14:22-24)
This faith in the literal presence of Christ in the transformed gifts of bread and wine (transubstantiation) has become ever stronger in the history of the Church, so that the Council of Trent (1545-1563) solemnly defined that in the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist “the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ, are truly, truly and substantially contained.”
On Corpus Christi, the whole Church publicly confesses Christ’s provocative words: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” (John 6:51) In the transformed bread, the world sees the beginning of a transformation that has already begun and will one day encompass all that has been created, for we are expecting a “new heaven and a new earth.” (Revelation 21:1).
All for Show?
The feast of Corpus Christi opens the view on two very beautiful realities that draw us deeper than just the visual realities of the Eucharist:
- In the midst of the absence of love and hope, in the midst of the great silence about God, people become visible to whom something is extremely precious. It seems that there is something that is worth any price, but that money cannot buy. It also becomes visible that man is never greater than when he freely and devoutly kneels down before God.
- People carry Jesus onto the street with gratitude and rejoicing. For he does not belong to the church. Jesus has come to redeem the world. For this he has spent himself on the cross. We all learn anew that Jesus took bread and wine to offer in them to God all of creation, transformed. For we, too, are transformed and redeemed by Jesus, and so from the depths of our hearts we can be grateful and tell God this in a variety of ways.
Procession of Corpus Christi
The feast of Corpus Christi is one of five occasions in the year on which a diocesan bishop is not to be away from his diocese unless for a grave and urgent reason.
By tradition, Catholics take part in a procession through the streets of a neighborhood near their parish following mass and pray and sing. The Blessed Sacrament is placed in a monstrance and is held aloft by a member of the clergy during the procession. After the procession, parishioners return to the church where Benediction takes place.
For more information on these and other important events in your local Catholic community, visit thestationofthecross.com.