THEME: MAY CHRIST’S SACRAMENT OF LOVE INSPIRE US TO LOVE
On this day, the Holy Mother Church celebrates the solemn feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ). Today we celebrate the real presence of Christ among us, his people, in the form of bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. We celebrate in today’s Solemnity, Christ’s self-giving in love manifested in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist which is the source and summit of our Christian life; and of our life together in the Church. Also, we celebrate, as it were, the Eucharistic Sacrifice of the Mass.
The purpose of the establishment of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi is for us to appreciate and adore God as a community for his gift of Christ’s abiding presence among us in the Eucharist, and to honour and profess our faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. Although the institution of the Holy Eucharist is celebrated on Holy Thursday (though, with divided emphasis on the passion of Christ too, given the mood of the day’s liturgy), the Church deems it proper to celebrate this Most Holy Sacrament in a special way on another day known as Corpus Christi. This is to emphasize the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.
An aspect of the celebration of this doctrinal feast is conducting a solemn procession along the streets with the Blessed Eucharist, with the intention of publicly acknowledging and proclaiming our strong faith in the real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist which appears in the forms of bread and wine.
Without going into details, it suffices to state here that the Solemnity of Corpus Christi began in Liege, Belgium, in the year, 1246AD. St. Juliana of Mont Cornillion was the instrument in the hands of the Divine Providence in bringing about this Feast. She had a revelation about special devotion to the Body of Christ and had it communicated to Msgr. Robert de Thorete, the bishop of Liege. The bishop later called a synod in 1246 and ordered that the Feast of Corpus Christi be observed every year within his territory. Pope Urban IV, who was aware of this revelation even before he became the pope, extended this feast to the Universal Church in the year 1264. At his request, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the Office and some hymns (O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo) for this great Feast. This Feast, is today, celebrated on the Thursday following the Trinity Sunday or on the Sunday following that Solemnity. With the reforms of Vatican II, however, the Corpus Christi was joined with the Feast of the Precious Blood (July 1) to become the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.
THE HOLY EUCHARIST
Our Catholic faith teaches us that the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist is the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, together with His Soul and Divinity, under the appearance of bread and wine. The whole Christ is therefore, truly, really, and substantially contained in the Most Blessed Sacrament (CCC no. 1374), even while the appearances of the bread and wine (i.e. “accidents”) remain the same as before. The presence of Christ in this Sacrament is indeed real. Meanwhile, there have been instances of Eucharistic miracles in the history of the Church to prove this point. The Eucharist, according to the Second Vatican Council, is the center and culmination of our Christian life (Lumen Gentiumno. 11). It is the mystery of our faith, hope and charity.
Our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist has its biblical foundation. In the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus Christ promised to give us His Body and Blood for our food and drink. And this promise was fulfilled as noted in four independent accounts of the last supper where Jesus broke the bread, and took the wine, and after blessing gave them to his disciples; and commanded them to continue doing that in his memory: “DO THIS IN MEMORY OF ME” (cf. Mt. 26; Mk. 14; Lk. 22; 1 Cor. 11).
This is a statement of Christ’s sacrificial self-giving to man out of love. He broke His Body and poured out His Blood on the Cross for our salvation. Just as the ancient peoples sealed covenants with blood of animals sacrificed for rituals, Christ also sealed His New Covenant with His own blood poured out on the Cross. This He has given us at the moment of the institution of the Holy Eucharist and promised us His ever abiding presence.
This Holy Sacrifice is re-lived and re-enacted on the altar at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in an unbloody manner, through the ministry of the priest. By the invocation of the Holy Spirit and the words of consecration (i.e. the institution words of Christ), the bread and wine, truly and substantially become the Body and Blood of Christ. The process is known in Theology as TRANSUBSTANCIATION.
This Holy Sacrament is known by various names which evoke its different aspects. It is the Eucharist because Christ offered it to God as an act of thanksgiving. It is called The Lord’s Supper or The Breaking of Bread because it is celebrated as our meal. It is also known as Holy Communion since we become one with Christ when we receive Him in the Sacrament. Other names includes; Holy Mass, Holy Sacrifice, etc. These names express the inexhaustible richness of this sacrament (cf. CCC no. 1328). There are benefits we derive from the Holy Eucharist:
It brings us closer to Jesus. (ii) It increase the life of grace in us. (iii) It puts our concupiscence in check and help us in achieving holiness of life.
It gives us assurance of eternal life.
Faith: Faith is a conditio sine qua non for a healthy approach to the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This sacrament, which is Christ’s giving of his Body and Blood for the salvation of the world and our sanctification, is essentially a mystery. It’s a saving mystery which cannot be deduced from, nor reduced, to mere reason. Little wonder why in Jn. 6:51-58, Jesus’ followers and listeners were confounded to hear Him make that incredible assertion that He would give them His Body to eat and His Blood to drink; that He is the living bread that came down from heaven. The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ is the mystery of God’s presence in a concrete manner among His people; the mystery of SHEKINAH. There is, obviously, the tendency to doubt this real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Some of our Catholics today nurse serious doubts about and rationalize over this doctrine. A lot of factors can be responsible for this. However, to such people I say: “Brethren, it’s only through strong faith that we can approach and accept this mystery; for it is beyond ordinary human reason. So, let us pray to the Father for the spiritual enlightenment that comes from His gift of faith”. Remember Jesus’ response to His confounded hearers. He told them that no one can come to Him unless the Father draws him. In other words, faith in Him and in the Eucharist is a matter of grace. Faith is a free gift of God’s initiative and not as a result of any human effort. It is only God that can lead us to the truth of His mysteries. Our human reason and efforts cannot achieve this. It is with the enlightenment that comes from faith that we would be able to appreciate the Holy Eucharist.
Love and Sacrifice: Christ’s gift of His Body and Blood to man is a testimony to the depth of God’s love and care for our spiritual and temporal wellbeing. It is the most excellent of gifts ever given to us by Christ. The Holy Eucharist is a sacrament of love and sacrifice. He sacrificed Himself on the Cross and on the altar out of love for us sinners. He gave all for our good; for our salvation. Now, what have we given for the good of our neighbor? To what extent have we been driven by love to seek for the wellbeing of those around us? How willing are we to sacrifice things that are dear to us in order to help those in need in our midst? Christ did something more than all these for us; He sacrificed His life.
As we partake in the Holy Eucharist, we are called to extend this love of Jesus Christ to our fellow human beings; to be ready to offer ourselves for their wellbeing. When we receive the Holy Communion, we become bearers of Christ charged with the responsibility to carry Him in the form of love, peace, justice, mercy, forgiveness and sacrificial service, to those at our homes, places of work, schools, and all other people we meet in our society. This is the message with which we leave at the end of the Holy Mass everyday – go forth and proclaim the goodnews of the peace and love of Christ.
With Reverence and Pure Hearts: The mother Church encourages us, her children, to receive the Holy Eucharist regularly and with the right disposition in order to savor the rich benefits of the Sacrament. While we endeavor to receive the Blessed Sacrament often, we should, as a matter of urgent importance, ensure that we do so with reverence and a pure heart. The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ deserves our adoration and reverence and so, should not be received with a sinful heart. Should anyone find themselves in the state of mortal sin, they should endeavor to go to confession and obtain pardon for their sins before receiving the Most Holy Sacrament. For anyone who does the contrary, does so to the detriment of his/her soul. But, when received worthily, the sacrament furnishes the person with all the necessary graces. May God help us in this regard.
CONCLUSION: As we celebrate this feast of love of Christ for us, let us pray for the gift of strong faith and so, increase our devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. Let us endeavor to radiate love to those around us, as we, ourselves, are bearers of the love of Christ. And may our lives reflect this great mystery we celebrate today. Let us now say with St. Thomas Aquinas his prayer of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament: “O Sacrament most holy! O Sacrament Divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment thine!”