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Today the Catholic Church in America celebrates the Feast of “Corpus Christi”, the “Body and Blood of the Lord”. Much of the rest of the Catholic world celebrated it on its actual place in our common liturgical calendar, last Thursday. Whenever it is celebrated, it is a richly significant day in Catholic faith and life.
It is also an extremely important day in my own personal life, the anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate in Christ.
What a beautiful custom the Corpus Christi Procession truly is! After having received the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in Holy Communion, and after the priest has enthroned the consecrated Sacred Host in a Monstrance, we come from the Sanctuary and process into the Streets of the world, pausing along the way for solemn worship, singing songs of adoration, and holding the Lord, enthroned.
The celebration of this Solemnity goes back to the thirteenth century. Pope Urban IV instituted it in 1264 for the entire Church. He wanted it to be filled with joy and accompanied by hymns and a festive procession. He asked the great Western Church father, Thomas Aquinas, to compose two Offices of prayer. St Thomas did so- along with five hymns - and they have nourished the piety of Christians for centuries. In writing concerning the Holy Eucharist as heavenly provision and eternal food for our earthly journey, Thomas noted:
“Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence, restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand, turns the person who eats it into Itself, and thus the proper effect of this sacrament is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him. And as a consequence it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual losses caused by sins and defects and of increasing the power of the virtues”.
In this celebration we proclaim in both word and deed our belief in the Real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also proclaim the implications of this fact: Jesus Christ comes to truly live within us. In fact, the entire Trinity takes up residence within us. We also live within the Trinity. This is the mystery of communion.
The Christian faith and life is all about relationship, with God, in Christ, and because of Jesus Christ, with the world that He still loves so much that He continues to come into it to save it and make it new. The Corpus Christi procession symbolizes this ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ to the world and our participation in it, as it is lived out through his Church.
I have fond memories of this beautiful event which stretch back into my early childhood. Since my ordination to ministry as a Deacon, it has also come to signify my call to go, as I often say “from the altar into the world.”
As the years have unfolded in my life, the true beauty and profound symbolism of this Western Catholic custom has captured me. It is a richly beautiful experience. We march with the Body of Jesus Christ, the Eucharistic Host, enthroned in a “monstrance”, a sacred vessel made of precious metal, specifically designed to be a place of repose for the Lord. There we recognize His glory and worship Him.
This recognition of His Real presence - and the accompanying worship- not only occurs in the Church sanctuary but spreads out into the “city streets” of the entire world. In this act of public procession we are reminded that God still loves the world so much that He still sends His Son into the world.
This solemn procession is a reminder of the baptismal vocation of every Christian, to carry on the redemptive mission of Jesus Christ, through His Church, until He returns. At an interior level, it symbolizes the universal call to holiness. All Christian men and women, in all the states of life, are called to conversion and transformation. All of the baptized are called into intimate communion with God. He comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him.
In this we are all invited to become “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our “hearts”, which is, in biblical language, the center of the person. Then, as we are filled with His real presence, we are called to carry Him into the world of our daily lives.
At its very core, the Christian faith reveals this profound truth - the God who created the entire universe can be known - intimately and personally. He is more than a theory or a principle; He is a loving Father who hungers for a relationship of love, a communion, with all men and women.
It proclaims that in the fullness of time, this God of love came to us, in His Son Jesus Christ. Through His Incarnation, life, death and resurrection, He has now made it possible for us to experience the fullness and intimacy of that communion of love. In the Holy Eucharist that we receive and the Divine Host whom we carry in procession, the Lord continues to come into the world. He has also taken up residence, chosen to dwell within each one of us who have been baptized. He lives His very life now, through His Body, the Church. In that Church, and in each of her members, He processes into a world waiting to be reborn.
Through our Baptism we now live in God. We are also called to carry Him into the real world of our daily lives--- just as we carry the monstrance into its streets today. Jesus told his disciples “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.”
We who have been given the bread of angels, who have been invited to this Eucharistic Feast, now have life within us; His Life - the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit - a communion of Divine Persons in the Perfect unity of Perfect love. This is why this Feast of Corpus Christi follows the great Feast of the Holy Trinity in the Western Catholic Church calendar, to show this profound connection.
Through the Holy Eucharist, we are invited into the Trinitarian communion and then sent into the world to carry Jesus to others so that they all may join in the Feast! The Church is the family of God; she is the home of the whole human race.
This is a mystery that is both deep and profound. It is also a gift to be received, lived, loved and experienced at a level beyond our human comprehension.
We are called into communion with the living and true God. The implications of that invitation unfold into a dynamic life of continual conversion. This conversion happens in and through the very “stuff” of the struggles and travail of our daily lives; through the mistakes, the wrong choices, the failures, and even the pain.
Through it all, the love of God purifies and refines us like the refiners’ fire purified the gold that was used to make the many Monstrances that are being carried into the Streets of the world on this great and glorious Feast of Corpus Christi.
We are invited to respond in faith to Gods real presence in our midst. Often, especially in difficulty, He appears to be hidden. But, with the light of faith, He soon reveals Himself. All who have been baptized into Jesus Christ can now live in Him and He really lives in us. Through the continuing work of grace - and our response to God’s loving invitations - we can become “living monstrances”, living tabernacles, wherein the Lord dwells.
Like Mary, the Mother of the Lord - and the mother of all who follow her Son - we are invited, in the stuff of our daily lives, to give our “Fiat”, our surrender of love, our “Yes” to the God of love.
We are sent into a world that has squeezed the true and Living God out of the equation. Yet, though we are strangers and pilgrims in this world, we are called to approach it –in Christ, with redemptive love.
Through living our lives in the “Fiat” of surrendered love, we can carry Jesus Christ everywhere, just as we carry the Monstrance today. We can help to bring Him back into the lives of all who, knowingly or unknowingly, still hunger for Him. We can enthrone Him in the center of the “City” of this age as we marched the Monstrance into the cities of the world today.
The early Eastern Church Fathers referred to the Church as the “world transfigured” and the “world reconciled.” These insights can help us to unpack the mystery of this great Feast. That reconciliation and transfiguration continues in our day. The baptized, no matter what their state in life or vocation, continue the mission of Jesus Christ until He comes again. We do that through living in His Body, His Church, of which we are members.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, reminded them—and reminds us—that our true “citizenship” is now established “in heaven.” While we live in this current age we participate in bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven. We now live in the Church, which is that communion of the faithful in Christ, and go into the world to bring it back to God in Christ.
On the Feast of Corpus Christi, we commemorate the great gift of God to mere mortals, the banquet of immortality. This God of Love, who chose to give Himself fully and completely to you and me, in and through His Son Jesus Christ, now feeds us in the most Holy Eucharist. Through Jesus Christ, on that Cross on Golgotha’s Hill, He reached out to embrace a world that had become lost in the desert of sin. He continues to gather that world back to Himself through the mission of the Church.
The same God who fed His chosen people Israel manna in the desert, satisfying their physical hunger, gives the Living Bread, the Eucharist, to satisfy the deepest spiritual hunger of every man, woman and child.
Our participation in this Eucharist is a communion in the very life of God. It is also a call to our own continuing conversion and transformation. It is a call to participate in the very transfiguration of the world. When we feed on this heavenly food, the Lord comes to dwell within us and makes us like Himself. We then “give thanks” by living our lives differently. That is what the word Eucharist literally means, “thanksgiving.”
We have received Bread from heaven. Let us choose to become what we consume. On this Feast of Corpus Christi, as we march through the Streets of the world, with Jesus Christ enthroned, let us resolve to become “living monstrances” by allowing the consuming fire of God’s love to purify us so that He can be enthroned in our daily lives - for the sake of the world.
Adore Te Devote (Hidden God)
St. Thomas Aquinas
ADORO te devote, latens Deitas, quae sub his figuris vere latitas: tibi se cor meum totum subiicit, quia te contemplans totum deficit.
HIDDEN God, devoutly I adore Thee, truly present underneath these veils: all my heart subdues itself before Thee, since it all before Thee faints and fails.
Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, sed auditu solo tuto creditur; credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius: nil hoc verbo Veritatis verius.
Not to sight, or taste, or touch be credit hearing only do we trust secure; I believe, for God the Son has said it- Word of truth that ever shall endure.
In cruce latebat sola Deitas, at hic latet simul et humanitas; ambo tamen credens atque confitens, peto quod petivit latro paenitens.
On the cross was veiled Thy Godhead's splendor, here Thy manhood lies hidden too; unto both alike my faith I render, and, as sued the contrite thief, I sue.
Plagas, sicut Thomas, non intueor; Deum tamen meum te confiteor; fac me tibi semper magis credere, in te spem habere, te diligere.
Though I look not on Thy wounds with Thomas, Thee, my Lord, and Thee, my God, I call: make me more and more believe Thy promise, hope in Thee, and love Thee over all.
O memoriale mortis Domini! panis vivus, vitam praestans homini! praesta meae menti de te vivere et te illi semper dulce sapere.
O memorial of my Savior dying, Living Bread, that gives life to man; make my soul, its life from Thee supplying, taste Thy sweetness, as on earth it can.
Pie pellicane, Iesu Domine, me immundum munda tuo sanguine; cuius una stilla salvum facere totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.
Deign, O Jesus, Pelican of heaven, me, a sinner, in Thy Blood to lave, to a single drop of which is given all the world from all its sin to save.
Iesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio, oro fiat illud quod tam sitio; ut te revelata cernens facie, visu sim beatus tuae gloriae. Amen.
Contemplating, Lord, Thy hidden presence, grant me what I thirst for and implore, in the revelation of Thy essence to behold Thy glory evermore. Amen.