Corpus Christi: Christ’s Real and Abiding Presence in the World Today

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Over the past couple of years, many parishes have returned to the practice at Mass of ringing hand bells at the elevation of the Host and Chalice. For parishioners of a certain age, this harkens back to a childhood memory of going to the sacred liturgy. It is a beautiful practice whose renewal helps call our attention to the truth of the Eucharist, which is that, at that moment, the Eucharistic species are no longer bread and wine, even though they keep the outward appearance of bread and wine. Rather, the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Jesus Christ our Savior.

Saint Paul asks: “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” (1 Corinthians 10:16). It is indeed the body of Christ, and the priest raises it up as a perfect offering to the Father.

For many Catholics, this moment at Mass is intensely personal, some bow, some gaze at the Body and Sacred Blood in the chalice, and still others whisper a prayer under their breath (a favorite is that of the Apostle Thomas: “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)). To know Jesus is to love him. To gaze upon him is to be overwhelmed by that love. Knowing what we know – about his memorial, about this Blessed Sacrament – how can we help but adore him?

This week the Church Universal celebrates the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ – more commonly known but its old Latin name, Corpus Christi. On this day, we celebrate Jesus’ Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. In many countries, the feast is marked by a procession through the streets with the Eucharist held aloft in a monstrance, sometimes accompanied by singing and sometimes by people playing musical instruments. Here in our archdiocese, the practice of procession is experiencing a renewal, in part because we know that it is a powerful experience to be in the presence of the Living Christ for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

The American novelist William Dean Howells never got over witnessing many thousands of parishioners from Venice’s hundred churches as they moved through the city’s plaza over the course of many hours. He remembered it in many of his writings thought out his lifetime. Every year on Corpus Christi, the novelist Edith Wharton opened the garden of her chateau to the local parish so that the people would have a proper place to celebrate – and she could marvel at the spectacle. Neither Howells nor Wharton were Catholic.

It is often said that beauty attracts beauty. So even if a person does not know that they are gazing at Jesus, they do know that they are experiencing something of great beauty.

In the Eucharistic Procession, when we when we take Jesus out in to the world, the Church is making a public profession of faith and worship as God’s people journey with the Lord. In a world that is in great need, as we walk through the streets, we proclaim faith in Emmanuel, Jesus Christ, who is truly God with us.

At the end of Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus makes the Church a solemn promise: “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). Through the Mass, he is truly is present to us in the Most Blessed Sacrament. But the story does not end there. The Lord in the Eucharist is also present in our tabernacles and on our altars during Adoration.

Corpus Christi is a powerful sign, but like every sign it points to something still greater. The truth is that we take Jesus into the world whenever we receive Holy Communion. We have received Christ and become one with him. We are his face and voice and hands and feet in the world.

This blog post draws from passages of the book that Mike Aquilina and I wrote, “The Mass: The Glory, the Mystery, the Tradition.”

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