Corpus Christi and the Gift of Self

O Sacred banquet in which Christ is received, the memory of His Passion is renewed, the mind is filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us (St. Thomas Aquinas, +1274).

As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi as it is traditionally known, we celebrate the Church’s greatest treasure, the Most Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist. The Church is Eucharistic in her very essence because Eucharistic Love, that is, self-giving love is no less God’s nature, fully revealed in Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. This beautiful antiphon composed by the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas beautifully expresses the fullnes of the Eucharistic Mystery and its effect on us who receive it. We can say with full conviction that our community makes every effort to ensure that our celebrations of the Eucharistic Mystery are dignified, devout and spiritually fruitful. For this, we ought to give thanks to God. This is evidently not the case everywhere. Our Gospel reading is taken from the sixth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, Our Lord’s Eucharistic discourse: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh’ (Jn. 6:51). Truly, a pledge of future glory is given to us for glory is the word used in Sacred Scripture to describe the inner life of God; and this life He shares with us.  As the memory of His Passion, the Holy Eucharist perpetuates His saving Sacrifice through the ages in the act of worship that is most correctly termed the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, our divine worship. Holy Communion is the fruit of the Sacrifice, the Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received; and those who receive Him with discernment, that is with right thinking and good intention, are transformed into Our Lord’s likeness, transformed from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18). Consequently, our lives become profoundly Eucharistic; and the Holy Eucharist becomes the source and summit (fons et culmen) of our life.

All our efforts, at every level serve this Mystery. As Catholics we should have one desire, whatever our state in life or age: to lead a profoundly Eucharistic life, a life of prayer and adoration, of generous love and service, of piety and reverence, of devout humility; a life that already here shares in the divine life that God bestows on us through grace and which He sustains and nourishes through the precious Body and Blood of Christ. When this Mystery of God here and truly substantially present in the Eucharist becomes our deepest conviction, then everything changes and every detail surrounding this Mystery and its reverent celebration has profound meaning. A humble spirit of adoration is the beginning of such an understanding. Everything changes because the Eucharist gives us a clear and definitive purpose to our life. The Eucharist reveals to us the truth of what Pope Benedict XVI spoke of as an ecology of man. One thing is absolutely clear when one speaks of the natural order: there is nothing purposeless, and, the abuse or perversion of the natural order brings with it dire consequences. Human nature is no different. Pope Benedict XVI wisely observed: There is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he listens to his nature, respects it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled. The mystery of the Eucharist, especially the reception of Holy Communion, affirms this truth. Perhaps the Eucharistic crisis that defines our times has contributed to the confusion of our times more than we wish to acknowledge. Our human nature, created by God, is ordered to share God’s own life; and it is God who nourishes us and gives direction to our lives. Practising Catholics witness to this truth.

Though we often speak of Christ Our Lord descending from Heaven to be with us, in the sacred liturgy, specifically in the Canon of the Mass it is we who ascend heavenward through the sacred species of the Eucharist which pulls us upwards and inwards, into the very Mystery of God’s life. Upwards, that we may be one  with those who enjoy the fullness of the Beatific Vision, and inwards that we may be one in loving communion with all those love God and worship Him in spirit and in truth. This is why St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of the Eucharist as the pledge of our future glory (pignus futurae gloriae). We who participate in the earthly offering and who receive Holy Communion are divinized though not fully yet as when we will see God in the Beatific Vision. 

It is in and through the sacred liturgy that we understand our true nature and purpose; and in a world so obviously confused about the nature and purpose of human life, the sacred liturgy rightly celebrated is the most effective tool of evangelization. In the sacred liturgy it is Our Lord Himself who speaks to us and whose grace is at work in and through us, perfecting our nature and transforming it and enabling it to participate in the very life of the Triune God. We who participate in the offering at the Altar participate in the heavenly offering of Christ Our Lord who has suffered for us. Thus the Mass takes us up to Heaven and for this reason, when the Mass is celebrated with reverence, love and devotion it truly becomes the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven. When we receive Holy Communion we are as it were, re-located at the throne of the Lamb; and this is no less true of Eucharistic Adoration. 

In Eucharistic Adoration, the worship that we give to God in the Mass is extended and our loving communion with God is deepened. May the splendour and devotion of our celebration of Corpus Christi be the ideal for our weekly and even daily celebration of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass; so that every day is Corpus Christi! God is real and His reality is what the Eucharist makes present. This reality is the foundation of our lives. This Sacrament is the food for our journey through life, the pattern of our life and the reward of a life of faith and charity – God Himself.

O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.