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. This beautiful antiphon composed by the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas beautifully expresses the fullness of the Eucharistic Mystery and its effect on us who receive it. He also authored all the other texts of today’s Feast. We can say with full conviction that whether we are celebrating Low Mass or High Mass, we make every effort to ensure that our celebrations are dignified, solemn, devout and spiritually fruitful. 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. Holy Communion is the fruit of the Sacrifice, the Sacred Banquet in which Christ is received; and those who receive Him with discernment are transformed into Our Lord’s likeness and 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.
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. 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 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. Everything changes because the Eucharist gives us a clear and definitive purpose to our life. It could be said that the Eucharist reveals to us the truth of what Pope Benedict spoke of as an ecology of man. Ecology and concern for the environment and nature are at the forefront of political and economic discourse in our day. 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. It is God who nourishes us and gives direction to our lives. Our nature, created by God, is ordered to share God’s own life.
Though we often speak of Christ Our Lord descending from Heaven to be with us, in the sacred liturgy, specifically in the Eucharistic Prayer (Canon) it is we who ascend heavenward through the sacred species of the Eucharist. This is another aspect of our tradition which speaks of the Mass as a joining-in with the perpetual heavenly Mass, from the Sanctus when we lift up our hearts and sing with the angels, to the invitation ‘Ecce Agnus Dei’ when we are invited to partake of the Lamb who reigns in the City of God, our faint participation in what the angels enjoy in heaven. The sacramental species become, so to speak, a miraculous portal which pulls us upwards and inwards—a small rent in the veil, through which we can peer into glory (http://www.newliturgicalmovement.org/2015/06/going-up-to-heaven-with-blessed.html#.VXH1OWfbKt8).
The movement is upwards and we strain to be one with those who enjoy the fullness of the Beatific Vision. 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 the sacred liturgy that we understand our true nature and purpose. 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 so that it might participate in the very life of God Himself. 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. When we celebrate the Holy Sacrifice we are most perfectly united with those who have gone before us with the sign of faith, our loved ones who rest in the sleep of peace.
The Mass is indeed the most beautiful thing this side of Heaven; and it is no less the feast and school of faith where our nature created and destined to share God’s own life is nurtured and perfected. In the bi-millennial tradition of the Church the desire to offer Our Lord Jesus Christ affection and honour in the Mass, especially at Holy Communion may be summarised in this manner. The first thousand years may be characterised by this phrase; cum amore et timore; with love and fear. So great is the Mystery that the word fear expresses awe and profound reverence. The second thousand years, by this phrase taken from the Lauda Sion, the sequence for the Mass of Corpus Christi composed by St. Thomas Aquinas: quantum potes, tantum aude; do as much as you can. Fused into one single statement, ideally this should characterise our liturgical and devotional attitude during this, the third millennium of the Church’s existence: With love and fear, do as much as you can.
To engage in this effort to honour the Blessed Sacrament especially in view of the restrictions imposed on public worship again this year call for heroic efforts on our part. Yet, we cannot do otherwise, for we cannot allow the creation of what may be termed a virtual church to replace the authentic Church and her Sacraments. There is nothing ‘virtual’ about the Incarnation. By extension, there is nothing virtual about the Christian life and most especially Catholic worship The worship of the living God in Christ is the greatest affirmation of our human dignity and the source and summit of all human activity rightly ordered; for we pray as we live because we live as we pray (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2725). If we resolve to live a profoundly Eucharistic life, inspired and nourished by the Eucharistic Sacrifice, in time, God’s time, our culture, that is, our common way of life will be renewed and transformed. The strength we need and ideal to achieve are found in this 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. ⧾