My early understanding of the feast of Corpus Christi
My earliest associations with the feast of Corpus Christi were of processions and “40 hours devotion.” Gradually I became aware of the Body of Christ frozen in time in Michelangelo’s masterpiece, The Pieta.
Before I reference a quote that might surprise some, let’s listen to wisdom figures across the ages from the time that Paul had to face the question… “Saul, Saul,, why do you persecute me?”
Corpus Christ in the eyes of Saints
St. John Chrysostom (4th century)
- Do you want to honor Christ’s body? Do not neglect him when he is naked; do not, while you honor him here with silken garments, neglect Him perishing outside of cold and nakedness. For He that said “This is my body,” and by His word confirmed the fact, also said, “You saw me hungry and you did not feed me” and “Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” This [the body of Christ on the altar] has no need of coverings, but of a pure soul; but that requires much attention. Let us learn therefore to be strict in life, and to honor Christ as He Himself desires….
- For what is the profit, when his table indeed is full of golden cups, but he perishes with hunger? First fill Him, being hungry, and then abundantly deck out His table also. Do you make for Him a cup of gold, while you refuse to give him a cup of cold water? And what is the profit? Do you furnish His table with cloths bespangled with gold, while you refuse Him even the most basic coverings? And what good comes of it?
- And these things I say, not forbidding munificence in these matters, but admonishing you to do those other works, together with these, or rather even before these. Because for not having adorned the church no one was ever blamed, but for not having helped the poor, hell is threatened, and unquenchable fire, and the punishment of evil spirits. Do not therefore while adorning His house overlook your brother in distress, for he is more properly a temple than the other
St. Augustine (4th century)
- “The pain of one, even the smallest member, is the pain of all”
Pope Saint John Paul II
- If our Eucharistic worship is authentic, it must make us grow in awareness of the dignity of each person,” Pope John Paul II On the Mystery and Worship of the Eucharist], no. 6).
Pope Francis on the wounds of the body of Christ today.
- … Mercy impels us to roll up our sleeves and set about restoring dignity to millions of people; they are our brothers and sisters
- The culture of extreme individualism, especially in the West, has led to a loss of a sense of solidarity with and responsibility for others.
- And for today’s followers of the Way, this points to an important practice: experience. Without experience of the ongoing realities of injustice around us, such as homelessness (which disproportionately impacts youth and children), or a lack of access to health care (which impacts almost all of us), or any other structures of evil that keep us from fully flourishing, we cannot imagine a different future or even a different now.
- And now it’s our job to touch the wounds caused by homelessness, poverty, white supremacy, global capitalism, climate change, the separation of children from their parents at the border, and gentrification—and believe the future can be different.
- .. when I come close to suffering and actually sink my hands into the wounds of this world, I am transformed. I am renewed and come to have hope in a different world, one where the reign of God is made manifest right before my eyes. May you go and do likewise! (Exhortation for the Second World Day of the poor #19)
Words to reflect on from Peter Steinfels
- The Eucharistic prayer asks that the Spirit transform us so that we can become like Christ….
- Ultimately, the Mass is more about us becoming the body of Christ than it is about the bread becoming the body of Christ…. (It is) about making us more Christ-like so that we can continue his mission
I find Peter Steinfels’ challenge in St. Thomas Aquinas’ “O Sacred Banquet.” The hymn captures for me the “Take and eat,” “Take and drink,” “Do this in remembrance of me,” and the “Proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.”
Along with the words of the institution, among which are also “new covenant” (new solidarity), Aquinas speaks volumes to me and gives me plenty to pray and reflect on that can and will last me a lifetime. Until the time when all sacraments shall cease, because we shall see not as now, indistinctly, as in a mirror, but rather clearly, face to face.
Also, as I read 1 Cor 11, 17-34, it seems clear to me that the abuse at Corinth that St. Paul condemns has to do with divisions and factions, or, in other words, lack of communion or solidarity among Christians who meet there as church.
He tells them to their faces that when they meet, they do not meet to eat the Lord’s supper but to make known who are the notable members of the community. And so, they end up belittling and undermining the church, as the poor are made to feel ashamed, some go hungry, and others drunk. All of which shows that they do not recognize the body of Christ and that they, therefore, eat and drink judgment on themselves.
I hope that those who get ecstatic and are moved to greater devotion when they hear about “bleeding hosts,” and other miracles like it, and when they take part in the Liturgy in Latin, don’t take offense at what I say here. I only mean to engage in dialogue that hopefully will promote greater understanding and unity.
What matter most, of course, is that our participation is “full, conscious and active” (SC 14 – Walter Abbot, S.J. [Gen. Ed.]-Joseph Gallagher [Trans. Ed.] English translation). I also agree with SC 36: “The use of Latin is to be preserved in the Latin rites. But since the use of the mother tongue … may frequently be of great advantage to the people, the limit of its employment may be extended.” May the Church (and we are it) be truly instructed in the kingdom of heaven, so that it “brings from the storeroom both the new and the old” (Mt 13, 52).