The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (2016)
By Fr. Leroy Clementich, CSC
For a long time as a youngster I had no idea what the words Corpus Christi meant. So, one Sunday morning before Mass I turned to Father Anthony Kopp our pastor and asked him what those strange words meant. “Well, interesting that you should ask,” he replied, “Because this very day, Sunday, is the feast of Corpus Christi” “So, what does that mean,” I asked. He replied, “It means that we are going to have a picnic after Mass and if somebody brings homemade ice cream you can have some too.” Well, that did not clarify the meaning of those Latin words very much but with the promise of a picnic after Mass, I didn’t really care very much at that point in my life.
The words, of course, mean the Body of Christ, or more properly, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, designating a Catholic liturgical solemnity celebrating the tradition and belief in the body and blood of Jesus Christ in his Real Presence in the Eucharist. Ordinarily, at the end of Mass on that day there will be a procession with the Blessed Sacrament displayed in a monstrance.
At our church of Saint Henry, my home church, families would be responsible for constructing several small altars outdoors covering them tree branches. Here the priest would stop with the monstrance, Eucharistic songs would be sung as part of Benediction (blessing) of the Blessed Sacrament. The procession then continued on with further hymn singing until finally all returned to the church for a final blessing. Only then, of course, could the picnic begin!
Interestingly, all this took place after we had just celebrated the Eucharist, a meal where the bread and wine had been received as the Body and Blood of Christ. In other words, on this particular day Catholics receive the nourishment of the Eucharist and thereafter adore the Blessed Sacrament of the Eucharist.
The feast of Corpus Christi, of course, is a late Medieval practice of the Church. Nowhere in scripture do we actually find Christ inviting his disciples to adore Him. Jesus words at the Last Supper were: “Take this bread and eat of it. Take this cup and drink of it. This is my body, this is my blood. As often as you do this, do it in memory of me.”
Throughout Christian history, therefore, people of faith have gathered to hear God’s word, reflect on it, and then bring bread and wine to the table for consecration (offering) and reception. In other words, the Eucharist is fundamentally a meal taken in common. Moreover, the coming together assumes that all members are unified as of one body. There are no distinctions of culture, race, sex, color, rich or poor. The Eucharist bonds all together as one. Any other assumption would be a desecration of the Body of Christ.
This in fact, is what St. Paul was criticizing in the Corinthian church in the second reading today. Rich people would come first, share their meals with each other and then the poor would come, but there would be little food left to go around. This is a far cry from the story in the Gospel where Jesus makes sufficient bread available for all and then tells the apostles to distribute the bread to everyone. Even then there was more than enough left over.
Finally, let us insist that the two forms of Catholic practice, Eucharist, as meal and Eucharist as object of devotion are both worthy of our participation, each in its own way and in the proper setting. Nonetheless, Eucharist as meal is the tradition that comes directly from the words of Jesus himself. Fundamentally, Eucharist is commonality (eating together) whereas the practice of adoration is a private devotion. Taken together, they provide the gathered assembly the grace to recognize Jesus Christ in his fullness. Of course, if a picnic were to follow Mass and Benediction on this day along with homemade ice cream…well, that would be like Eucharistic icing on the cake!
The Scriptures: Genesis 14: 18-20 • 1 Corinthians 11: 23-26 • Luke 9,9b-17
USCCB Bible Daily Readings: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ