Today we celebrate Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. As I was preparing to write this reflection, I wondered why the Church decided to have this feast since we celebrate the Body and Blood of Christ each and every time we have Mass? I had never really thought about the “why” or the background of the feast before; I had just accepted it as a feast that we celebrate. So, I did some research and I thought I would start my reflection with a little history.
In 1246, Bishop Robert de Thorete of the Belgina diocese of Liege, at the suggestion of St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon, convened a synod and instituted the celebration of the feast. From Liege, the celebration began to spread, and, on September 8, 1264, Pope Urban IV issued a papal bull (Transiturus) which established the Feast of Corpus Christi as a universal feast of the Church, to be celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday. The assignment of the day of “Thursday” is important because it shows the intimate connection of this feast with the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion on Holy Thursday. However, in many places in the world, the feast has been transferred to the following Sunday so that more people may participate in its celebration.
Moreover, at the request of Pope Urban IV, St. Thomas Aquinas composed the office (the official prayers of the church) for this feast. The office is considered one of the most beautiful in the traditional Roman Breviary (the official prayer book of the Divine Office/Liturgy of the Hours), and it is the source of the famous Eucharistic hymns “Pange Lingua Gloriosi” and “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum.”
So now that we have some history of the Solemnity, what can I say about the Eucharist that will be meaningful and inspiring? Knowing that my own words will fail this task, I returned to those words of St. Thomas Aquinas.
“[Jesus] offered His body to the God the Father on the altar of the cross as a sacrifice for our reconciliation. He shed His blood for our ransom and purification, so that we might be redeemed from our wretched state of bondage and cleansed from all sin. But to ensure that the memory of so great a feast would abide with us forever, He left His body as food and his blood as drink for the faithful to consume…”
“Under the old law it was the flesh of calves and goats that was offered, but here Christ Himself, the true God, is set before us as food. What could be more wonderful than this? No other sacrament has greater healing power; through it sins are purged away, virtues are increased, and the soul is enriched with an abundance of every spiritual gift. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, so that what was instituted for the salvation of all may be for the benefit of all. Yet, in the end, no one can fully express the sweetness of this sacrament, in which spiritual delight is tasted at its very source, and in which we renew the memory of that surpassing love for us which Christ revealed in His passion.”
In conclusion, I would like to offer the words of St. Augustine –simple but important words to remember and to reflect upon each and every time we celebrate the Eucharist and come forward to receive Holy Communion – “Receive what you are, become what you receive.” We are the Body of Christ. We come forward to receive the Body of Christ. Then we are sent forth from the Table of the Lord… to be Christ to others.