This Solemn Feast of Corpus Christi celebrates the wonderful, mysterious event of Jesus giving us His Body and Blood for our food and drink in the Eucharist; and the gift of continuing communion with Him in adoration before the most Holy Sacrament, and participation in public Eucharistic processions. Let us remind ourselves of these two aspects of the Corpus Christi feast and reflect on them.
The event associated with this feast is the Last Supper, which is re-membered and made present at each celebration of the Eucharist, particularly in the Consecration and in our receiving Christ’s body and blood in Holy Communion. Even before the Last Supper Jesus spoke about himself as “the living bread which has come down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world“ (Jn. 6: 51-58). This Johannine passage is the Gospel for Corpus Christi, and it contains other promises worth reflecting on:
Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life
and I shall raise them up on the last day.
Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.
Whoever eats me will draw life from me.
Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.
What did Jesus mean to give us at the Last Supper when he said, “This is my body”? In biblical terminology – as used by Jesus and Paul – “body” indicates the whole embodied human being. In Chapter 6, John uses the word “flesh” instead of “body”. This has the same meaning as in Chapter 1, where John announces that, “the Word became flesh,” that is, became human. The word “body” indicates, therefore, the whole of life. Jesus left us the gift of his whole life, from the first moment of the incarnation to the very end, including all that had made up his life: silence, sweat, hardship, prayer, struggle, joy, humiliation.
Then, taking the cup, Jesus said, “This is my blood.” We may wonder what more can Jesus give us with his blood – since he has already given us his whole life with his body? Put simply, His death, the most precious consummation of His life. Here, true to its biblical meaning, “blood” thus refers to and anticipates the event of His death. The Eucharist is thus the mystery of the Body and Blood of the Lord, that is of the life and death of the Lord. When we offer ourselves with Jesus at Mass, we offer our “body”, all that constitutes our physical life: time, energy, health, ability, sentiments; and by “blood”, we offer our death, not necessarily our final death, but all right now that anticipates our death: humiliations, failures, sickness that cripples us, limits due to age or health, everything that “mortifies” us. Then, after Mass, we must make the effort to give our “bodies”, in a word, our lives, to others – that is, our time, energy and attention.
A further aspect of the mystery of the Eucharist is the presence of the whole Trinity. In theological terms, by virtue of the interpenetration (perichoresis) of the three persons of the Trinity, the other two persons are present. A great mystic, St. Veronica Giuliani, wrote, “It seemed that in the most Holy Sacrament, as on a throne, I saw the one and triune God: the Father in his omnipotence, the Son in his wisdom, the Holy Spirit in his love. Every time we receive Holy Communion, our souls and hearts become the temple of the Most Holy Trinity. And when God comes to us, the whole of paradise comes. On seeing God enclosed in the Host, I was transported with joy for the whole day. If I had to give my life to confirm this truth, I would do so a thousand times.” In the Eucharist, we enter into a mysterious communion, real and deep, with the whole Trinity: with the Father through Christ, in the Holy Spirit. In Andrei Rublev´s well-known icon of the Trinity, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, symbolised by the three angels that appeared to Abraham under the oak of Mamre, form a sort of mystic circle round the altar and they seem to say to us: “May you all be one, as we are one!”
A second aspect to reflect on is the adoration of Christ, present in the most Holy Sacrament. We are blessed to be able to do this daily in our churches, and increasingly during times of Exposition. Thus, we are drawn to give ourselves in adoration and prayer, whether for short or long periods, before Christ’s “humble presence”. Pope John Paul II in his letter of Holy Thursday 1980 expresses this in deeply personal terms: “Jesus awaits us in the Sacrament of Love. Let us find time to meet Him in faith-filled adoration and contemplation.” So too, in many cities and towns today, we can join in the public processions of the Blessed Sacrament to profess our faith in the Real Presence and to remind ourselves that we are pilgrims on our journey through life, and that God is with us and within us at every moment of our lives.
O Sacrament most Holy, O Sacrament Divine,
All praise and all thanksgiving, be every moment Thine.
Sr. Aedris Coates OP, St. Mary’s, Cabra, Dublin.