Feast of Corpus Christi
Fr. Raymond Lafontaine, E.V. June 14, 2020
We celebrate today the Feast of Corpus Christi: the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharist, bread and wine – simple gifts of God's providence and human labour – are transformed into the real and living presence of Jesus among us. We do this every Sunday - every day, in fact. To be Catholic is to live by the Eucharist, the “source and summit of Christian life,” in the beautiful phrase of the Vatican II Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy.
In this time of pandemic, when so many of us have been deprived of sacramental communion in the Body and Blood of Christ for close to three months now, how are we called to celebrate this feast? As I speak to people, they tell me that they appreciate the online celebrations, but that they long for the time when we can all be together again, celebrate Mass together, pray and sing together, receive communion together. Perhaps the pandemic has been for all of us a reminder of how easy it is to take the Eucharist for granted, to celebrate and receive unthinkingly, almost automatically. And yet, if this is literally Christ's body broken for us, Christ’s blood poured out for us, each day of our lives, we are invited on this special feast to recognize both the awesome nature of the gift of the Eucharist, and the challenge which it presents in our own lives as Catholic Christians, to live as his Body in the world.
For this is the heart of the mystery we celebrate: we who receive the Body and Blood of Christ are thereby transformed to become Christ’s Body: broken for others, his Blood poured out in love for all humanity. St. Augustine communicated this in a simple phrase: “Receive what you are; become what you receive.” Today’s readings – short and simple – express that profound mystery. Moses reminds the people how a provident God fed them with manna in the wilderness, made water flow from the rock for them. Paul proclaims that as we partake in the one bread and one cup, we become more fully united in the Body of Christ. Finally, Jesus presents himself as “the Living Bread come down from heaven,” and promises the gift of eternal life to those who share in his Body and Blood. All three converge on the one central point: that we are a people formed and shaped by the Eucharist. Therefore, we are called to be Christ’s hands, his feet, his presence in the world.
Imagine if we really believed this – and lived it out. Our churches would be full again – not just on Sundays, but every day. God desires to give himself to us. God desires communion and intimacy with us. God desires to transform us from within, to abide in us, to make his home in us. It’s really amazing, when you stop to think about it. But perhaps that’s the problem. We don’t. We get so accustomed to the Mass, that it’s easy for us to go into auto-pilot: enter, genuflect, stand, sing, sit, listen, stand, kneel, stand again, queue, receive, sing again, go home. Throughout this time of confinement, this pattern has been broken; and although many people are longing ardently to return to church, we know that there will be some – none of you watching today, of course! – who will not. Some for health reasons, some for convenience, some simply because they have fallen out of the habit.
This is why it is so important for us to make the connection between what we celebrate in the Eucharist, and what goes on in the rest of our lives. When that disconnect between faith and daily life persists, one of two things happens: our sacramental practice becomes dry and lifeless, or else it ceases entirely. And that – far more than whether or not people like the music, or the preaching, or the flowers, or the uncomfortable pews – is why we have seen such a massive fall-off in Mass attendance. How can we help others – how can we help ourselves – to make that connection anew? How can we grow in ours understanding that what we “get out of Mass” is always in direct proportion to what we give, to what we bring of ourselves, our lives, our world, to the liturgy?
Last Wednesday evening, I participated in an Alpha session at St. Ignatius Parish. There was a brief video of Francis Collins, a famous scientist who headed the research project that mapped the entire human genome. He tells of an elderly patient he was visiting, who spoke of the comfort her faith had brought her during her illness. Then she asked him, “And Dr. Collins, what do you believe?” That simple question became a catalyst for his journey to Christ, his discovery that far from contradicting one another, faith and science were indeed compatible: that our complex genetic code, that the wonders of the universe bore witness to a God who celebrates diversity, yet who appreciates intelligence and precision.
We are looking forward to the time – hopefully not too far in the future – when we can gather around one table, share together one bread and one cup. In the meantime, what can we do? Nearly a hundred years ago, another man of science, the palaeontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, found himself alone in a remote wilderness, watching the sunrise. He was also a Jesuit priest. In the Hymn of the Universe, he connects his contemplation of creation with the mystery of the Eucharist:
Since once again, Lord, here in the steppes of Asia, I have neither bread nor wine nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these, to the pure majesty of the real itself: I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it I will offer you all the labours and sufferings of this world you created.
On the horizon, the sun has just touched with its light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, the living surface of the earth awakes and trembles, and begins its labours. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of your creation. Into my chalice, I will pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the fruits of this earth. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence which unites me with all those whom the light is now awakening to this new day.
Teilhard understood that when the Mass is being celebrated, it is not just that particular bit of bread and wine that are consecrated, but that all of creation is being offered back to the Creator. Each Eucharistic sacrifice is united with the self-gift of all who feel the desire for something more, something deeper, something eternal: union with God. This is why the Eucharist functions not merely at the level of symbol or sign; the presence of Christ it celebrates and makes real is substantial, essential, and entire. In the words of the catechism, Christ is present “body and blood, soul and divinity.” We receive the fullness of that presence, so that we might become the fullness of that presence in the world.
As we remember the words and deeds of Jesus – at the Last Supper, in his self-offering on Calvary, in the triumph of his Resurrection – they become present. He becomes present. This is why remembering is so important.
Thus, Moses reminds the people: do not forget all that the Lord has done for you. Setting them free from slavery, leading them through the desert to a land of promise, quenching their thirst with water from the rock, feeding them with manna from heaven. Keep remembering. In a similar way, Paul reminds the Corinthians of the significance of the Last Supper. That Jesus was willing to embrace even death – to have his Body broken, his Blood poured out – so that all humanity might be reconciled to God and to one another. That this was the way he wanted to be remembered. And that when we remember him in this way – he promises to be present. Not just present in mind and memory, but really and truly present, here and now. God-with-us.
A little bit later in that same epistle, Paul reminds the Corinthian community of what it means to actually live as the Body of Christ.
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
We who have been watching the news these past few weeks cannot help but think of the tragic case of George Floyd – and so many others – who have been in our societies the victims of racial violence and other forms of injustice and social exclusion. Our consciousness is being raised about the ways in which, whatever one’s personal attitudes are, various members of our community are less valued, treated as less important, their lives more dispensable. The Black Lives Matter movement has drawn our attention to the particular suffering of the African-American community: they are part of the suffering Body of Christ. The vulnerable elders of our community, often abandoned and neglected, are suffering members of the Body of Christ. Those discriminated against because of disability, or gender, or orientation, or poverty – those who are dying and those who are not yet born – all these are suffering members of the Body of Christ. We are all connected: if one member suffers, the whole Body suffers: we need to listen, and act, and treat those members with even greater respect and dignity. St. Paul concludes:
“On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honourable are to be clothed with greater honour. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together with it.
Dear fellow members of the Body of Christ, our recent history shows us only too clearly that there is much brokenness in our society, and in the Church as well. Many have left, others question whether they will remain. There is so much forgiveness to be sought; so many feet to be washed, so many relationships to mend, so many hurting people to welcome. There is so much we still have to let go of in order to become the Church Jesus is calling us to be:
My prayer for all of us is that we remember what it means to truly live the Eucharist, as we await the time we can receive the Sacrament anew: to become a living flame, blazing within, spreading light, radiating warmth to those around us. Instead of lamenting the secularism around us, becoming discouraged that our children and grandchildren no longer practice their faith, let us be the Body of Christ for them and with them. Through the authenticity of our love and witness, they will see and touch and taste God’s infinite love.
Let us be inspired by – and commit ourselves to live out – this beautiful prayer of St. Teresa of Avila, set to music by John Michael Talbot: CHRIST HAS NO BODY NOW BUT YOURS!
Christ has no body now but yours No hands, no feet on earth, but yours Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world Yours are the hands. Yours are the feet Yours are the eyes, You are His body Christ has no body now but yours No hands, no feet on earth, but yours Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world Christ has no body now on earth but yours.