June 22, 2014 – Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)
Today’s Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known perhaps as Corpus Christi, has been celebrated by the Catholic Church for almost 1,000 years. Although it is a Holy Day of Obligation, and traditionally occurred on the Thursday after Holy Trinity Sunday, in the United States it has been transferred to the next Sunday after Holy Trinity Sunday which we celebrated last week.
On Holy Thursday we commemorate the First Holy Communion, and on this day we remember the institution of the Holy Eucharist. It was felt that Holy Thursday, on the eve of the Crucifixion, was a more sorrowful and penitent event. Therefore, Corpus Christi was instituted so we could celebrate with joy and thanksgiving. We as Catholics embrace, believe, and understand that Christ comes to us in reality; through the Holy Eucharist the priest with the power of the Holy Spirit transubstantiates the bread and wine into the real Body and Blood of Christ.
Our readings for this special Sunday reflect that belief and that institution. The first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy recalls the time of the Israelites in the desert. There is a foreshadowing of the Eucharist in that God provides for His people by feeding them and quenching their thirst. However, there is a caution to them not to be overcome with pride and the feeling that they have survived and thrived because of their own efforts. It is God who provides and God who has provided. The message to us is the same — that we need to understand and recognize that we are held up by God and we are spiritually filled by the Lord, especially through the Eucharist.
In the letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, Paul is addressing a problem which existed in Corinthian society. Side by side with their Christian celebrations, with their communion within the Christian community, some of them continued to follow various pagan practices and beliefs, including both worshipping and participating in pagan meals and rituals. The point Paul is making is that they cannot have it both ways. As holy as the Eucharist should be and was to them, the benefits of that may be neutralized and cancelled by pagan practices. We face similar pressures and contradictions in our lives today. Attending Mass and participating in the Eucharist are necessary for us to fulfill our faith and our beliefs; yet we live in a society which tempts us and challenges us with practices which are not acceptable. We must constantly be wary of this; living lives of stewardship and following through with our Baptismal call and promise help us to overcome the temptations which may be all around us.
Jesus is careful to indicate in the Gospel reading from John the difference between the “living bread” of the Eucharist and normal bread. He contrasts the spiritual bread He offers to the manna the Israelites received in the desert, for example. It is as if there is sustenance and there is eternal life. We are offered eternal life, but there is a proviso attached. Jesus is not asking us to just admire Him and He is not satisfied with us just tasting. We must become one with Him, one body in Christ; we must remain in Him and Him in us. “This is the bread that came down from heaven… whoever eats this bread will live forever.” Participation in the Eucharist must be more than going through the motions; St. John Paul II put it this way in a sermon he gave on Corpus Christi: “In order to live we need food and drink. In order to gain eternal life we need the Eucharist. This is the food and drink that transforms our lives and opens before us the way to eternal life. By consuming the Body and Blood of Christ, we bear within ourselves already on this earth, the seed of eternal life, for the Eucharist is the sacrament of life in God.”