Reflection on the Feast of the Body and Blood of the Lord
Mons. Francis Kelly
Superior of Casa Santa Maria, Rome
Not merely promise but reality and presence
The following extract was taken from the book "Through the Church Year" by Mons. Francis Kelly, Superior of Casa Santa Maria in Rome.
Around the beginning of the second millennium, Berengarius, a theologian of Tours, began promoting theories against the Eucharistic presence of the Lord that were strongly contested by St Norbert, founder of the Premonstratensian Canons. An increase of Eucharistic piety was the result. A private revelation to a Belgian nun, Juliana of Mt Cornillon, led to the introduction of a special feast in honor of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Diocese of Liege in 1246.
Pope Urban residing in Orvieto in Italy, where a Eucharistic miracle had occurred, was inspired to extend this feast to the entire Church, which he did in 1264. St Thomas Aquinas, who was serving in Orvieto as a theologian with the Papal court, was assigned to compose the Mass and Office used for this feast, including the special Sequence for the Mass and the hymns for Eucharistic Adoration and Procession.1
1. "He became man that we might become gods!"
The yearly cycle of the sacred liturgy above all else celebrates God's love. Having celebrated the mystery of our salvation in these past months we now see more clearly the ineffable love of God for his creatures. We have seen the sacrificial self-giving of the Son and the outpouring of the Spirit. It seems that God cannot do enough to prove his love and convince us of our dignity in his eyes. God is truly the Loving Shepherd of his people.
The ultimate purpose of all God's saving deeds is to elevate us to a status of adopted sons and daughters. The fathers of the Church often said of Christ: "He became man that we might became gods!". This is the divine life God wishes to share with us:
"God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, 'Abba, Father!'. So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God' (Gal 4:4-7)".
This awesome purpose and goal of God for us is realized and effected most concretely and tangibly for us in the sacrament we celebrate on this day — the sacrament of the Body and the Blood of the Lord:
"Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me" (Jn 6:56-57).
The Eucharist draws us, lowly and sinful creatures, directly into the divine life of the Triune God! This is the culmination of God's redeeming work and what we celebrate today with both solemnity and joy. Too often Catholics have only a moralistic understanding of their religion as a program of obligations and prohibitions. This shallow understanding of Christianity ignores the whole freedom from the slavery of the law noted above and our transformation into adopted children of God, co-heirs with Christ. On this great Solemnity, then, let us hear anew the essence of our Christian faith:
"We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us. God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him" (1 Jn 4:16).
2. "This is my body" (Mt 26:26).
We believe in the true presence of the actual glorified body of Jesus Christ in this sacrament:
"The greatest mystery of the Christian faith is that God came to us in the body, suffered with us in the body, rose in the body, and gave us his body as food. No religion takes the body as seriously as the Christian religion.
"The body is not seen as the enemy or as prison of the spirit, but celebrated as the Spirit's temple. Through Jesus' birth, life, death, and Resurrection, the human body has become part of the life of God. By eating the body of Christ, our own fragile bodies are becoming intimately connected with the risen Christ and thus prepared to be lifted up with him into the divine life. Jesus says, 'I am 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)
"It is in union with the body of Christ that I come to know the full significance of my own body. My own body is much more than a mortal instrument of pleasure and pain. It is a home where God wants to manifest the fullness of the divine glory. This truth is the most profound basis for the moral life. The abuse of the body — whether it be psychological (e.g., instilling fear), physical (e.g., torture), economic (e.g., exploitation), or sexual (e.g., hedonistic pleasure seeking) — is a distortion of true human destiny: to live in the body eternally with God. The loving care given to our bodies and the bodies of others is therefore a truly spiritual act, since it leads the body closer towards its glorious existence.
"The feast of the body of Christ is given to us to fully recognize the mystery of the body and to help us find ways to live reverently and joyfully in the body in expectation of the risen life with God".2
3. "We carry the sacrament through the fields and wilderness of our life".
A special feature that characterizes this feast is the Solemn Eucharistic Procession in which the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the streets of cities and towns. Perhaps the most famous is the procession in Orvieto itself where the feast was first proclaimed. This two-hour procession carrying the monstrance and also the Miraculous Corporal of Bolsena winds through the streets of that hilltop town with many of the townspeople in medieval costumes.
Significantly, it makes only two stops: one at the convent of the cloistered Carmelite nuns, who are not allowed to go out, and one at the local prison. In both cases the Cardinal officiating carries the Lord into those dwellings for special prayers and blessings. The Eucharistic Lord comes to saints and sinners alike!
The meaning of the procession was described by Pope Benedict XVI in his Homily on this feast in 2007:
"We join together this evening in the Procession to carry the Lord Jesus, as it were, to all the streets and neighborhoods of Rome. We bring him, as it were, into the ordinariness of our daily life, because he walks where we walk, because he lives where we live. We journey on the streets of this earth, knowing that he is at our side, sustained by the hope of one day seeing his unveiled presence in the final encounter of heaven".
Another great theologian has also eloquently written about the various meanings of the procession, and he is worth quoting at length:
"What is the first thing that the Corpus Christi procession tells us? It tells us — or rather through it we remind ourselves — that we are pilgrims on the earth. We have here no lasting dwelling place. We are a people who change, who are restlessly driven on through time and space, who are in via,and still seeking our real homeland and our everlasting rest. We are those who must allow themselves to be changed, because to be a member of the human race means to let oneself change, and perfection means to have changed often. The movement of the procession makes perfectly clear our dependence on time and the stratification of the sphere of our existence. But this procession is not merely a throng, and its motion is not only the mass flight of those who are hurrying through time and the barren desert of earthly existence. A procession is a holy movement of those truly united. It is a gentle stream of peaceful majesty, not a procession of fists clenched in bitterness, but of hands folded in gentleness. It is a procession which threatens no one, excludes no one, and whose blessing even falls on those who stand astonished at its edge and who look on, comprehending nothing. It is a movement which the holy One, the eternal One supports with his presence; he gives peace to the movement and he gives unity to those taking part in it. The Lord of history and of this holy exodus from exile towards the eternal homeland himself accompanies the exodus. It is a holy procession, one that has a goal, both before it and with it. From this point of view, we can understand the specific significance of this procession.
"It tells us of the eternal presence of human guilt in the history of mankind and in our own history; yes, even in the history of my life. With us on our march we carry the Body which was given for us. The Cross of Calvary goes with us, the sign that the guilt of deicide weighs upon mankind. The Body and the life that we all have crushed in death goes with us. This procession of sinners tells us that in our journey through time we always have the crucified One with us.
When we walk down our streets, past houses where dwell sinful luxury, sinful misery, and darkness of hearts, then we are walking past new manifestations of sin of the world. When we walk right into the midst of these manifestations, then we are proclaiming his death, which we are all guilty of, and our death. Through this procession, which is accompanied by the crucified One, we acknowledge that we are sinners and that we have to suffer our own guilt and that of all mankind. We confess that again and again we walk down the path of error, of guilt, and of death, the path which the sinless One also walked for us and always continues to walk with us — in the Sacrament and in the grace of his Spirit. This path has mysteriously become redemption for those who believe with love, who understand this sacrament, and who take it with them on their dark path.
"The procession also tells us of the abiding presence of Christ, our peace and reconciliation, on the paths of our life. He goes with us, he who is reconciliation, he who is love and mercy. During all the time that we call life, as we trudge along the streets of this earth, he is there, right behind us, pursuing us in the obstinacy of his love. He follows us, even when we walk a crooked path and lose our direction. He seeks the lost sheep even in the wilderness, and he runs to meet the prodigal son.
"He walks with us on the pilgrimage of our life, he who walked down all these streets himself —quarens me sedisti lassus —from birth to death. He therefore knows how we feel on this endless journey that is so often trackless. He is near at hand, visible and invisible, with the mercy of his heart, with the patient and full and merciful experience of his whole life. He, salvation itself, and the propitiation of our sin. We carry the sacrament through the fields and wilderness of our life, and give testimony that as long as he goes with us we have with us the one who can make every way straight and purposeful.
"The procession also tells us of a blessed wonder: since the Incarnation and death and Resurrection of Christ, our movement in the procession is not only towards a goal, but we already move right in the midst of the goal itself. Indeed, the end of the age has already come over us. Yes, we wandering pilgrims already carry in our hands the one who is himself our end and our goal. We lift up the body, in which divinity and humanity are already indissolubly united. We carry the glorified body (although still hidden under the veils of this world) in which the world, in a moment that belongs to her forever, has already begun to be glorified and to tower up into the eternal, inaccessible light of God himself.
"The motion of the world, so the Corpus Christi procession tells us, has already entered upon its last phase, and as a whole it can no longer miss its goal. The distant goal of this motion of all millennia has already mysteriously penetrated into the movement itself. It is there not merely as promise and as a far distant future, but as reality and presence" .3
1. Prosper Gueranger, The Liturgical Year,vol. 10 (Dublin: Duffy and Sons, 1879) 150ff.
2. Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Road to Daybreak (New York: Doubleday, 1988). Quoted in Eternal Seasons (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2004), 145-146.
3. Karl Rahner, The Eternal Year (Montreal: Palm Publishers, 1964), 114ff.
Weekly Edition in English
2 June 2010, page 6
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