“See today before us laid, the living and life-giving Bread! Theme for praise and joy profound”. So reads the third verse of the great sequence from the Mass of this feast of Corpus Christi.
O living and life-giving bread; oh sweetest Saviour and Redeemer, our Eucharistic Lord! Such pious thoughts spring freely to mind when we come face to face with Christ at each Holy Mass and at each worthy reception of Holy Communion.
Brief history of the feast.
This glorious feast is that day upon which we celebrate the inestimable gift of so receiving God in the Sacred Host, a true marvel of God’s goodness. Dom Gueranger notes that in the year 1208, a holy religious name Bl. Juliana of Mont Cornillon was favoured with a vision of a moon with a hollow on its disc. The vision repeated itself before her each time she began to pray, and after two years she learned that the hollow disc represented the hole in the Church’s liturgical year by not having this feast. For though we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Maundy Thursday, the Church’s liturgical eye is very much focussed on the events of Good Friday and thus we cannot give full attention to the meditation on the Eucharist which we can do so today. Furthermore, the people of the time (how much more so today) had been greatly affected by the influences of heresy and needed this extra feast to properly celebrate its mysteries. She was thus commanded by God to make known to the world the content of this message and to bring about the feast of the Holy Eucharist. Plagued by timidity, it was twenty years before she petitioned the bishop of Liege, who instituted a feast for his diocese in 1246. However at the time of Bl. Juliana’s death in 1258, the practice had still only spread to the single diocese. It took some years further for Pope Urban IV to establish the feast for the entire Church in 1264, having asked St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the office for the feast.
Dwelling on the great mystery.
How can one best celebrate this feast? The simplest answer would be to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion worthily and to pay careful attention to the thanksgiving made afterwards. However for many people across the world, access to the sacraments is still unjustly prohibited and so we must console ourselves with making a deep meditation upon the great mystery of the Holy Eucharist.
In fact such a method of celebrating can be of itself extremely grace-filled. For who among us can really dare to say that they fully understand such a mystery or that they are not moved by it? When news spreads of a visiting royal or celebrity, crowds flock to just catch a sight of those who they wish to set their earthly gaze on. As Catholics, we have God Himself before us in the Holy Eucharist, who makes all pale in comparison to Him. Unlike the celebrities, He does not visit us in great noise and artificial pomp, but in silence and calm. Our Eucharistic Lord is not an unwilling or vain personage, but actively wishes to give Himself entirely to us out of the sheer boundlessness of His love.
What words can thus properly describe such an encounter? How can we dare to even approach the rail at which we receive the author of all that ever has and ever will exist? Ours is the greatest honour of all, to be able to adore and receive Christ under the sacred species. Our faith and devotion are crucial to being able to properly adore Him and thus celebrate this feast. For our devotion and love of the Holy Eucharist will grow only in so far as we can really admit to ourselves that it is truly God whom we receive. By this, I mean a real embracing of this truth; we should not simply repeat the lines of our catechism to ourselves, but truly recall and reinforce our understanding of the great truth that God is in fact before us. In short, we need to firmly believe and love the Real Presence. The manner in which we accept this truth determines the entire nature of our spiritual life and our devotion at Mass. It further determines the entire fervour of the Church Herself, in Her liturgies and ceremonies.
For once we accept, truly and deeply accept, that in the Sacred Host is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, we are faced with a great choice. Either we embrace Him and seek to deepen our love of Him and thus conform our lives to His holy will, or we reject Him and seek to ignore His advent into our souls. Only one way leads to life and salvation.
Perhaps reading through this, one might suggest that such a meditation just on accepting the truth of the Divine Presence, is somewhat uneccesary. For as stated, it is something which was taught in the early catechism lessons. Yet if our believe and devotion to this truth was as it should be, then our spiritual lives would be very different. For is it not incongruous to dwell on the glory of the Real Presence before us, then rush speedily off without even making a proper thanksgiving? What trouble are a few minutes of humble thanksgiving for having receive God into our souls, and yet how often can we honestly state to have done so? Or again, is it not wrong to receive Holy Communion and then to ignore the inestimable blessing by falling back into past faults without even the slightest struggle? If we truly wished to honour God who has visited us, would we at least try to adhere to the virtues, even for a short time?
For myself and I am sure for others, it is an uncomfortable truth that very often we seek to somewhat ignore the truth of the Divine Presence. Perhaps we know that if we were truly to dwell on such an awful truth then it would necessitate a change in our attendance at Mass or an increase in the practice of the spiritual life?
However, there can be no greater consolation in this world than the simple gaze of a soul before the Blessed Sacrament. Or the quiet content of the soul who has just worthily received Holy Communion - who has received God Himself. Christ gave us Himself in this most glorious sacrament, in perfect knowledge that nothing else can fill us with grace, life or peace. We mentioned a choice a few lines earlier, but in actual fact there is really no choice, for only a fool would actively choose to reject the love which can be found in the Blessed Sacrament.
The soul who truly accepts that God is before his eyes and thus wishes to ordain his life accordingly, can only be filled with the sweetest graces and blessings from his Eucharistic Lord. Such a soul enters into a deep union of love with Christ, for he believes with a lively faith that each time he adores and receives the Blessed Sacrament, he receives Christ. Gradually this soul enters into a happy union whereby he comes to know and love Christ intimately, through the worthy reception of Communion and the passionate devotion which he shows to the Blessed Sacrament. Especially in those precious moments after the reception of Holy Communion, we have a unique opportunity to unite ourselves completely with God, allowing Him to engulf us with His love and fill us with His divine life.
Indeed, it is hard to properly express the beauty of this feast and the mysteries which we are called to contemplate. One day is not enough and yet the whole year would not be enough. The reception of Christ in the Holy Eucharist can truly be called the pinnacle of our life; if one were to die after a worthy reception, then what a happy position such a soul would be in. Today’s feast is an opportunity for a renewal of such fervour and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. We are, as the centurion so rightly said, not worthy that He should come into our houses or souls, yet He wishes to do so and to unite us to Himself. (Matt 8:8) At His name all shall tremble and knees shall bend, yet this omnipotent Saviour chooses to hide Himself in the Sacred Species and so give Himself to us on a daily basis! The greatest love letters from history cannot describe the love of such a Divine Lover.
So on this feast of Corpus Christ, let us use the opportunity to fall in love with our Eucharistic Lord ever more, strengthening our faith and love in the Real Presence and ordering our lives accordingly. All too often, Holy Communion is received unworthily, or received without a second thought, and yet how can anyone do so if they truly believe and love Christ in the Sacred Species? With a deeper love and union with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, it will not even seem possible to rush away from the end of Mass or to avoid times of adoration. The more we unite ourselves in love and faith to Him, the more we realise that our thirst and longing can only be satisfied by Christ. There is no love like that of Christ and no longing like that which He has for us. But so also there is no love more pure and worthy than that of the soul who draws ever nearer to his Eucharistic Lord.
What can one say about such a mystery! Christ, our Eucharist Lord and author of life, draw us into Thyself!