SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST (CORPUS CHRISTI)
Today is the great solemnity of Corpus Christi, the day set aside by the Church to honor and celebrate Christ's true presence in the Eucharist. Though Holy Thursday celebrates the institution of the Eucharist (and the priesthood necessary to celebrate it), the commemoration of our Lord's passion suppresses the rejoicing otherwise proper to the occasion. And so Corpus Christi accents the joyous aspect of Holy Thursday.
This great feast was instituted by Pope Urban IV in 1264, and it was St. Thomas Aquinas himself who composed the Mass. The Tantam Ergo that is still sung on Holy Thursday and other Eucharistic processions was composed by St. Thomas for this feast.
The Second Vatican Council called the Eucharist "the source and summit of our faith." That means our faith truly begins and ends with this Sacrament. Through it, Christ comes to us and ministers to us in the depths of our human despair and sorrow. Yet, the holiest of saints will never reach any pinnacle of adoration higher on this earth than Christ in the Eucharist.
Our Holy Father Emeritus, Benedict XVI, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote, "If we want to understand the meaning of Corpus Christi, the best thing to do is simply to look at the liturgical form in which the Church celebrates and expounds the significance of this feast... First there is what we are doing right now, meeting together around the Lord, standing before the Lord, and thus standing side by side together. Next there is walking with the Lord, the procession. And finally there is the heart and the climax of it, kneeling before the Lord, the adoration, glorifying Him and rejoicing in His presence" (God Is Near Us).
Our Gospel today relates the miracle of the loaves and fishes, where Christ fed five thousand from a mere five loaves of bread and two fish, from which there were enough left overs to fill twelve baskets. Modernists like to recast this story as a lesson about sharing -- suggesting that the five thousand had enough food in their pockets to feed everyone and Jesus merely taught them to be generous. But surely this was a true miracle, with Christ showing us how He can take a seemingly small and finite amount of food and with it nourish the multitudes.
And it is precisely because of this miracle that the crowd returned the next day. They wished to be fed (some spiritually, most physically). Rather than hand out another free meal, our Lord spoke to them about "true bread from heaven," which "gives life to the world." The crowd said, "Lord, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:32-35). Thus begins the great Bread of Life discourse of John chapter 6 where Jesus insists over and over again that to gain eternal life one must eat his flesh and drink his blood.
How could this be? How could a man give his very flesh to eat? How could a man feed five thousand people from five loaves and two fish? A mere man could do neither. God can. The same God who could become Incarnate in the womb of the Virgin Mary can also transform the bread and wine we bring to the altar into His very Body and Blood. Is one miracle any more impossible for the Almighty than the other? Is either more or less dignified?
God, in His divine plan for our salvation, desires to commune with us most intimately. He desires to dwell within us, make His home in us, both in spirit and in body. And so He presents Himself to us in a form which we can take into ourselves, which can nourish us, and transform us.
Is there any greater humility to be found in the universe? Is there a greater gift He could have given us than Himself?
Lord Jesus Christ, you gave us the Eucharist as the memorial of your suffering and death. May our worship of this sacrament of your body and blood help us to experience the salvation you won for us and the peace of the kingdom where you live with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.