Tuesday, 25 June 2019

Corpus Christi 2019

Theoretically, Corpus Christi is 60 days after Holy Thursday, that is, if we had celebrated it on Thursday 20th June. Essentially, the feast mirrors Maundy Thursday as both point to the Eucharist. The difference is the liturgy of Holy Thursday has a number of foci—apart from the Institution of the Eucharist, there is the Washing of the Feet which is tied to the Ordained Priesthood. Finally, after the Supper at the Upper Room, the Eleven with Jesus adjourned to the Garden of Gethsemane where He experienced His great agony. It is a day steeped in the sadness of betrayal that led to the Passion of the Christ.

In contrast, Corpus Christi highlights the Eucharist in a manner that allows us to rejoice at so great a gift for the salvation of mankind. It may be a commemoration less than a 1000 years old. Yet, one can even say that the solemnity has a fortuitous beginning in Belgium. It was like a pre-emptive strike against a Europe just before the onset of the Reformation.[1] It was at that time that there arose the first serious challenge to the long-held belief in the real, true and substantial presence of Jesus in the Eucharist.

As a result of the Protestant Reformation, for many Christians, the Eucharist is no more than a symbolic remembrance of the meal Jesus had with His disciples. But for those believers in whom there is to be found, a valid succession of the priesthood, Catholics and Orthodox, the Eucharist is truly the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus the Lord.  

Since He is fully human and fully divine, the Eucharist does make it easier for us to have a relationship with the invisible God. Through the Eucharist, God enters our soul in a real and personal way. As it is rightly stated, reception of Holy Communion transforms us into Him whom we have consumed.

This progressive change explains our procession—a feature central to the celebration of Corpus Christi. How symbolic can we be that the whole Body of Christ, meaning the congregation, is carrying the Body of Christ signifying our longing to be transformed into Him. Of course, transformed into Him does not mean that we are Him but that we become very much a copy of Who He is. St. Athanasius (296-373 AD) used to say, “God became man, so that man might become like God.”  Hence, our dear Lord, symbolised by the wine, completely humbled Himself in order that we, symbolised by the water, could be built up to share completely and inseparably in His divine life. This overt display of our faith is not a pretentious parade but a public petition for God to deepen our faith so that our reception of Him becomes more personal and therefore more life-changing. We know we can never measure up to the mark but that should not stop us from imploring His grace.

As we walk along the street, we become more mindful of Who it is that we are in the presence of. We enter into an attentive prayerfulness because we recognise that, under the appearance of bread, He is truly with us, He is really processing through the streets and He is essentially interested in our joys and sorrows. Furthermore, there is a paedagogical purpose in a procession. If you recall Christ on the way to Calvary, then the procession also has a bodily and an organic function of teaching us that the Cross is a definitive feature of discipleship. We will have to carry our cross, just like Jesus did, if we want to follow Him.

The trouble is we all inhabit a world of private spirituality. In this closeted world, we undoubtedly feel more comfortable with discreet practices. Just like when we make the sign of the Cross before saying grace. We trace it over an area as small as possible. With good reasons too. Furthermore, the usual question as to why we need to go to church since we can pray at home arises out of this fear that we be labelled “hypocrites” for not living up to what we preach. So, in preparing for processions, in general, we prefer restrained frugality to pompous pageantry. It would not be wrong to surmise that perhaps, we are doing it for the sake of getting it over and done with. Why? Primarily because it does not make sense to those who do not believe. Who wants to look like fools carrying an inanimate object around?

However, in a proper procession, there are supposed to be four altars set up along the way. These altars represent the four corners of the world and in a way, they invite us to make known to the world that God is interested in our salvation. Hence, the procession coupled with stopping at the four altars highlight the Church as the vehicle that God has intended for the salvation of the world. Catholics themselves might even find this hard to believe in but that is the truth. The banners being carried in front actually call to attention that this Body of Christ on earth, also known as the Church militant, is engaged in the fight against Satan and against our sinful selves. The Church, through the Eucharist, was established for the business of saving souls.

Finally, if the Blessed Sacrament is such a wonderful gift, should we not shout that out on top of the mountains? “Hey, this is truly the Bread of eternal life”. A muted procession might just surface a humbling realisation that we do not truly believe in this gift. Perhaps, it is time to change this. 

In order to grow into Whom we believe in, the parish should move in the direction of adoration, on a regular basis, before the Blessed Sacrament. The adoration rendered to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is simply the Mass extended. Adoration actually prepares our soul to receive Him more deeply and helps us make our reception of Him more personal and more transforming.

24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year—adoration is the fruit of this conversion. When we begin to understand how much God chooses to be with us, in sacramental form—truly, really and substantially present to us, then adoration 24/7/365 will be the result. We want to and not because we have to. Adoration cannot come as a result of fiat or imposition but rather as the fruit of our conversion.

We should not need this but our faith can be helped if we know it. In the Shroud of Turin, the blood type found therein is AB+. There are about 140 Vatican-approved Eucharistic miracles, where either the host or wine lose their appearance of bread and wine, turning into human tissue or blood. Wherever scientific testing has been carried out the same result of AB+ for the blood samples has been obtained. We do not need this but these findings provide a profound perspective for what we believe in.

In the procession, children always take the lead because there is an innocence about them which allows them to enter the Kingdom. We should imitate them them. So, on Corpus Christi we ask God for the grace of clarity to grasp this gift so great in our life. For the saints, the Eucharist is their strength, their consolation and the centre of their lives. May it be ours too.

[1] Throughout history there have always been doubts about the possibility of “transubstantiation”. Lanciano is the oldest in the series of Eucharistic miracles. In the case of Corpus Christi, a German priest on a pilgrimage to Rome stopped to celebrate Mass in Bolsena. He was affected by the debates amongst theologians whether Jesus could truly be present in the sacred species. As he offered Mass, blood started seeping from the consecrated host onto the altar and corporal. The incident was reported to Pope Urban IV who sent delegates to investigate. The host and blood-stained corporal was brought to him in Orvieto where they remain till today. In a way, the visions of St Juliana of Mont Cornillon in Belgium were confirmed. A mystic and a nun, she was instructed by Jesus in her visions to establish a liturgical feast for the Holy Eucharist. She tried for many years when finally she convinced the future Pope Urban IV to create this special feast. After her death, the Pope instituted the feast for the Universal Church and celebrated it for the first time in Orvieto in 1264, a year after the Eucharistic miracle in Bolsena.