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On Thursday June 23, 2010,at 7 p.m., the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, the Holy Father celebrated Mass on the square in front of Rome’s St. John Lateran Basilica. Following this Liturgy he presided at the traditional Eucharistic procession from the basilica, along Via Merulana, to the Basilica of St. Mary Major. Vatican offices were closed in honor of this great Feast. Corpus Christi is a “moveable Feast” and was been transferred to this in the United States.
On this wonderful Feast the faithful throughout the whole world are invited to be changed profoundly by their participation in the most Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and the Eucharistic procession. No ‘old fashioned ritual’, this reveals the very truth of the new reality brought about through the Paschal mystery. Though this Feast has been transferred to Sunday in the United States, the Church in most of the world celebrated it on Thursday. Whenever it is celebrated, it is a richly significant day in Catholic life. Priests, accompanied by Deacons, lead the faithful in a solemn procession of the Consecrated Holy Eucharist throughout the Streets of the world.
The celebration of this Solemnity goes back to the thirteenth century. Pope Urban IV instituted it in 1264 for the entire Church. He wanted it to be filled with joy and accompanied by hymns and a festive procession. He asked the great Western Church father, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose two Offices of prayer. St Thomas did so- along with five hymns – and they have nourished the piety of Christians for centuries.
In one of them St. Thomas noted: “Material food first of all turns itself into the person who eats it, and as a consequence, restores his losses and increases his vital energies. Spiritual food, on the other hand, turns the person who eats it into Itself, and thus the proper effect of this sacrament is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him. And as a consequence it has the double effect of restoring the spiritual losses caused by sins and defects and of increasing the power of the virtues”.
In this celebration we proclaim our belief in the Real presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. We also proclaim that same Jesus lives within each one of us who are baptized into His Body, the Church. In fact, the entire Trinity takes up residence within us and, through that life in the Church and participation in the Sacraments we can live in the Trinity. This is the mystery of what we call communion.
The Christian faith and life is about relationship, with the Father, in and through His Son Jesus and in Jesus Christ with one another for the sake of the world. The world into which we process is the world that God still loves so much that He continues to send His Son to save, recreate and transform it from within. The Corpus Christi procession symbolizes the ongoing redemptive mission of Jesus Christ and our participation in it.
I have fond memories of this beautiful event which stretch back into my early childhood. It is an extremely important day in my vocation, the anniversary of my ordination to the Diaconate in Christ. Since my ordination to ministry as a Deacon, it has come to signify my call to go “from the altar and ambo into the world.” This is how I explain the ministry of a deacon to anyone who asks. We are clergy called to the world, as witnesses of Christ the Servant.
It also reminds me of the call to continuing conversion, the universal call to holiness. Each of us who bear the name Christian are to become more like the One whom we love and in whom we live. He comes to dwell within us and we live our lives now in Him. We are “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our “hearts”, which is, in biblical language, the center of the person.
In the Holy Eucharist we receive the Divine Host whom we carry in procession. When we process we proclaim that the Lord continues to come into the world through the Church. Through our Baptism he has taken up residence within each one of us. We carry Him into the real world just as we carry the monstrance into its streets today.
Jesus told his disciples “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” We who have been given the bread of angels do have His Life within us;- the very life of the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – a communion of Divine Persons in the Perfect unity of Perfect love.
The Feast of Corpus Christi follows the great Feast of the Holy Trinity in the Western Catholic Church calendar in order to show this profound connection. Through our continual reception of the Eucharist we are invited to live more fully in the Trinitarian communion- and given the grace to do so!
Then we are sent into the world to carry Jesus to others. The Lord wants all men and women to live within the Church. She is the home of the whole human race and a seed of the kingdom. The implications of that invitation are meant to unfold into a life of continual conversion in every believer. This conversion happens in and through the very “stuff” of the struggles and travail of our daily lives; through the mistakes, the wrong choices, the failures, and the pain, joined to His Passion.
Through it all, the love of God purifies and refines us like the refiners’ fire purified the gold that was used to make the many Monstrances we carry into the Streets of the world on this great and glorious Feast of Corpus Christi. Like Mary, the Mother of the Lord – and the mother of all who follow her Son – we are invited to give our own “Fiat”, our “Yes” to the God of love. We enthrone Him in our hearts.
For me, this is the day when I celebrate my ordination to the Diaconate in Christ. Because this event, which changed my entire life and “ordered” me for service in Christ, occurred on this feast in 1996, I always celebrate the Feast as my ordination anniversary, rather than the calendar date.
I knew then, and have only grown to understand more deeply with each passing year, how significant it was that the Lord who called me allowed me to root my service as a member of the Clergy in the rich and deep meaning of this marvelous Feast. The mystery it recalls to our hearts and minds and the invitation to intimacy with the Lord which it extends has informed my response to the Vocation of Deacon.
As we march the Monstrance into the cities of the whole world we participate in a profoundly prophetic act. The early Eastern Church Fathers referred to the Church as the “world transfigured” and the “world reconciled.” That reconciliation and transfiguration continues through the Church. Jesus has been raised from the dead and he walks into the world.
St. Paul, in his letter to the Christians in Philippi, reminds us our true “citizenship” is “in heaven.” While we live in this current age we participate in bringing heaven to earth and earth to heaven. We who are Christians now live in the Church and go into the world. Our mission is to bring this world back to God in and through Jesus Christ.
We have received the Bread of Heaven. Let us become what we consume. On the Feast of Corpus Christi, as we march through the Streets of the world lifting Jesus Christ enthroned, let us say”Yes” to the invitation to become “living monstrances”. Let the consuming fire of God’s love purify us so that we can now be used to reveal His presence to a world waiting to be born anew.