On Sunday 3 June we are keeping the lovely Feast of Corpus Christi, sometimes called Corpus et Sanguis Christi, Body and Blood of Christ, or Feast of Thanksgiving for the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Liturgically, at this celebration, the Mass is celebrated in the normal way until after Communion. Normally at that point the consecrated Bread of Holy Communion is returned to the Lady Chapel (I’ll explain this later!) On this occasion however, the bread, the Body of Christ, remains on the altar and is placed in a special ‘holder’ called a Monstrance (from the Latin, to show or display.) A procession is formed and the monstrance is carried in solemn procession outside the church and then returns. At the end, the people are blessed, not as usual by the priest, but by Christ himself, hidden under the form of bread in the Eucharist.
But what is this all about? What does it mean?
Well, first, we have to understand what we mean by the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, in what we call the Blessed Sacrament. Christians believe that Jesus is true to his word. Before the Ascension, Jesus told his followers that he would be with them until the end of time. (See Matthew 28:20)
At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples, backed up by St Paul in his letters, that when we celebrate the Eucharist (or Mass) Jesus is really there. Jesus said ‘This is my Body, This is my blood’. He did not say this means, or this represents, or this is symbolic, he said THIS IS. (See Matthew 26:26, 1Corinthians 11:24) This is why there is such reverence at the Communion; we believe that Jesus is really present. This is why everyone should be more reverent then than any other time. Jesus himself is there!
Normally, at the end of mass, some of the bread, the Body of Christ, under the form of bread, is taken to the Lady Chapel. It is placed in the special ‘cupboard’ properly called the Aumbry. You can see it there, if you haven’t noticed, covered by a gold curtain to show its importance and there is always a white candle burning there, to remind us of the Real Presence of Jesus.
The Eucharist, or ‘Blessed Sacrament@ is reserved there for two main reasons. First the Sacrament is always there, ready for Holy Communion to be taken to home or hospital for someone too ill or infirm to come to mass. (Fr Andrew like almost all priests, regularly takes Holy Communion to such members of our church family.)
Second the Sacrament is there so that we can be close to Jesus in meditation and prayer. Of course we don’t need that in order to pray – we can pray anywhere. But there is something very special about being able to pray in this special presence of Jesus.
We can love any friend from a distance – we can even phone or write – but we count it much better to be in their presence, to be in the same room with them. In many ways this is just the same. We come into the special presence of Jesus when we pray before the Blessed Sacrament reserved in our church. [Incidentally, most weeks on a Wednesday evening, we have a special opportunity to do just that. Did you realise that? The opportunity is there to be especially close to Jesus. Look at the Pew sheet, Wednesday evening, 6.30pm until just before Mass. Jesus is there. Will you come and join him sometime?]
But let us get back to Corpus Christi!
First, this celebration and procession teaches us to be always prayerful, attentive, and meditative in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. It reminds us, “We are the Body of Christ, and therefore we also see him in our neighbour.
Second, the Eucharist embraces all of us. Not just those few gathered in church. Jesus is present for everyone. We are called to take him to all people. One priest put it like this: As I carry the most Blessed Sacrament I thought the eyes of Jesus are seeing the world in our streets. He is present to us. What a beautiful thing.”
Jesus is always present in the world. The procession reminds us he is present in the world and interested in our joys, sorrows, and blessing. Here is Jesus body, blood, soul and divinity under the appearances of bread, the host, walking through the streets.
What a wonderful feast! What an opportunity to physically live out in a special way our belief in the Real Presence of Jesus with us. What a way to live out his command to us, to carry his presence into the world! Wow!
See you there – and on Wednesday evenings!?