The Feast of Corpus Christi is like a perfect jewel tucked in a crevice. We’ve journeyed through the glorious Easter Season; and, as we settle back into Ordinary Time, this liturgical gem emerges. Corpus Christi reminds us what it means to be Catholics while clarifying that the Body of Christ is one through our shared participation in the Eucharist.
Historical Origins and Liturgical Position in the Season
In the 12th century, the Feast of Corpus Christi gained wide following in the Church, after the prompting of St. Juliana of Mount Cornillon in Belgium. The Church celebrated the feast with vast processions and Biblical dramas. In France, the Feast of Corpus Christi is known as the Day of Wreaths where flowered wreaths are carried high on sticks in processions and placed on homes and gardens.
In this part of the world, this feast appears in the calendar year at the beginning of summer when flowers are in bloom. The juxtaposition of the season with the feast gives me a sense of the fullness of grace. In New England, the weather remains moderate while the summer sun warms the earth and all the plants appear in a bright array of greens interspersed with vibrant flowers. The natural season provides a fitting metaphor for the placement of Corpus Christi within both the liturgical and natural seasons.
Mass Readings for Corpus Christi
The Mass readings align the gift of manna that sustained the Israelites in their 40-year desert wanderings (Deuteronomy 8: 2-3, 14-16) with Paul’s reminder to the new Christians of their unity in the body of Christ is formed of “one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10:16-17), culminating in the most riveting of all Gospel passages:
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us [his] flesh to eat?”Jesus said to them, “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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. (John 6:48-57)
The Evangelical Message of Corpus Christi
This feast unifies many branches of the Orthodox Church with the Roman Church. This feast also forms a dividing line between protestants and Catholics.
The concept of oneness in the Body of Christ is a common identifying link among all Christians. However, the historic Church identifies that unity not in some vague largess — as if Christ forms a vast outline around all His people from the heavens. The unity derives from the Eucharist — His body and blood offered once-for-all time in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. We participate in His Body through our ingestion of the Eucharist. We take the divine life directly within us.
Participation in the Eucharist is a dividing line that separates Catholics from protestants. And even the Bible remains unequivocal on this issue. Christ told his followers: “”Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves” (John 6:53). This leaves very little room for interpretation.
The Eucharist is the beginning of our life in Christ. Without the Eucharist, there is no life in Christ.
Enter into the Feast of Corpus Christi with your full presence, and remember to carry His presence out into the world.