The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ


This Sunday the Church celebrates the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi as it was originally known.
The feast arose in thirteenth century Belgium in response to debates about the real presence and a resultant upsurge in eucharistic piety. It was extended to the entire Western Church by a decree of Pope Urban IV in 1264.
To some people it might seem strange to be commemorating the gift of the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist at this time of the liturgical year.
A more logical day might seem to be Holy Thursday when we commemorate Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples on the night before his death. However, Holy Thursday is part of the Easter Triduum and the focus of the liturgy on that day is not on the institution of the Eucharist, or of the priesthood, but on the passion. This is made clear in the entrance antiphon: “We should glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, for he is our salvation, our life and our resurrection”.
The Thursday after Trinity Sunday – the first ‘free’ Thursday after the Easter season according to the calendar at the time - was chosen for the celebration of the feast. The 1969 calendar reform combined the old observances of Corpus Christi and the Precious Blood (on July 1) into a solemnity which celebrates the Lord’s abiding presence with us in the gift of the Eucharist.
In those places such as Australia where the feast is not a holy day of obligation, it is celebrated on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.
The texts used in the liturgy of the feast have traditionally been attributed to St Thomas Aquinas. They include a long sequence which is now optional and is seldom used. Perhaps verses such as this one could assist personal prayer and reflection on the feast: ”Concealed beneath the two-fold sign, meet symbols of the gifts divine, there lie the mysteries adored: the living body is our food; our drink the ever-precious blood; in each, one undivided Lord.”
The final stanzas contain echoes of the sequence of Pentecost heard just a couple of weeks ago: “Come then, good shepherd, bread divine, still show to us thy mercy sign; oh, feed us still, still keep us thine.”
“O thou, the wisest, mightiest, best,
our present food, our future rest, come make us each thy chosen guest.”

The Preface set down for the feast is the Preface Holy Eucharist I or II. The second of these focuses on the impact of the Eucharist on our lives, especially its unifying effect: “In this great sacrament you feed your people and strengthen them in holiness, so that the family of mankind
may come to walk in the light of one faith, in one communion of love. We come then to this wonderful sacrament to be fed at your table
and grow into the likeness of the risen Christ.”

May our sharing together the one bread that is Christ’s Body and sharing the one cup of Christ’s Blood make us truly one in Christ, for the life of the world.

Elizabeth Harrington