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The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ ("Corpus Christi")
THE MYSTERY OF TRANSFORMATION
If you were given the job of drawing up the Church’s calendar of feasts and seasons, what day would you choose to commemorate the gift of the presence of Christ’s body and blood in the eucharist?
The most logical day might seem to be Holy Thursday, the day on which the eucharist was instituted. Holy Thursday, however, is part of the Easter Triduum and the focus for the liturgy on that day is not on the institution of the eucharist (or even 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 (at the time) after the Easter season - was chosen for the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi, as it was originally known. Where, as in Australia, it is not observed as a holy day of obligation, it is assigned to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.
The feast arose in thirteenth century Belgium in response to debates about the real presence and as a result of an upsurge in eucharistic piety. Its extension to the entire Western Church was decreed by Urban IV in 1264.
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.
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 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 and echo of the sequence of Pentecost heard just a couple of weeks ago:“Come, good shepherd, bread divine,still show to us thy mercy sign,oh, feed us still, still keep us thine.”
“Thou, our present food, our future rest,come make us each thy chosen guest.”
Prefaces of the Holy Eucharist I and II are set down for the day. 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 peopleand 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 sacramentto be fed at your table and grow into the likeness of the risen Christ.”
When we eat and drink the Body and Blood of Christ, we ourselves are transformed more perfectly into the presence of the risen Christ. This is Christ’s gift to us, but it is also a challenge, because it calls us in turn to give our own body and blood to others so that they too might be nourished.