Corpus Christi – The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Year C)

Note: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – also known as Corpus Christi – is traditionally celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. But in some countries and in some dioceses, it is celebrated on the following Sunday.

Commentary on Genesis 14:18-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

In a way we have already celebrated this feast. We did so on Holy (Maundy) Thursday in Holy Week. On that occasion, the emphasis was on the institution, the gift of the Eucharist to us as one of Jesus’ last acts before his suffering and death. It was, moreover, to be an enduring memorial of that great liberating act by which God’s love would be forever kept before our minds.

One reason why we may have this second feast of the Eucharist is that it takes place during the more joyful period of the Easter season when we can celebrate it with greater freedom from the constraints of Lent and Holy Week. In many parts of the world, there will be a solemn and joyful procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the parish grounds or even through the public streets.

Community dimension

Perhaps today we should emphasise more the community dimension of the celebration of the Eucharist which is often missing. We tend to see “going to Mass” very much in individual terms. If “I” fail to “go to Mass” through “my own fault”, “I” have committed a mortal sin. We also tend to talk about “hearing” Mass, or being “at Mass”. We ask questions like: “Who said the Mass?” The priest himself may even be heard to announce: “I am saying this Mass for the repose of the soul of…” or even “I am saying this Mass for all of you here”.

On reflection, these expressions are very strange. They tend to present the Eucharist as something that the priest alone does on behalf of other people. People seem to feel themselves present at a performance in which they are only expected to be physically present. This is sometimes further accentuated by a choir doing all the singing (that is, if there is singing) and a “commentator” shouting out all the prayers over the microphone. Quite a number of people come in late and many leave before the end. These things are all so common that we hardly notice them. We may even accept these things as the way things should be. But it tells us a lot about what it means to people to be present (or not present) at the Eucharist.

Active participation

The Eucharist is essentially and of its very nature a community action in which every person present is expected to be an active participant. We are here, on the one hand, recalling what makes us Christians in the first place – our identification with the life, suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. And that identification with Jesus is expressed not through a one-to-one relationship with him but in a community relationship with him present in all those who call themselves Christian. We relate to him through his Risen Body, which is the whole community bearing his name. There is no place in Christianity for individualism. It is a horizontal faith: we go to God with and through those around us.

Every Lord’s Day we come together as that Body, as a community, to say thanks to him and hence the name “Eucharist” which means “thanks”. It is regrettable, then, if we are only in church to “keep the Third Commandment” on a purely private, individual, devotional basis. With that mentality, it will not be surprising if we think it does not matter if we are late or leave early. Because, with that mentality, “going to Mass” is a private affair for me and all the others who “happen” to be there, too.

Some even resent that there is too much going on. They wonder why they cannot be “left in peace to say their prayers”. It is true some Mass celebrations can be overactive or over-intrusive but, on the other hand, it is not a time for contemplative prayer. One can do that much better at home. The whole point of being at Mass is to celebrate together with one’s fellow-Christians as a community of the disciples of Jesus.

Eating together

As well as remembering and giving thanks as a community, as the Body of Christ, the Eucharist is also a time when we express that unity through the eating and drinking together of that Body.

The key to our being in Christ is love, love not only for God, but for every single person. Jesus said that the two ways by which it would be known publicly that we live in him would be by our love for each other and the unity which follows from that. “By this will all know that you are my disciples, that you have love one for another” (John 13:35) and “May they all be one… may they be so completely one that the world will realise that it was you [the Father] who sent me” (John 17:21,23).

This, of course, we are to manifest first and foremost by the way we live our daily lives. And one of the reasons we may find it difficult to express ourselves as community during Mass is because we do not have that deepdown sense of togetherness as Christians in general. Mass is not the time to manufacture community; rather, it is the time to celebrate it. Unfortunately, past emphasis on individual morality as the key to “saving my soul” still runs deep several decades after the Second Vatican Council. As a result, we come into the church on Sunday largely as strangers to each other.

Stiff and formal

Not surprisingly, the “sign of peace” is, in many cases, hardly a warm-hearted act of reconciliation and friendship but a stiff and formal bowing in which some people decline to take part.

Communion can be seen primarily as “receiving Jesus in my heart”. I close my eyes lest I might be “distracted” by the people around me. The choir sings on my behalf while I make “my thanksgiving”. Certainly reverence and prayer have their place at Communion time, as throughout the Eucharist. But we need to remember, too, that we are taking part in the joyful celebration of a community of brothers and sisters. This communion calls for sharing and communication and even a certain level of spontaneity and naturalness.

“Going to communion” is not a private “receiving” but a sharing, an eating together of the one Bread and the shared drinking of the one Cup. This one Bread and one Cup is Jesus in his Risen Body; it includes not only Jesus but the whole community present. We recognise in the sharing not just the individual Jesus coming to me but Jesus in his Body, of which we are all part.

Jesus is in the host but he is also in the hand that gives the host and in the hand of the one who receives. There are some ultra-devotional people who genuflect just before receiving. By right, they should also genuflect to the whole congregation because that is where the real presence of Christ is. If Jesus is not present by faith and action in this community, what meaning can the Eucharist have?

Eucharistic ministers

Hence the meaningfulness now in some parishes of having the induction of lay Eucharistic ministers on this day. We have moved from a purely priest-centred Eucharist at which the laity are passive spectators to one that is community-centred because that is where Christ is to be found. The priest still has his role, of course, as the one who presides. He is the focal point of unity around which the community gathers but it is the community, including the priest, who celebrates.

These ministers may also be bringing the Eucharist to the sick and the housebound. This is, too, an extension of the community celebration of the Eucharist. Our sick brothers and sisters cannot come personally to the community celebration but they are reminded of their membership when they share the same Body of Christ, which binds all together. In communion, not just Jesus but the whole parish comes to them.

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