Reflection on the Feast of Corpus Christi
Today’s feast of Corpus Christi is about sacraments. It encourages us to reflect on the ways God uses the most simple human realities to bring us to the holy, how Grace and Divine Love are given to us through the physical elements of our human lives: water, bread and wine, the company of one another and the real physical presence of Jesus the Christ.
I Googled the old catechism question, “What is a ‘sacrament,” and found the exact words, quoted from Question 136 of the Baltimore Catechism: “A sacrament is an outward sign instituted by Christ to give grace.”
Although the Catechism focuses on the seven Sacraments of the Catholic community, there are many sacramental ways that the divine merges with the human. The historical Jesus is, himself, the ultimate sacrament, fully physically human and fully one with God, given by God to all humanity as an unfailing source of divine grace, in his lifetime and in ours.
Each Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ historical birth, when his human body became a sacrament of the divine, revealing and making real the eagerness of Divine Love to be intimately present in human life.
Today’s feast of Corpus Christi is like a continuation of Christmas, another celebration of the Incarnation of Divine Love, the unending eagerness of the divine to enter into our world, our lives, our hearts.
In the Eucharistic sacrament which we celebrate today, the simplest human food transforms, and transforms those who eat it, into the Body of the Christ. The Eucharist gives us the gift it signifies, the risen Jesus alive again in our midst.
Toward the end of his physical lifetime, Jesus sat at table with his companions, yearning for a way to continue his presence with them. In the words we know well, repeated at every Eucharistic celebration, he broke bread … took the cup … and said. …
As he spoke, we can imagine that Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and then looked slowly around at each one present. Perhaps he gestured around the circle as he held the broken bread, as if to say, “You, my friends with whom I break this bread, you who are bound together as a community of disciples, you are my body.” And when he took up the cup of wine, perhaps he looked slowly around once more, as if to say, “You in this circle, you are my life’s blood, who will be poured out for the life of the world.” Jesus finished, saying, “do this in memory of me. Re-member me: come together around tables such as this and make me present again.”
Jesus sent his followers to do as he had done: to heal and teach and forgive, to feed the hungry, and to wash one another’s feet. He empowered them, telling them that they would do deeds more wonderful than he himself had done. Today’s feast of Corpus Christi makes it clear, however, that Jesus didn’t send his followers as mere emissaries, witnesses or deputies with specific tasks. He sent them, he sends us as sacramental extensions of himself: I am the vine and you are the branches. Jesus’ followers down through the ages, even including all of us, are baptized into his death and life so that we can be his body and blood, sources of grace in our world.
These days are difficult and challenging; we seldom have a priest to raise the bread and cup for consecration. Yet we faithfully come together, to re-member Jesus, to offer ourselves again to be the sacrament of Jesus’ presence in our day, in this particular day; to be his Body and Blood for one another and for a hungry world