It was easy to feel the spiritual presence of the whole Church as we attended the Holy Father’s Corpus Christi Mass on June 7 at St. John Lateran’s huge piazza.
The 20-foot-high statue of Christ the Redeemer with his right hand raised faced us as a sign of perpetual blessing. The statue crowns the facade of St. John Lateran’s basilica — an imposing facade masterfully built by Alessandro Galilei in 1732-35 and dedicated to Christus Salvatori (Christ the Savior).
Above, the stone Christ looked victorious and strong.
Below, the Eucharistic Christ, under the species of bread, elevated by the hands of the Pope, looked weak and small.
The Eucharist, however, was truly Christus Salvatori (Christ the Savior).
Following Pope John Paul II’s tradition, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated the Corpus Christi Mass outside St. John Lateran, which is Rome’s cathedral.
Thousands of priests, seminarians, religious and laypeople took part at the solemn celebration. When the Holy Father raised the body and blood of Christ, we all silently knelt or stood in worship. You could hear only the honk of a distant car.
What a mystery! The Son of God was really with us in the hustle and bustle of the city.
“Jesus knocks at the door of our hearts and asks to come in not just for one day, but for forever,” Benedict said in his homily. “The Lord desires that all men be nourished by the Eucharist, because the Eucharist is for all.”
The Israelites were once nourished by the manna during their long journey in the desert to reach the Promised Land. Some 12 centuries later, Jesus multiplied a few loaves to feed big crowds in a deserted place.
Now, he feeds us with his own body and blood in the desert of our lives.
“For every Christian generation, the Eucharist is indispensable food that sustains us as we cross the desert of this world, dried by ideological and economic systems that do not promote life but repress it,” the Pope remarked.
The Holy Father gave Communion to a few first-communicants. One of them was 8-year-old Mexican boy Marcelo de Castro.
“I was looking forward to being with Jesus,” he said, “and to receive him from the hands of the one who represents him on earth.”
Walking in Our Midst
As soon as the Mass ended at 8:30 p.m., the Holy Father led the traditional Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Rome.
During the procession, Benedict and the two masters of ceremonies knelt before the Blessed Sacrament contained in a large monstrance. A white flatbed truck drove the Eucharist and the Pope along the wide Via Merulana that links the basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major.
Cardinals and bishops, with their red and purple colors, preceded the Holy Father’s van. Hundreds of priests and seminarians, wearing black cassocks and white surplices, and thousands of laypeople walked on the pavements at both sides of the Blessed Sacrament.
Singing and reciting prayers, we carried lit candles as a symbol of our faith in Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist.
Neighbors and passers-by watched the procession from their balconies and windows and from the sidewalks of the street. As the Blessed Sacrament went by, some people knelt, many others clapped.
I was lucky enough to accompany the van with its precious cargo five yards to the left during the 45-minute procession. The Vicar of Christ was looking at the Blessed Sacrament with serene, peaceful eyes. You could tell he was enjoying the ride. He had celebrated the Mass with a vigorous voice and looked happy all the time.
In St. Mary Major’s wide piazza, we sang Tantum Ergo. The Pope gave the Benediction. Silence reigned over the crowd. The city became still.
As the Pope raised the monstrance, I remembered the statue of Christ in a posture of blessing on top of St. John Lateran. Here and now, I thought, we are being blessed by the Redeemer himself — really present in body, soul and divinity.
With the procession, the Holy Father had said earlier, “We will somehow immerse Christ in the midst of our daily lives, so that he may walk where we walk and live where we live.”
The Corpus Christi Mass and procession was a remarkable experience of “the mystery of our faith”: Jesus is at our side.
Through the streets of Rome, we walked with God.
And God did walk with us.
Legionary Father Alfonso Aguilar
teaches philosophy at
Rome’s Regina Apostolorum University.