THE BODY and Blood of Christ is the formal title of the solemnity celebrated in the United States on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday. In Latin the solemnity is called Corpus et Sanguinis Christi, or in popular usage, Corpus Christi.
This observance prompts reflection upon what Catholics call “the Real Presence,” a phrase first used by the Oxford scholar Duns Scotus, who was recently beatified by Pope John Paul II. It means that Christ is truly present in the appearances of bread and wine. What were bread and wine are no longer bread and wine, but the Body and Blood of Christ. Indeed, Christ's presence in the sacramental signs of bread and wine is so real that the Church describes adoration of the Eucharist by the precise term meaning adoration exclusively given to God, latria, a Greek word directly taken into the English language.
The conversion of the bread and wine into Christ's Body and Blood is described by the Church as “transubstantiation,” a term reflecting the Latin words for “substance” (substantia) and “conversion” (trans). Pope Paul VI, in his encyclical Mysterium Fidei (The Mystery of Faith) explained that, this precise use of language “has often been the watchword and banner of orthodox faith.” “transubstantiation” is a good example. The word surpasses by far, both in precision and depth, contemporary coinages like “transfinalization” and “transignification,” whose meanings are vague, at best. “transubstantiation” disallows a merely figurative interpretation of the Eucharist, as well as any suggestion that the bread and wine “co-exist” with the Body and Blood, soul and divinity, of the Lord. The term helps us understand Jesus’ own promise: ” &hellips; I myself am the living bread &hellips; The bread I will give is my flesh” (Jn 6, 51).
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi turns our minds and hearts toward Holy Communion and Eucharistic adoration, without which we could not withstand the assaults of a confused, erring and disbelieving world. History shows that this is how it has always been.
Deep within the Eternal City, Rome, lie the catacombs—miles and miles of crypts, chambers and passageways in which the early Christians gathered for the Eucharist. They knew that they could not survive without the Body and Blood of Christ.
The early Christians knew they could not survive without the Body and Blood of Christ.
In second-century North Africa, the Christians of Abitinia, taunted with threats of execution for their faith, exclaimed: “Without the Eucharist we are dead.”
In England, when King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I persecuted Catholics, St. Nicholas Owen, a master carpenter, constructed tunnels beneath the streets of London to safeguard priests from the police, thereby ensuring that the Eucharist would not disappear from the land.
The histories of Poland and Ukraine and Ireland abound with similar stories: heroic interventions by men, women and children so that the Eucharist would not be taken from their midst.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the renowned British writer, academician and television personality, who embraced the Catholic Church a few years before his death, remarked in Jesus Rediscovered that “a very large number of letters” he received over the years attest to an “extraordinary spiritual hunger” prevailing today among people of all classes and ages. It is a hunger, he said, that is not satisfied by such ideas that God is dead, or that morality derives from a majority opinion. No, he insisted, the only way of satisfying this hunger “remains that bread of life which Jesus offered, with the promise that those who ate of it should never hunger again.”
Our deepest yearnings, our most profound quests for personal fulfillment and happiness, can be fully realized in partaking of Jesus in the Eucharist. It is in and through the Eucharist that we come to know in our hearts that God is not dead, but rather that He provides for us by actually intervening in our lives. It is here that we really come to know how right and urgent it is to live our lives in accordance with God's will; and how wrong it is to separate ourselves by sin from so loving and merciful a Savior.
We arrive at another Corpus Christi in the pilgrimage of life, praying that our thanksgiving for the Eucharist may be even greater than it was at this time last year.
Father David Liptak is the Pastor of St. Catherine Church, Broad Brook, Conn., and teaches theology at Holy Apostles Seminary, Cromwell, Conn.