What is Corpus Christi?

Imagine that the answer to all our problems is a tiny white Host. This bold pronouncement is articulated by the Catholic Church as she asserts that while Jesus’s body and soul walked on earth 2,000 years ago, that same body and soul is substantially present in the tabernacles of the Catholic Church. Under the human appearance of bread and wine, the Eucharist contains the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ (see CCC 1374).

Here, we come to the feast day of the Body of Christ – in Latin we say “Corpus Christi.” This feast day stimulates the mind into contemplation of the mysterious power of the Eucharist.

Corpus Christi presses the concept of Jesus’s presence smack dab in front of us. It is one thing to say “Jesus is present in those that suffer,” yet it carries more weight to say, “Jesus Christ just walked into the room.” This feast day announces that the God of the universe just entered the room, and even more profoundly – that he gives us the immense opportunity to consume him into us.

With God nothing is impossible. He is mysteriously omnipotent, and can appear in any “form” he desires (Mark 16:12); including the form of simple bread and wine. Truly this reality is no small matter for it transcends the universe.

On the surface, the teaching of Corpus Christi invokes bewilderment as our measly minds can’t fathom Jesus’s Body presented to us as bread to eat. Alas, the crowd eagerly following Jesus 2,000 years ago was also perplexed by this.

When Jesus spoke about eating his flesh and drinking his blood in John’s Gospel (chapter six), his words met with less than an enthusiastic reception. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat? (V 52).” “This is a hard saying who can listen to it? (V60).” In fact, so many of his followers abandoned him over this that Jesus had to ask the twelve disciples if they too planned to quit. It is interesting that Jesus did not run after his followers saying, “Don’t go. I was just speaking metaphorically!”

How did the early Church interpret these challenging words of Jesus? Interesting fact. One charge the pagan Romans lodged against the Christians was cannibalism. Why? You guessed it. They heard that this sect regularly met to eat and drink human blood. Much like most rumors there is truth contained in their flawed interpretation. It was blood – but under the form of bread and wine. But notice, did the early Christians say: wait a minute, its only a symbol!? Not at all. When trying to explain the Eucharist to the Roman Emperor around 155AD, St. Justin did not mince his words: “For we do not receive these things as common bread or common drink; but as Jesus Christ our Savior being incarnate by God’s word took flesh and blood for our salvation, so also we have been taught that the food consecrated by the word of prayer which comes from him . . . is the flesh and blood of that incarnate Jesus.

Therefore, from the earliest moments of Christianity, those closest to Jesus and the early apostles took the consumption of the Eucharist with the utmost sacred significance. But why did Jesus arrange for this transformation of bread and wine? Because he intended another kind of transformation. The bread and wine is altered into the Body and Blood of Christ which are, in turn, meant to transmute us to the upper echelon of divine reverence. In this state of sacred veneration we mystically stand as a part of Christ. Ever hear the phrase: you are what you eat? By consuming the Eucharist we literally align our flesh and soul with Christ’s. As St. Paul asserts, “The bread which we break, is it not participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread” (1 Cor. 10:16-17). And by ingesting in us the bread of immortality, we inch closer to our perfected self with God. With the Eucharist, Jesus desires us to be converted from a motley crew of imperfect individuals into the Body of Christ, come to full stature.

Our evangelical friends often speak of a personal relationship with Jesus. But I ask you, how much more personal and intimate can you get? We receive the Lord’s body into our physical bodies that we may become him whom we receive.

Modern philosophies tend to view sacred mysteries only through a domain of the spirit – completely removed from any physical element. Here, we boldly assert, no – the spirit is attached to the flesh. Because God came into the flesh, and used his body to eat, walk, pray, work, and teach, we view the physical body as a window into the spiritual realm. As John Paul II notes on the body, “The body, in fact, and only the body, is capable of making visible what is invisible; the spiritual and the divine. It has been created to transfer into visible reality of the world the mystery hidden from eternity in God.”

If this is true, then Christ’s body contains in it the highest marks of the divine nature – God’s holy mind. To be in the same room as the Eucharist is no small matter. We riser even higher in consuming the Eucharist. In absorbing the Eucharist into our us we are aligning our full being to his. Here, we’ve entered into a preview of heaven. Jesus’s flesh united with our flesh ascends us to a heavenly marriage. Therefore, within his Body is a nuptial union. Bishop Fulton Sheen announced, “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white Host.”  

The Holy Mass becomes the Marriage Sacrifice of the Cross made real again in our midst. It is his self-offering and ours, too, united. And the culmination of his sacrifice is when he uttered the phrase, “It is consummated” (John 19:30). We too at the Holy Mass “consummate” this nuptial feast by consuming him into us. While on the surface, it may not always “feel” like this is happening, God’s mysteries are often veiled to the unbeliever (see Luke 24: 13-16). A perceived lack of “not getting it” likely illuminates our dry seed that must be watered by the dew of devotion – that is, personal prayer and a sacramental life – in order to grow into healthy vegetation to “see” the nuptial mystery of Corpus Christi.

But, our faith does not consist in so much as feelings or even thoughts, but a union to a Divine person. It is about massive realities too big for our full comprehension: God thrusts them upon us, and we respond in faith and devotion.

Those who have eaten the Eucharist have eaten the flesh and drunk the blood of him who is the Resurrection and the Life. Their own flesh and blood is invisibly stamped with the signature, the seal, of the eternally living flesh and blood of Jesus. As we step closer to consume Christ’s flesh we bear the marks of our Lord (Gal. 6:17). As Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange expresses, “The Eucharist leaves, as it were, seeds of immortality in the body, which is destined to rise again and to receive a reflection of the soul.”

Jesus announced, “I came that they may have life, and have life abundantly.” (John 10:10). It follows that the only way to be fully human is to be divinized, to be united with the font of all life, the maker of man. The beauty is the Christ gives us this immense opportunity to be united with him in consuming Corpus Christi.

Jesus – the Bread of Life – in the Holy Eucharist eagerly longs for our reception and our adoration. The tragedy in our life, however, is that very often, this magnetic Eucharistic presence is taken for granted. We walk up to receive Him in a ho-hum fashion and our often blind as a bat to the spiritual realities circling around us. St. Paul warns that such casual reception of the sacred Bread when in a state of unrepentant moral degradation brings about dire consequences (see 1 Cor. 11: 27-30). Nevertheless, God keeps speaking to us with a holy urgency to recognize him in the Eucharist and to humbly, lovingly receive him.

The Eucharist wields vast power. Those who align with demonic ideas will scurry away at the site of a reverent Eucharistic profession.

Sadly, those that study demonology asses that our culture is on a steady path to the dark kingdom of hell. One such expert estimates that our country’s casual embracement of demonic ideas reveals that 25% of people are demonically oppressed. Corpus Christi offers us a powerful weapon to unleash on the demonic grip of this culture. Our world could use more Eucharist processions and public celebrations of Corpus Christi to remind us of the one who is to be worshipped – and the one who will triumph in the end.

In Corpus Christi, we have the promise of the Emmanuel God, “I am with you always, till the end of the age” (Mt 28: 20) being fulfilled. Let us celebrate and cherish this great gift God has given to us.

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