Re-membering the broken Body: A reflection for Corpus Christi

by Archbishop George Stack

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ which we celebrate this Sunday is a joyful celebration of the abiding presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. It is usually marked with Blessed Sacrament processions throughout the Catholic world and is a day of great devotion.

Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament flows from the heart of the Mass and the Holy Communion into which we enter in receiving Christ in the Eucharist. The Mass is the re-presentation of the action of Jesus on the night before he died. During the Last Supper he took bread and wine, blessed and broken, and gave Himself in these Sacramental signs to His disciples. “My Body, My Blood, given for you”.

In those words and actions, in that sacred moment of giving, Jesus pre-figured the greatest action of all – the offering of Himself on the Cross. We believe and repeat that sacred action in obedience to His command each time the Church, gathered around the altar, re-members, puts back together again the broken Body of Christ.

This re-membering is a dynamic activity of all who believe in the presence of Jesus in the Church and in the Eucharist. The worship of God which we offer through this sacred action is not merely “the work of human hands”.  The raising of our minds and hearts to God is certainly an important element of our worship. But it is the prayer of Jesus Christ Himself into which we are drawn which offers true worship to God. This lies at the heart of the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of our Lord.

Since the 13thcentury there has been a great desire in the Church to hold the Eucharist, the Blessed Sacrament, in a moment of adoration, worship and contemplation. This feast of Corpus Christi was first celebrated in Liege in Belgium in the year 1246. It was extended to the universal Church by Pope Urban IV who died in the year 21264. In the midst of the dynamic drama which is the worship of God during the Mass, the adoration of Christ’s presence in the Blessed Sacrament remains “… a still point in the turning world”.

One of the most moving scenes in the Gospel of St. John is that of the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. The disciples Peter, James and John wanted to hold on to that moment of contemplation. “Lord, let us make three tents (tabernacles) here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah”. But like every moment of ecstasy, time moves on. We have to return to the ordinary things of life.  This is well expressed in the poem of Edwin Muir:

Reality or vision, this we have seen.

If it had lasted but another moment

It might have held for ever! But the world

Rolled back into its place; And we are here.

And all that radiant kingdom lies forlorn.

The feast of Corpus Christi is a special opportunity for a transfiguration moment as we contemplate the abiding presence of Jesus in the eucharist. But this sacred moment cannot last for ever. Because the many worlds we inhabit roll back into their place as we engage in the complexities of modern life. Our mission is to transform the world and the many worlds in which people live remembering the words of the great St. Irenaeus:

“The glory of God is humanity fully alive”.

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