Corpus Christi – Jesus with Us in the Flesh

This is an exciting time for the Archdiocese. We are fast approaching the bicentennial (200th anniversary) of the founding of the Archdiocese on June 19, 1821. It’s a time to step back from our busy lives and the immediate troubles we might face and reflect on the goodness of God for remaining with us here in our own local Church of Cincinnati uninterrupted for two centuries! I would venture to say that every single day of those two centuries, some priest or another celebrated the holy sacrifice of the Mass for the faithful, the most important thing we can do as disciples of Jesus Christ.

But that brings us to the feast of Corpus Christi we celebrate today (in English we sometimes call it the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ). It is a physical, visible, tangible reminder of the great gift that Our Lord Jesus gave to His disciples 2,000 years ago as He ascended to Heaven with the promise, “I will be with you always, even until the end of time.” (Mt. 28:20).

Our Lord did not mean that He would be with us merely as a memory or a warm feeling or even just spiritually. No, we find out in St. John’s Gospel (Chapter 6) that the Lord meant that He would be physically present with us and to us through the Holy Eucharist. Yes, He is hidden under the veil of what looks like bread and wine, but we know that, despite what our senses tell us, He is nevertheless truly and substantially present. (Substantially here means, it is the “stuff” of Jesus’ physical Body, not just bread). We can not say this often enough as Catholics, especially to our children and grandchildren, since we have the assurance that is true from the very words of Christ Himself. I have noted many times that recent reputable studies show that – shockingly — only 30% of Catholics in the pews believe this. So we have a lot of work to do.

One of the ways to re-introduce the belief in this beautiful truth that Christ taught, is not only to report this as a factoid – a little nugget of information, but to act like we believe it. That is all important, especially in determining whether this truth will be successfully passed on to the next generation or not. In addition to treating the Eucharist with great respect during holy Mass, another beautiful way to act like we believe this is to engage in visible devotions to the Blessed Sacrament. We have a beautiful one in the roughly 800-year-old tradition of what is called the Corpus Christi procession. That is a ritual in which the priest holds the Lord in His Eucharistic Presence in a beautiful gold vessel (a monstrance) and carries Him through the streets or – as the case may be – at least through the property of the Church.

Pictured here is Fr. Alexander Witt, a priest of Cincinnati, doing exactly that. As is customary, the altar boys are carrying a canopy to protect the Lord from the elements. We will be doing something similar at the St.Mary campus after Mass and having adoration inside at St. Peter’s Church.

Check out the parish blog for YouTube versions of some beautiful ancient hymns to the Eucharist that have withstood the test of time.

For your individual or family prayer time, here is a beautiful reflection on the presence of Christ in the Eucharist by a Dominican priest, Bl. Hyancinthe-Marie Cormier, from the early 20th century (from the June Magnificat devotional magazine). He does use a lot of technial and theological language. Might revisit some of this in a future column to explain that.

In this ineffable mystery, Jesus Christ is the true nourishment of our souls. When we receive his Body and Blood, his life permeates ours down to the depths of our heart. We remain in him and he remains in us, not just in a spiritual manner but substantially and corporeally [that is in His Body] to the point of becoming in a sort of way one body and blood with us. After Communion, the Savior furthermore resides in us by his virtue. He animates us, keeps us in the life of grace, fortifies us against the temptations of the devil and the violence of our passions, weakens the ardor of our concupiscence, enlightens our souls, increases the divine love in our hearts, consoles us in all our pains and afflictions, and finally gives a pledge of eternal bliss for our souls and a seed of the resurrection and glorious immortality for our bodies.

Oh my Jesus give me the grace to perceive the blessing of the Bread of Angels descended from heaven for me! For as you deign to be my nourishment, prepare my heart as well that I may receive you worthily and frequently. Give me a habitual disposition of living faith, firm hope, ardent charity, profound humility, complete confidence and perfect gratitude. May the benefit of this food serve especially to animate me entirely in your Spirit, so that I may live no more except for you, by you, and through you.

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