In most places the Feast of Corpus Christi, or as it is called in the Novus Ordo the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is transferred from its real date, Thursday after Trinity Sunday, to an “external celebration” on the following Sunday. On the true feast day, Thursday, we were two months out from our celebration of the institution of the Eucharist on Maundy Thursday. The transfer of this feast to a Sunday is not nearly as jarring as the transmogrification of Ascension Thursdays or Epiphany, which falls twelve days after Christmas, regardless of the day of the week.
While this great feast has its roots farther back in 12th century Belgium, in 1263 a great Eucharistic miracle occurred in Italy which spurred its formal institution. A priest who had doubts about the Eucharist was making a pilgrimage to Rome. While at Bolsena, north of Rome, as he said Mass. The Host bled on the linen corporal. Pope Urban IV, who had once been an Archdeacon in Liège, Belgium, was in nearby Orvieto. He wanted to see the bloody corporal from the Mass and there was a great procession. In 1264 Urban ordered the feast of the Body of Christ to be celebrated by the universal Church. The Angelic Doctor, St Thomas Aquinas (d 1274), composed the feast’s Mass and Office.
The Collect for today’s Mass is familiar to you who have attended Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It was assumed into the 1570 Missale Romanum and has remained unchanged. Not even the scissor-happy redactors of the Novus Ordo dared to change this one:
Deus, qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili passionis tuae memoriam reliquisti, tribue, quaesumus, ita nos Corporis et Sanguinis tui sacra mysteria venerari, ut redemptionis tuae fructum in nobis iugiter sentiamus.
Iugiter, an adverb, is from iugum, “a yoke or collar for horses”, “beam, lath, or rail fastened in a horizontal direction to perpendicular poles or posts, a cross-beam”. Iugiter means “continuously”, as if one moment in time is being yoked together with the next, and the next, and so on.
O God, who bequeathed to us under a wondrous sacrament the memorial of Your Passion, grant to us, we implore, to venerate the sacred mysteries of Your Body and Blood in such a way that we constantly sense within us the fruit of Your redemption.
O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption.
In the 1980s, we seminarians were informed with a superior sneer that “Jesus said Take and eat, not sit and look!” Somehow, “looking” was opposed to “receiving”, “doing”. This same error is at the root of false propositions about “active participation”: if people aren’t constantly singing or carrying stuff they are “passive”.
After the Second Vatican Council, many liturgists (all but a few?) asserted that, because modern man is all grown up now, Eucharistic devotions are actually harmful rather than helpful. We mustn’t crawl in submission before God anymore. We won’t grovel in archaic triumphal processions or kneel as if before some king. We are urbane adults, not child-like peasants below a feudal master. We stand and take rather than kneel and receive.
How these lies damaged our Catholic identity! Some details of society have changed like shifting sandbars, but man doesn’t change. God remains transcendent and our nature doesn’t change. We poor, fallen human beings will always need concrete things through which we can perceive invisible realities. That’s how we are made.
The bad old days of post-Conciliar denigration of wholesome devotional practices may linger, but the ageing-hippie priests and liberal liturgists have lost most of their ground thanks to the ticking clock and the genuine Catholic, common-sense love people have for Jesus in the Eucharist. The longing so many have expressed, and the frustration of so many priests during this lockdown, underscores this love. The customs of Corpus Christi processions, Forty Hours Devotion, and Eucharistic Adoration were returning in force, even before the lockdown. People wanted and needed these devotions. Perhaps because of this pandemic and the social distancing from our churches they will want them even more and appreciate them more than ever. These devotions help us to be better Catholic Christians through contact with Christ and through giving public witness to our faith. “Fasting” from contact with the Eucharist, confession, and other devotions in church might on the part of many spur a reevaluation. We must bring back Holy Mass, but also our traditional devotions when our churches open up more fully. This is a time to reassess who we are and what we have lost and how to regain lost ground in a “better normal”.
Let’s drill into the Collect through a single word: iugiter. The iugum (whence iugiter) was a symbol for defeat and slavery. victorious Roman generals compelled the vanquished to pass under a yoke (sub iugum, “subjugate”) made of spears. Prisoners were later yoked together and paraded in the returning general’s triumph procession. In worldly terms, crosses and yokes are instruments of bitter humiliation.
Jesus, on the other hand, says His yoke is “sweet” and “light”.
Christ invites us to learn His ways through the image of His yoke upon our shoulders (Matthew 11:29-30). True freedom lies precisely in subjugation to Him. His yokes are sweet yokes. He does not defeat us when he offers us His yoke. He liberates us. He defeated death in us to raise us by His yoke. In honouring the Blessed Sacrament we proclaim with the Triumphant Victor Christ, “O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?” (cf 1 Cor 15:54b – 57).
In his inaugural sermon for his pontificate in 1978, Pope St John Paul II exclaimed:
Brothers and sisters, do not be afraid to welcome Christ and accept his power. Help the Pope and all those who wish to serve Christ and with Christ’s power to serve the human person and the whole of mankind. Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of States, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization, and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows “what is in man.” He alone knows it.
In his inaugural sermon for his pontificate in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI exclaimed:
If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? And once again [Pope John Paul] said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ – and you will find true life. Amen.
How can subjugation of an image of God, to the God in whose image he is made, be a diminishing of the image? On the contrary! Subjugation to Christ, to the one who came to reveal us more fully to ourselves, is liberation. This is authentic liberation theology. This is the stuff of radical social upheaval and revolution, the stuff to set souls afire and to loot their locked-up hearts.
Proponents of true liberation theology take the Eucharist Christ the Liberator into the public square. In the sight of onlookers, we march in His honour, profess His gift of salvation, and kneel before Him.
We cannot honour enough this pledge of our future happiness in heaven, the Body and Precious Blood of Christ.
I affirm my subjugation to Christ, Victor over death, hell and my sins. Before Him I am content to kneel. Let us all seek out the Eucharist Lord, Jesus our God and King, in churches and in processions in the streets, and kneel, free at last, before our great liberator.
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