A teacher friend of mine recently said, when talking to one of his students about the Reformation, “What do you know already?” He was expecting answers about Henry VIII wanting to get divorced, or the Catholic Church being so wealthy at the expense of the faithful. But he was greeted with an in-depth explanation of how indulgences and transubstantiation work. The student, unprompted, commented: “Transubstantiation, for Catholics, means that God is always in the same room as them.”
You may think that this was a child from a devoutly Catholic family, receiving a Catholic education. But this boy is at a secular school and comes from a Muslim household. Yet here, in one sentence, was an observation of an important reality: God comes down from heaven to be with us truly and really.
How many of us consider this reality when we go to church? To some extent, going to Mass can become like brushing our teeth: we do it every day and it becomes part of our routine, but we don’t necessarily consciously think about it each time. The same can be true of the Blessed Sacrament: Our Blessed Saviour is there in every tabernacle, and we see that small white Host being elevated during Mass. But do we always recognise that this truly is Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, coming down from heaven and being fully present in our midst? Do we realise that Jesus is with us?
We have had cause to think about this more deeply, working on the restoration of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, in Covent Garden. This is a church that was beginning to show the wear of time and looking tired and distressed. It was a far cry from the bright lights of the theatres surrounding it.
A parishioner commented that, in stripping away the grubby whitewash, she first realised how bad it had become. For the first time in many years, people began to discover London’s hidden gem that has the Blessed Sacrament as its focus and heart. The eyes are immediately drawn to the great tabernacle, adorned by three thurible-bearing angels. The sanctuary walls have been lovingly gilded so that the entire Sanctuary appears to be the heart of a tabernacle, and the dark blue of the ceiling is adorned with stars, reminding us that our worship at Mass unites with the worship of the cosmos as our hearts are lifted to heaven.
The restoration of the building was only one part of the revival of Corpus Christi. The entire project would be meaningless without a spiritual anchor; for us, this most naturally is a confraternity dedicated to worshipping and honouring this greatest of sacraments and helping to catechise the faithful more about our Eucharistic Lord. Thus, in October 2016 the Sodality of the Blessed Sacrament was founded as a means to bring Catholics together in a particular way around a common focus.
The inspiration was twofold. When Fr Henry Manning, later Cardinal Manning, built the church of St Mary of the Angels in Bayswater, he constructed the two adjoining schools before the church. By the time the church was ready to open, he had a flourishing resident Catholic population. Let us also remember that Cardinal Manning opened this church with a very particular vision in mind, ie that of a “shrine of the Blessed Sacrament in the heart of London”.
The inspiring writings of Mgr Ronald Knox, who preached at the Forty Hours’ Devotion at Corpus Christi for 30 years, and whose homilies were collected in the book Window in the Wall, helped to pull our vision together. The homilies from our Sodality Masses are likewise collected in a monthly newsletter, and sent out to all members together with the writings of saints and popes, so that even those who cannot be present at the Masses can join in with the work and prayers of the Sodality. A monstrance lapel pin is also sent out to all members.
Since the Sodality was established, it has grown to several hundred members from all over the world, with bishops, priests, Religious, seminarians and laity as members. On the first Thursday of the month at 6:30pm there is a Sung Mass at which different priests preach on various aspects of the Blessed Sacrament. This is followed by a period of Adoration and Benediction.
Members honour the Blessed Sacrament in a particular way, pray for one another and have helped to raise the funds to buy a processional canopy so that, when Cardinal Vincent Nichols comes to “re-open” the restored church on June 3, we will be able to have a Eucharistic procession around Covent Garden.
Pope Benedict XVI once commented that “without the Eucharist the Church quite simply would not exist.” The Adoremus Eucharistic Congress taking place in Liverpool in September will highlight the importance of this reality. Why not join the Sodality today as part of your preparation for this most important occasion, and unite your prayers with those of Catholics around the world?
Fr Alan Robinson is parish priest of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane. The next Sodality Mass there is on Thursday March 1 at 6:30pm. To apply for membership and find out more about the Sodality, visit sodality.co.uk
This article first appeared in the February 16th 2018 issue of the Catholic Herald. To read the magazine in full, from anywhere in the world, go here