On the Meaning of Corpus Christi

The Corpus Christi in the Blessed Sacrament

The Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith, and open to making amends for serious offences and crimes of the world. Let our adoration never cease.

St. John Paul II, Dominicae Cenae, 3

Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, where we celebrate and adore the greatest gift ever bestowed upon us – the Eucharist. And which Feast, in the traditional calendar, is kept in its rightful place, on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

Corpus Christi was first celebrated at the beginning of the thirteenth century. It originated in Liège, now Belgium where an Augustinian nun, St. Juliana of Cornillon, received a vision from Our Lord. Here, from the St. Andrew’s Missal, is what she saw:

In 1208 the blessed Juliana of Mount Cornillon, near Liège, saw in a vision the full moon with an indentation indicating that a feast was missing in the liturgical cycle.

The Eucharist, instituted on Maundy-Thursday, had not in effect been celebrated with all the desired pomp, the Church’s thoughts being absorbed by the passion of the Saviour. It was thought that immediately after Paschaltide a feast with an octave should be established. As the Last Supper took place on Thursday, the Bishop of Liège instituted in 1246 this solemnity in his diocese on the Thursday which follows the octave of Pentecost (pg. 782).

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In the latter half of the same century, Pope Urban IV extended this new Feast to the universal Church.

At the time, there was great concern about infrequent Communion and many believed that the faithful were in need of greater contact with Our Lord in His Blessed Sacrament.

Therefore, the elevation of the Bread of Life and the Chalice of Salvation was introduced at Holy Mass. As well as Adoration and processions of the Blessed Sacrament, where Benediction blessed the congregations and communities.

These processions became an integral part of the Feast of Corpus Christi and thankfully in many places are still celebrated today.

At our very first Feast of Corpus Christi, just after being confirmed at Easter 2000, Roger and I were invited to take part in a procession. What we witnessed that glorious sunny day was unforgettable.

In the German town of Gaillingen, the inhabitants had beautifully decorated the streets, with many altars along the roadside, as is usual for such processions.

What was not so usual, was that each family had decorated a section of the route, creating a most exquisite carpet, of flowers, foliage and petals. I have never seen anything like it. It was heavenly.

And along this heavenly path the Priest led the congregation, holding high the monstrance, bearing Our Lord in His Blessed Sacrament, for all to adore.

This Corpus Christi procession was reverent and beautiful. The faithful followed and prayed and adored, kneeling for Benediction. There was a deep silence, despite a few touristy onlookers, who had come for the show.

Later we lived in Spain and it was another situation altogether, for the Spanish love to chat. And whilst Roger and I were thrilled to experience so much fervour towards Our Lord in His Blessed Sacrament, we were dismayed by the perpetual din.

Whilst we processed, it was so loud that the Priest could hardly be heard.

And today, I am repeatedly experiencing this same situation in the chapels I frequent. As soon as Holy Mass is ended, voices pipe up and any chance to pray in gratitude, for receiving Holy Communion, is thwarted.

This pains me so much. For Our Lord has given us the greatest gift we can ever hope of receiving, His very Self – Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity – in the Holy Eucharist.

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How can one not bow down in awe before such a gift, such a miracle, such a mystery?

If Our Lord were to appear to us in human form, as He has to certain saints and holy people, we would fall down in awe. But, because in the tabernacle or upon the altar, He is invisible to our eyes, we behave as though He were not present.

Yet, in the Eucharist, He is fully there, truly present under the veils of bread and wine. And this precious gift, this unfathomable gift comes to us in the form of food, heavenly food, so that we may be brought into Him.

Although we receive this most precious of gifts into our bodies, as we consume Him, we are actually being received into Our Lord. For, He is far, far, far greater than we.

Years ago, I read the words of the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now H H Benedict XVI, Pope Emeritus, on this very theme. I found his words deeply moving. He said:

Once, in a sort of vision, Augustine thought he heard these words: “Eat me; I am the bread of the strong.” Jesus is saying here that it is the opposite to how it is with ordinary food that your body assimilates. That food is lesser than you, so that it becomes part of your body. And in my case, it is the other way around: I assimilate you into me. I am the stronger; you will be assimilated into me.

This is, as we said, a personal process. Man, if he abandons himself in receiving this, is in his turn received. He is made like Christ, made to resemble Christ. And that is what is really happening in Communion, that we allow ourselves to be drawn into him, into his inner communion, and are thus led finally into a state of inner resemblance (God and the World pg 408-9).

Of his own experience, on receiving Holy Communion, Ratzinger divulged:

True sharing in the prayer and celebration of the Eucharist means that I listen, receive, and that the door opens up within me …through which Christ may enter into me. And, on the other hand, that my own self becomes so free and open that I can begin to enter into HIM. (God and the World pg 409).

After years of receiving Holy Communion daily, recently, on certain occasions, I have been prevented. If I have not received for two days, the difference is profound. I feel less pure and fall more easily into temptation.

So, whilst I am saddened by the disrespect shown towards the Blessed Sacrament, I am also disheartened by the number of people who refrain from receiving Holy Communion.

How can we turn our backs on this most generous of gifts. How can we spurn our Blessed Lord in this way? Why did He give Himself to us in this form, as food, if we are not to receive Him?

I have heard that St. Pio of Pietrelcina was gravely concerned about this very problem and believed that only if people were in mortal sin, should they not receive Holy Communion.

I therefore implore you, whomever you are, if you are reading my words. Please be respectful of the Holy Eucharist, but please also do not decline from receiving this greatest of gifts.

It breaks Our Lord’s Heart, for He wants to commune with you, with us. He wants to bring us through His Holy Eucharist, into Himself.

O Lord, in Thy Blessed Sacrament, take pity on us.

O Lord in thy Blessed Sacrament, help us to love Thee more and more.

O Lord in thy Blessed Sacrament, we adore Thee.

Corpus Christi and the Feast of the Sacred Heart

A last note. Today is also nine days before the Feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, where Our Lord requested that we make reparation for the sacrileges and indifference towards Himself in His Blessed Sacrament. And it is customary to pray a Novena of Reparation over these days, in preparation for the Feast.

Below is the Novena used daily by St. Pio, when praying for those who requested his prayers.

I.—O my Jesus, Thou didst say, “Verily I say to you, ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened to you,” behold I knock, I seek and I ask for the grace of…

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in Thee.

II.—O my Jesus, Thou didst say, “Verily I say to you, whatsoever you ask the Father in My name, He will give it to you.” Behold, in your name, I ask the Father for the grace of…

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in Thee.

III.—O my Jesus,Thou didst say, “Verily I say to you, Heaven and Earth shall pass away but My words shall not pass away.” Behold, I, encouraged by Thine infallible words, now ask for the grace of…

Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, I put all my trust in Thee.

O Sacred Heart of Jesus, to whom one thing alone is impossible, namely, not to have compassion on the afflicted, have pity on us miserable sinners and grant us the grace which we ask of Thee through the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, Thy tender Mother and ours.

Say the Salve Regina and add: St. Joseph, foster father of Jesus, pray for us.

Here is another Traditional Novena:

Novena to the Sacred Heart

Say once a day for 9 days, especially beginning on the Feast of Corpus Christi and ending on the Feast of the Sacred Heart

O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore Thee, I love Thee and with a lively sorrow for my sins, I offer Thee this poor heart of mine. Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to Thy will. Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in Thee and for Thee. Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflictions; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, Thy blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death. Within Thy Heart I place my every care. In every need let me come to Thee with humble trust saying, Heart of Jesus help me.

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  1. […] speaks here of St. Juliana of Corrillon, who was the nun whose visionary experience brought about the Feast of Corpus Christi. Back to the […]