Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, that is, Corpus Christi. The history of this beautiful celebration dates back to the 13 th century in Belgium, when St. Juliana became the prioress of the convent of Cistercian nuns that had raised her. St. Juliana had a burning love for the Eucharist, and even had a vision of the full moon whose full radiance was obscured. She interpreted this to mean that the Church had not yet recognized a feast in honor of Christ’s body in its liturgical cal-
endar, and she shared her vision with the local bishop of Liege. Her fervent desire to make the observance recognized throughout the Church finally came to pass in 1264, when Pope Urban IV issued the Papal Bull Transiturus. (http://newadvent.org/cathen/04390b.htm)
Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the Solemnity is contained in the Office of Corpus Christi, a series of prayers for the occasion composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas. Whether it was because of these prayers or his other writings, it is said that St. Thomas had a vision of Our Lord, who told him: Bene scripsisti de me Thomma (“Well have you written about me, Thomas”). We sing the sublime hymn to the Eucharist, Pange Lingua, every Holy Thursday.
Two things about this hymn and the entire Office of Readings for this day merit our attention. First, St. Thomas helps us to recognize that, while the senses only perceive bread and wine, the eyes of faith recognize the reality of Jesus’ Body and Blood:
Word made flesh took bread and blessed it,
by a word turned it to flesh.
Wine became Christ’s blood the same way,
even though it cannot be sensed.
All a heart sincere requires
is to rest on faith alone.
Yet the other aspect of the mystery of Jesus’ Body is that of the Church, both individually and collectively. St. Thomas reminds the individual Catholic and the Church at large:
The same Lord Jesus is endowed with both divinity and corporeity. When you receive his flesh, you are participating in the food of his divine substance.
Because the Lord suffered for us, he left us his blood and body in this sacrament, in which he also included ourselves. For we have become his body, and by his mercy we become what we receive. . . See what you have received, and how one you have become. So all of you be one, loving one another by holding onto one faith, one hopeand an undivided love. . . So wine started out in many clusters before it became one. It was wine in its initial stage, but became a chalice drink after going through the wine press. Likewise, after those fasts, labors, humility and contrition, you came in the name of the Lord to the chalice of Christ. There you are at table, and are with us in the chalice. For we receive this together, we drink it together, because we live together.
We Catholic Christians do well to recognize the presence of Our Lord Jesus – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – under the species of Bread and Wine, and we also revere him in the life of the Church, which is his Mystical Body as well.