Body of Christ

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The WORD in other words (2023) by Fr Oliver Quilab SVD – Switzerland

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – A

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, commonly referred to as Corpus Christi, is still observed as a national holiday with street processions in some regions of secularized Europe, even though weekend mass attendance is at an all-time low.

In my current mission area in Switzerland, which was once a bastion of reformed Protestantism, the feast is observed quietly due to centuries of suppression by protestants. They have long maintained that our catholic confession of the real presence is some primitive magical adoration that does not translate into real action.

In 1264, Pope Urban IV, convinced of the authenticity of a recurring eucharistic vision experienced by a Belgian nun named Juliana of Mont Cornillon, and with the support of the then-stalwart Dominican theologian Thomas of Aquinas, introduced the feast of Corpus Christi to the entire Roman Catholic Church.  The feast emphasized the Eucharist as the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ.

Decades earlier, the Fourth Lateran Council established in 1215 the doctrine of transubstantiation, which asserts that the substance of bread and wine is transformed into the substance of Christ’s body and blood at the moment of consecration. This doctrine reconciled divergent views on the nature of the Eucharist by incorporating Aristotelian thought into the dominant Neo-Platonist Christian theology of the 13th century.

Our readings today, far removed from the mindset of Aristotle or Plato, speak of remembering, participating in, and fully experiencing the promise of life in its fullness. Interestingly, John’s gospel omits a narrative of the eucharistic Last Supper in the Upper Room. The setting here is more akin to a picnic meal by the blue waters of Lake Galilee. When the Jewish Jesus speaks of eating his flesh and blood, he refers to his humanity’s fullness. As if Jesus is saying, “Feed your heart, mind, and soul on the thought of my humanity. When you are discouraged and despairing, fed up with life and living—remember that I took your life and your struggles.”

In the Jewish worldview, blood represents the life that is ultimately God’s. When Jesus instructs us to drink his blood, he is exhorting us to revitalize our lives with his life until we are rife with God’s life. When imbued with his body and blood, soul and divinity, we are empowered to be broken and shared like Christ in our broken world.

This reminds me of the words of the Brazilian archbishop Dom Helder Camara, who, during his country’s military dictatorship in the 1980s, said: “One day, bereaved parishioners came to inform me that thieves had broken the tabernacle in one of the churches, stolen the ciboriums, and scattered the consecrated hosts on the ground. They approached me with the request to preside over an atonement ceremony. During this celebration, I posed the following question: “Why are we outraged by the desecration of consecrated hosts but indifferent to the inhumane living conditions of slum dwellers? Aren’t they also members of Christ’s body?”

How about us Filipinos, who, according to a Radio Veritas survey, predominantly (97%) believe in the actual presence of Christ in the Eucharist? Are we dealing with a primitive magical superstition or an impactful transformative belief? Did we encounter Christ’s body and blood in the suffering and the impoverished masses during this pandemic, when many were denied the Eucharist?

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