Readings for the Solemnity of The Body and Blood of Christ in year A
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Today I may start my reflection by taking you on a little journey. Don’t worry, we won’t break any lockdown rules. It is an imaginary journey I invite you on, a journey that takes us to the Belgium town of Liege. It is also a time journey because we find ourselves there in the 13th century. I would like to introduce you to a lady called Julian de Cornillion. She is a member of a religious community near the town. After receiving some visions she developed a great devotion to Christ in the Eucharist and felt strongly that a special feast should be dedicated in honour of the Blessed Sacrament.
She went to the local bishop and persuaded him to institute this feast in his diocese. And so it happened. The first celebration took place on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday in the year 1246. From Liege this initiative spread and gradually the celebration took place in more places until in 1264 the pope decided for it to be celebrated in the universal church. One could say that the rest is history…
And so today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. It is a celebration that focuses on the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the elements of the Eucharist. I realise that it can be rather challenging to celebrate it this year. In fact, I feel a bit like a fraud talking about it: whilst I and the community here have been privileged to celebrate the Eucharist and have adoration on a daily basis, I am aware that most members of our wider community have been bereft of this and are painfully aware of its absence.
Yes, I know that many people connect with the mass that is celebrated here or in other places and make acts of spiritual communion. But it is not the same as when we are able to gather here as the body of Christ and receive Christ’s body during mass.
With that in mind, for a moment I wondered whether we should cancel today’s feast, as so many other events have been cancelled in recent months. But then I abandoned that thought because, although we are a dispersed community and we cannot gather for mass, we are still the body of Christ. Although we cannot express this sacramentally, other expressions of this body are still present and possible.
In his letter to the Corinthians Paul makes that connection between the bread and wine of the Eucharist and the community of believers. We receive the body of Christ and it nourishes and inspires us to grow as the body of Christ.
The readings highlight the aspect of nourishment that is offered. We heard about the manna that came from above and nourished the Israelites on their journey through the desert. Inspired by these words Jesus speaks about himself as the true bread from heaven, offering a nourishment that goes beyond nourishment that is physical or material.
Jesus gave himself out of love and this self-gift is symbolised in the elements of the Eucharist. The celebration of mass is called the ‘source and summit of Christian life’. The memory of what Jesus did offers nourishment and orientation for the journey ahead. It offers inspiration to the members of the body to do what Jesus did through our acts of self-giving love.
Looking at the world from this perspective will make us aware of many of those acts around us. Despite doom and gloom there is a basic goodness in people which expresses itself in many ways. Women and men go the extra mile, sometimes at their own expense. That is how we become what we receive: the body of Christ.
In a paradoxical way this can offer nourishment. By letting go life can be enriched and community can deepen and grow stronger. It connects us with the cross of Christ, that great paradox of Christianity.
Although we cannot gather as the body of Christ to receive the body of Christ, today’s feast may invite us to keep alive the memory of Christ’s self-giving love and acknowledge and treasure the ways in which it is represented through his body of believers. It may also strengthen our hope that we will gather again soon to celebrate this source and summit of our live together sacramentally, here in this church and in other places.
Today we may be grateful to Julian, the lady from Liege, for encouraging the institution of today’s feast. May its celebration renew our appreciation of the Eucharist and deepen our love for this gift the Lord left us. May it also invite us to acknowledge all forms of nourishment we have received on our journey in recent months and give God thanks for it.