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Corpus Christi

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IN A WAY WE HAVE ALREADY CELEBRATED this day. We did so on Holy Thursday in Holy Week. On that occasion, the emphasis was on the enduring memorial of that great liberating act by which God’s love would be forever kept before our minds.

One reason why we may have this second feast of the Eucharist is that it takes place at the end of the Easter season when we can celebrate it with greater freedom from the constraints of Lent and Holy Week. In many places there will be a procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the parish grounds or through the public streets.

“During the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care. But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them. Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace. All through the night, the bread reminded them, ‘Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow.’” Dennis, Matthew, and Sheila Fabricant Linn tell this story at the beginning of their book: Sleeping with Bread: Holding What Gives You Life  

If the Eucharist matters to us, then today matters. If the eucharist is this gift beyond price of ‘God’s presence and his very self’, if it is at the heart of celebrating God's love, if our Gospel speaks the truth when it says, ‘the one who eats this bread will live for ever’, then Corpus Christi is a most precious day.

 We meet, as we always do, as the people of God at the altar of God: the body of Christ receiving the body and blood of Christ: holy things for the holy common people of God. Today is not different from any other day of the year, we do what others have done for centuries before us and will do long after we are gone. It is not our Eucharist and not the church’s Eucharist. It is God's Eucharist, God's feast, God's gift to his world.  

At Corpus Christi we are more conscious of this than at other times. Our awareness of what we are participating in is heightened; we are doing what we always do with bread and wine, because it is what Jesus commanded us to do. But at Corpus Christi there is a special sense that we plead before God the everlasting sacrifice of his Son; and that we offer it not only on our own behalf but for others, whether far off and near, living and departed. We know that in this sacrament we touch a presence. In the crucified and risen Christ shown to us in this life-changing way, we touch what belongs to all of time and every place. Ordinary things transformed and given back to us in a new way.  

 The Eucharistic food with which we are nourished changes me into someone capable of forgetting my own needs for a moment to find a spark of generosity that will feed and nourish those who cry out for their daily bread. The Eucharist makes me Alter Christus to my neighbour: I am to be Christ towards everyone, especially those most in need.  Indeed, we should remind ourselves of them whenever we hold our hands to receive the sacred bread and wine of the Eucharist.  

‘Bread for myself is a material matter’ said the Russian thinker Berdyaev, ‘but bread for my neighbour is a spiritual matter.’ Corpus Christi has as its focus not only how God feeds us but how we feed others in the name of the One who speaks of himself as the Living Bread. ‘What matters for praying is what we do next.’ What we do next, what we do when we have been nourished at this altar and go back into our ordinary days: that is the test of how far this Eucharistic way is becoming a habit of the heart. What we do next is the test of how far we are being nourished by this living bread so that it becomes not only bread for ourselves but bread for our neighbour. This is what it means truly to become the body of Christ in the world, to become Corpus Christi.

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