And so, we approach the table of this wondrous Sacrament, so that, bathed in the sweetness of your grace, we may pass over to the heavenly realities here foreshadowed (Preface II of the Most Holy Eucharist).
In the Universal Church, this Thursday after Trinity Sunday is celebrated as Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. (In the United States, Corpus Christi gets postponed to Sunday - a fate it shares with the Epiphany and - in much of the country - the Ascension).
Corpus Christi originated in the 13th century as a popular expression of the Church’s devotion centered on the presence of Christ in this sublime sacrament. In 1264, Pope Urban IV issued the papal bull Transiturus in hoc mundo, which established the feast throughout the entire Latin Church. St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) composed the texts for the liturgy – including the popular Vespers hymn Pange Lingua (the last two verses of which are our familiar Tantum ergo) and the Sequence hymn Lauda Sion for the Mass.
In the Eucharist, as the Church teaches, Christ is “truly, really, and substantially” present – his flesh given us under the appearance of bread and wine - given us, as Jesus himself has said, for the life of the world. In both good times and bad, in sickness and in health, Christ is present in the Eucharist, and we in turn participate in his presence and share in the new life he so abundantly offers to the world through his Church.
Pope Benedict XVI, in his 2007 Post-Synodal Exhortation On the Eucharist as the Source and Summit of the Church’s Life and Mission, highlighted what he called “the intrinsically eucharistic nature of Christian life.”
“There is nothing authentically human” - the Pope wrote – “that does not find in the sacrament of the Eucharist the form it needs to be lived to the full. Here we can see the full human import of the radical newness brought by Christ in the Eucharist. … Worship pleasing to God thus becomes a new way of living our whole life, each particular moment of which is lifted up, since it is lived as part of a relationship with Christ and as an offering to God.”
Clearly, the uniquely precious moment of Holy Communion is intended to continue, permeating every moment and aspect of life - just as the real presence of Christ in the Mass continues in the Real Presence of Christ in the tabernacle, prolonging our supreme act of adoration as his Church in the world. As St. Augustine famously put it, in his commentary on Psalm 98: “no one eats that flesh without first adoring it; we should sin were we not to adore it.”
Each of the Church’s many different liturgical festivals, seasons, and devotions highlights in a particular and specific fashion some significant aspect of our Catholic belief and life. Today’s celebration invites us to focus - particularly and specifically - on our devotion to Christ’s Real Presence, celebrated sacrificially in the Mass and prolonged in continued adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, whether it be reserved in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar (for an experience of more intense adoration, such as we will have here today after the 8:30 a.m. Mass). This annual festival and our year-long devotion to the Eucharist invite us to a fuller, more conscious, and more active participation in the Body of Christ, the Church, by believing firmly, celebrating devoutly, and living intensely Christ’s Eucharistic Presence.