The Incarnation Continued

The Incarnation Continued

Corpus Christi

Today we solemnise the feast of the Most Blessed Sacrament, the feast of Corpus Christi, the feast of God – Fête-Dieu, as the French so touchingly style it. The day on which we commemorate how God determined to pay us a visit in order to save us from sin and hell, and then decided to stay among us until the end of time. The Most Blessed Sacrament contains all the mysteries of our faith, because it contains their very Author.

Last week we meditated on the indwelling of the Most Holy Trinity in the souls of the just; we called to mind with loving affection this ineffable reality that God has made of us His temples, the abode of His Divine Presence. At Baptism, the Christian becomes the Temple of God; through the reception of the Holy Eucharist, that divine life is, as it were, maintained, intensified; we are fed with God Himself already in this valley of tears as we await the eternal union with the heavenly Bridegroom in eternity.

St Thomas Aquinas who composed the office for the feast of Corpus Christi says this so well in the magnificent sequence we just chanted before the Gospel. “Good shepherd, true bread, Jesus, have mercy; Thou do feed us, Thou do protect us; Thou give us to see good things in the land of the living. Thou who knowest all things and canst do all things, who dost feed us here in this mortal life, make us partakers, coheirs and companions with Thy saints.”

The Most Blessed Sacrament then is the divine food given to us as we make our way through this land of exile. It was prefigured in the Old Testament in a number of ways: the Manna, which nourished the Hebrews during their forty years in the desert; the bread which was given to the prophet Elijah as he slept, and which gave him the strength to walk to the Mountain of God Horeb for forty days and forty nights. But the Holy Eucharist is not only food. It is first and foremost sacrifice offered to Almighty God. And that is why the sacrifice of Isaac, the immolation of the paschal lamb, and even all the sacrifices of the Old Law, are also prefigurations of this most wondrous sacrament.

Whether we consider the Eucharist as a Sacrifice or as the paschal banquet which nourishes us, we perceive that the key to its efficaciousness is the mystery of what we call transubstantiation. It is thanks to this stupendous miracle, that no one but God could possibly have imagined, that the Eucharist is both Sacrifice and Sacrament. Indeed, when the priest recites the words given to him by the Lord Himself at the Last Supper, those words which were and are forever the words of the Lord, they achieve today as they did yesterday what they signify: the Body handed over and offered in sacrifice, the Blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. It is because those words are endowed with divine power, that the act of consecration both makes present the sacrifice of the Cross, and presents the sacred body and blood to be our nourishment.

The words of the consecration which, in the Roman Rite Mass, are pronounced by the priest in deep silence, are the words upon which hangs the salvation of the world, literally. Indeed, those words are the channel through which the Incarnation of God remains among us, they are the vehicle of all grace, they make present in every place where they are pronounced by a priest the saving event around which all of history stands in awe and expectation.

It is no wonder that the enemy of our salvation has sought, in a number of ways through the centuries, to strike deadly blows at this most sacred of mysteries. From Berenger of Tours who for the first time denied the Real Presence, to the Protestant reformers of the 16th century, down to some modern liturgical iconoclasts who have reduced the Mass to a social get-together, every effort is made to deprive the faithful of this most precious gift, that gift which gives eternal life: He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, Our Lord told us. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you shall not have life in you.

Ever since her foundation on Pentecost, the Church has never ceased contemplating this mystery and devising new ways of honouring the Lord present in our midst. That is why devotion to this Sacrament is not limited to the time of Holy Mass, but overflows to all the various moments of the day, in which the Son of God is present among us. So it is that the faithful love to spend time before the Lord in the tabernacle or exposed on the altar. They there learn the great mystery of the value of hidden life lived in and with Christ. I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me, they can say with St Paul (Gal 2:20). Another form of eucharistic devotion is that of the procession with the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus, when He came to earth, walked among men, He was seen on earth and conversed with men, as the Prophet Baruch foretold. Ever since the Ascension of Our Lord, His visible presence having been taken from us, He continues to walk with us through the Blessed Sacrament, and that is why on this great feast the Church carries our Lord triumphantly and proudly, fearlessly proclaiming to the world her faith in the real presence of Christ in her midst.

On this day, my dear Friends, let us renew our devotion to and our love for this most sacred mystery. Let us express to Him immense and growing gratitude for so wondrous a gift. Let us console our Blessed Lord for all those who refuse to come to Him, to bow down before Him, for all those who having once known Him and received Him have strayed from the paternal home, but also for those who, though still visibly in the ranks of the Church, dare to approach the altar while living in sin, or who receive Him without the proper devotion and adoration, or profane the sacred ceremonies with the most banal, worldly attitudes.

Let us pray for a mighty revival of Eucharistic devotion in the universal Church. St John Bosco, in one of this prophetic dreams, say the Church under the symbol of a great ship tossed around on a roaring sea, and attacked by many enemy vessels. The Pope comes to the helm and orders that the ship be tied to two columns that miraculously rise from the waters: one of which is crowned with a statue of Our Lady, the other with the most Blessed Sacrament.

The salvation of the Church in our age depends on this renewed devotion to the Holy Eucharist and to Our Lady. Let us attach ourselves ever more to them, and we will safely make our way through the waves and arrive at the port of the eternal homeland.