I was about to write some comments about the Feast of the Holy Trinity when I was reminded by one of my friends that Holy Trinity was LAST weekend and that this weekend we celebrate Corpus Christi! Just in the nick of time. Technically, the feast day was actually Thursday the 4th, but in America we generally celebrate it on Sunday. It became a feast day in about 1247, at the urging of St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon in Belgium.
"Corpus Christi" is translated as the body of Christ, and it refers to the Holy Eucharist which Catholics receive at every mass (with one exception during Lent.) Saint Juliana was exceedingly devoted to this sacrament and worked hard to influence the Catholic authorities to make a feast day for it.
Why the Eucharist is a central aspect of our faith goes back to Christ himself. In fact, every doctrine in the Catholic Church goes back to Christ and the Bible. Those unfamiliar with the Catholic Church often claim that men in The Church made up a bunch of rules that have nothing to do with Jesus or the Bible. If you read the Catechism, each and every teaching refers back to the precepts originally found in the Bible. Don't believe me, though. Pick up a copy and read it. You'll see for yourself.
The Eucharist in the Catholic Church is definitely not the same thing that one may receive in a Protestant Church. First of all, the Protestant Churches do not have the apostolic succession by which the power to confect the Eucharist is conveyed. So, it is a good thing that most of the thousands of Protestant offshoots view communion as a symbolic gesture and not Jesus Himself. Churchgoers are being cheated by this, because it is no small matter. The Eucharist goes to the heart of what Jesus came to earth to do.
Jesus did not wander around giving intellectual treatises to the intelligentsia of his day. Nor did he come as a king or a high priest, something he could easily do, given that He was God. He chose to be born in a poor family. He was lowly, humble. The popular story is that he worked as a carpenter with Joseph, his foster father. But a "tekton," which is what he was called, simply meant someone who worked with his hands, whether it was with wood, stone or mud. It was a gritty, earthy job, in any case. His closest friends were fishermen, hard working, physical laborers who worked up a sweat with the stink of fish and sea in their nostrils. Theirs was a primitive job, the most basic.
When giving talks, Jesus took care to feed the people real food in addition to the spiritual food he spoke to them. There was the miracle of the 5,000 people and the miracle of the 3,000 people. Small amounts of fish and bread miraculously fed them all, with some left over.
He came to us physically, engaged with us physically, baptized people not only with words but with water. In addition to the fish and the bread, he miraculously produced wine for the wedding at Canna. He walked on the waters of Gallilee. He touched earth and sea. He touched us and healed us. He gave us his breath when he breathed on the disciples, just as God had breathed life into Adam. He was a hands-on guy. So, when he said that this bread is my body and this wine is my blood, he wasn't giving the disciples some intellectual symbol. He was showing them how He planned to come to all his disciples after His ascension into heaven; in a real way, a physical way, a nourishing and earthy way. He was announcing that He was going to come to us in the guise of bread and wine.
He admonished us that anyone who did not eat of his body and drink of his blood had "no life in him."
Jesus gave his disciples authority and power, saying that whoever listened to them thereby listened to Jesus and the Father who sent Him. He told them that the sins they forgave on earth would be forgiven in heaven, something only God could do, according to the Jewish understanding of the day. The apostles were the agents of God, with the authority of God. With that authority, they could transmit the power that Jesus had given them to each succeeding generation of priests in the Church. This is apostolic succession, and this is how Jesus ensured that His commandments would be kept inviolate, and The Church would remain a place that was in harmony with Him. This is how he ensured that his presence as bread and wine would continue to be given to the faithful, down through the ages.
What Jesus transmitted to them was not some intellectual idea or symbol or philosophy. He transmitted an actual thing of some substance to them, and He gave them the power to transmit that substance to others. Remember, he was a hands-on man, fully engaged with the physical world. He smeared spit on the eyes of one man to cure his blindness. You can't get any earthier than that.
When Jesus ascended into heaven, he re-entered the timeless world of God. While we are conscious of almost 2,000 years passing since his ascension, Jesus is equally present at all times. No time has passed for Him. His Church is not an old, desiccated relic, dissolving into the sands of a middle-Eastern country. It is still fresh and alive because He is still with us as much as He ever was, and perhaps more.
When we consume the Eucharist, the timelessness of God intersects with our puny, time-shackled world in this miracle that is Jesus, by the power of Jesus, by the express wish of Jesus, and by the specific intention and direction of Jesus. That is what today is all about.
Silver "Rose" Parnell