Happy Feast of Corpus Christi!
In Catholicism, this day (the Second Sunday after Pentecost, or, more traditionally, the previous Thursday) is the Feast of Corpus Christi, the celebration of the Eucharistic Bread, the Body and Blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. In our local priest’s homily for Corpus Christi, he mentioned that there are two major differences between Catholics and mainstream Protestants, namely: the Pope, and the Eucharistic Bread. We Catholics believe that the Pope is the Vicar of Christ in the one and only Church created by God, and that the Eucharistic Bread, after having been consecrated by a priest, is the body of Jesus.
The feast of the Corpus Christi began with a revelation from God
Juliana of Liège (c. 1192—5 April 1258) was a 13th-century nun and mystic who, being an orphan, was placed in a convent when she was five years old. Life in the convent led Juliana to develop a special reverence for the Eucharist.
In 1208, our Lord appeared to Juliana and instructed her to petition for a new liturgical feast day for the celebration of the Eucharist. Juliana, however, did not immediately tell her superiors about the vision, but kept it a secret. Similar visions continued for the next 20 years, and the request for a new feast day was finally transmitted to the bishop of Liège by a priest who heard her confession. Juliana also sent a letter to the Dominicans and to the Bishop, requesting that the feast of the Eucharist be instituted.
Upon receiving Juliana’s letter, the bishop instituted the feast of the Eucharist in the diocese of Liège in 1246. A certain archdeacon in the diocese, Jacques Pantaléon, found this new feast to be very moving, and considered it a very important addition to the Church’s calendar.
In 1264, Jacques Pantaléon became Pope Urban IV, and that same year he instituted the feast of the Corpus Christi for the whole Latin rite Church.
Author of the Corpus Christi Liturgy: St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274)
When the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted, Urban IV asked Thomas Aquinas to write and arrange the liturgy for the Divine Office and Mass of the new feast day. Adoro Te Devote, one of the hymns written by Thomas Aquinas for the occasion, was given a melody and continues to be sung at Masses on the feast of Corpus Christi to this day.
Adoro Te Devote
O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee, Who truly art within the forms before me; To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee, As failing quite in contemplating Thee.
Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived; The ear alone most safely is believed: I believe all the Son of God has spoken, Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.
God only on the Cross lay hid from view; But here lies hid at once the Manhood too: And I, in both professing my belief, Make the same prayer as the repentant thief.
Thy wounds, as Thomas saw, I do not see; Yet Thee confess my Lord and God to be: Make me believe Thee ever more and more; In Thee my hope, in Thee my love to store.
O thou Memorial of our Lord’s own dying! O Bread that living art and vivifying! Make ever Thou my soul on Thee to live; Ever a taste of Heavenly sweetness give.
O loving Pelican! O Jesu, Lord! Unclean I am, but cleanse me in Thy Blood; Of which a single drop, for sinners spilt, Is ransom for a world’s entire guilt.
Jesu! Whom for the present veil’d I see, What I so thirst for, O vouchsafe to me: That I may see Thy countenance unfolding, And may be blest Thy glory in beholding. Amen.
St. Thomas Aquinas, tr. E. Caswall. (Source from EWTN)
The Mystery of Transubstantiation
In the Bible, Jesus speaks of the Eucharist, the “bread of life,” as His body and blood. For the apostles, Jesus’ words were at first incomprehensible. Only after His resurrection did they understand the meaning of His words.
Both the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church teach that the Eucharistic bread becomes the Body of Christ, but the Eastern Orthodox Church is content to leave the details of this great mystery unexplained. How, then, does the Western Church, the Catholic Church, explain the mystery of the Eucharistic Bread?
Eucharistic Bread, the Body of Jesus
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” (Matthew 26:26)
The Church teaches that, when the priest at Mass says, “This is my body,” speaking the words of Christ, it is Christ, the Word, who is speaking through the words of the priest. At that moment, the bread on the altar becomes the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
This mystery has been discussed by theologians using Aristotelian philosophy. It has been defined as “transubstantiation.” In order to understand transubstantiation, one must think in terms of the Aristotelian categories of “substance” and “accident.” Simply put, “substance” is the noun that says what a thing is, and “accidents” are the adjectives that describe that thing.
In the case of the altar bread, or “host,” one could say that, before consecration, it is “thin, white, round, bread-flavored bread.” The substance in this case is the noun “bread;” the accidents are the adjectives “thin, white, round, bread-flavored,” and whatever other adjectives one might use to describe the bread. “Transubstantiation” means that the substance changes, but not the accidents. So, after consecration, the host would be correctly described as “the thin, white, round, bread-flavored body of Christ.”
Thanks to this sacred mystery of transubstantiation, the Eucharistic bread we partake of at Mass is not a bloody piece of meat.
With the Bread of Life, we will never hunger.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35).
When I knew very little about Christianity, one of the things that strongly attracted me to Catholicism among the many denominations was the Eucharistic Bread, one of the Catholic sacraments. When I saw the faithful receiving Holy Communion in Catholic churches, I was eager to have the Eucharist. I started attending Bible classes at the church in order to get baptized, and was really disappointed when I found out that it would take several months to prepare for baptism. I felt as if I had been left without food when I was hungry. Finally, after finishing the Bible classes, when I was baptized and received the holy Eucharistic bread, I felt as if my body and mind were filled with wonder.
Since then, I have not felt the hunger that I felt before my baptism, but during the pandemic, when the churches did not celebrate Mass for the general congregation, I began to feel the same hunger that I had felt before. To be honest, I was happy to attend Mass online, since it was so much easier and more convenient. Then, however, a hunger returned that is hard to explain in words. My faith in the Eucharistic Mysteries was not deep, at first; but when I began to feel that spiritual hunger, I realized for the first time how much the Eucharist had filled my body and soul.
Receiving the Precious Eucharistic Bread
Catholics emphasize the importance of the Mass and the Eucharist.
Padre Pio loved the Mass and Communion so much that he said, “It would be easier for the world to exist without the sun than without the Mass.” The example of Padre Pio indicates just how important the Eucharist is. Prolific Catholic authors Bob and Penny Lord wrote about him as follows:
“Padre Pio … had a lifelong love affair with Our Lord Jesus in the Eucharist. To him, the Eucharist was the center of all spiritual benefits. It was the life breath of the soul. … After his ordination, he took a long time for the Consecration of the Mass, to the point where parishioners complained about all the time he spent, in ecstasy, before the bread and wine as they became the Body and Blood of Our Lord Jesus.” （Saint Padre Pio – devoted to the Eucharist and Mary）
Most of us will probably never experience Mass the way Padre Pio did, but his experience shows us that the Mass is a supernatural event of great magnitude, and not a mere human ceremony. Also, Pope St. Gregory the Great is said to have witnessed our Lord’s Passion while saying Mass, and there have been many Eucharistic miracles to show us clearly that the consecrated host is truly the body of Jesus (you can read about some of them here: http://www.miracolieucaristici.org/en/Liste/list.html).
In his homily for Corpus Christi, my parish priest stressed the need for confession before receiving Holy Communion. With regard to the need for faith in the Sacrament, he said, “If you don’t believe, don’t receive.” Also, he recommended receiving the host on the tongue (as it has been done for centuries), and urged people, if they insisted on receiving in the hand, to please consume the host as soon as possible after receiving it. Finally, he advised us to remember to say a prayer of thanksgiving after communion.
After receiving Holy Communion, Padre Pio would give thanks and pray (in part) as follows:
“Help me to recognize You as Your disciples did at the Breaking of the Bread, so that the Eucharist Communion be the light which disperses darkness, the power which sustains me, the unique joy of my heart.” (Excerpt from Padre Pio prayed this prayer after receiving Holy Communion, Aleteia)
May your Eucharistic feast and week be filled with grace.