Feast of Corpus Christi

by Deacon Des

Today, we celebrate the solemn feast of Corpus Christi. This Solemnity is three feasts in one: the feast of the Eucharistic sacrifice, the feast of the Sacrament of the Eucharist, and the feast of the Real Presence of Jesus in this Sacrament. Although we celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday, the Church wants to emphasise its importance by a special feast, formerly called “Corpus Christi.” It was Pope Urban IV who first extended the feast to the universal Church. This is one of the few feasts left in which we observe a pre-Gospel procession and a sung “Sequence.”

In the reforms of Vatican II, Corpus Christi was joined with the feast of the Precious Blood (July 1) to become the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord. Today we celebrate Christ’s gift to us of the Eucharist, the Source and Summit of our life together as the Church. The Council of Trent (1545 to 1563), declared that we must honour Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Faith of Catholics in the Most Holy Eucharist [that others] might be attracted to the Eucharistic Lord and believe in the Divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, present in this great Sacrament. “The Catholic Church teaches that in the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of the God-man are really, truly, substantially, and abidingly present together with His Soul and Divinity by reason of the Transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. This takes place in the unbloody sacrifice of the Mass.”

Why do we celebrate the Eucharist some 2,000 years later? We do this because Jesus told us to do so: “Do this in memory of me.” St. Augustine in the 5th century AD said it best when he said: “It is your Mystery, the Mystery of your life that has been placed on the altar.” This Holy Memorial is known by various names:
1) “The Eucharist” because Jesus offered himself to God the Father as an act of thanksgiving; 2) “The Lord’s Supper” – or “The Breaking of the Bread”- because we celebrate it as a meal; 3) “Holy Communion” because, we become one with Christ by receiving him; and 4) “Holy Mass” (holy sending), because it gives us a mission: “Go in peace glorifying God by your life.”

Today we should also remember our children preparing to make their First Holy Communion, with the wonderful account of the remarkable experience of Blessed Imelda Lambertini. She lived in Bologna, Italy, in the 1300s. She had wanted to be a nun from the time she was a little girl, and she joined that Dominican convent at the age of nine, to better prepare herself for the day when she would take the habit. Her greatest desire was to receive Holy Communion, but in those days, you had to be at least twelve years old to do so. Imelda begged for an exception to the rule, but the chaplain refused. She kept praying for special permission. Her prayers were miraculously answered on the Feast of the Ascension in 1333. After Mass, she stayed in her place in the chapel, where one of the nuns was putting away the sacred vessels. Suddenly, the nun heard a noise and turned towards Imelda. Hovering in mid-air in front of Imelda as she knelt in prayer was a sacred host, the Blessed Eucharist, shining with a bright and forceful light. The frightened nun ran to find the chaplain. By the time the chaplain arrived, the rest of the nuns and other onlookers had crowded, awe-struck, into the chapel. When the priest saw the shining, hovering host, he put on his vestments, went over to the girl, took the miraculous host in his hands, and gave her Holy Communion.

Some minutes later, after the crowd had dispersed, the mother superior came over to Imelda to call her for breakfast. She found the girl still kneeling, with a smile on her face. But Imelda was dead. She had died of love, in ecstasy after receiving Christ in the Eucharist. He had longed to be with her even more than she had longed to be with him. Blessed Imelda’s body is incorrupt, and you can still see it today in the Church where she is interred, in Bologna. She is the patron saint of First Holy Communicants.