Corpus Christi rightly celebrates the Savior’s presence in sacramental and secular life

Father John A. Kiley

In response to a number of disturbing surveys, the American bishops have become quite concerned about the belief of American Catholics in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. A disturbing number of Catholics understand Christ’s presence in the sacrament to be merely symbolic, a token of the Divine Presence that the world enjoyed in New Testament times when Christ actually walked the earth. To correct this misbelief, America’s bishops have encouraged a Holy Year dedicated to the firm conviction that the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ are truly present under the appearance of Bread and Wine every time Mass is celebrated, every time the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for adoration, and every day when the Eucharist silently reposes in the many tabernacles in the Catholic world.
To underline the importance of this basic Catholic belief, a major Eucharistic Congress will be held in celebration of the sacramental Presence of Christ in the Eucharist in Indianapolis this coming July. The Diocese of Providence, as well as the other dioceses throughout the country, is planning a pilgrimage to this religious festival, to celebrate Christ’s enduring gift to all believers: His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity made readily available to all through Holy Communion received at Mass and through the Divine Presence reserved in the tabernacles of America’s Catholic churches, chapels, shrines and oratories.
The festival in Indianapolis and the Eucharistic observances that will take place throughout our country this year are not the first time the Catholic Church has gone out of its way to encourage belief in the Real Presence and devotion toward the Sacrament. This Sunday’s liturgical celebration in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ, most often referenced as the feast of Corpus Christi, dates back to the thirteenth century when a local observance in Belgium was happily make a universal observance by Pope Urban IV in 1264. As the feast gained in popularity throughout Catholic Europe, a procession with the Consecrated Host exposed for public viewing and adoration throughout the church grounds and eventually throughout the town streets became the feast’s most prominent feature. Quite often, the liturgical observance of Corpus Christi evolved into a civic pageant in which sovereigns and princes took part, as well as magistrates and members of guilds. In the 15th century the procession was customarily followed by the performance by guild members of miracle plays and mystery plays.
The expansion of the liturgical celebration of the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ from the church’s sanctuaries to the city’s streets might not just be another attempt by the Medieval world to avoid the humdrum of farm life and market stalls. Applying the profound theology of Vatican II, our ancestors in the faith might have understood that just as the priest consecrates the Host at Mass, making Christ truly present among the faithful in a sacramental manner, so the laity must consecrate, as it were, the farm and market world around them, making Christ truly present in a practical and everyday manner. As the priest consecrates the Host, so the laity should sanctify the world.
The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium, chapter 31, states the laity’s task very clearly: “But the laity, by their very vocation, seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and by ordering them according to the plan of God. They live in the world, that is, in each and in all of the secular professions and occupations. They live in the ordinary circumstances of family and social life, from which the very web of their existence is woven. They are called there by God that by exercising their proper function and led by the spirit of the Gospel they may work for the sanctification of the world from within as a leaven. In this way they may make Christ known to others, especially by the testimony of a life resplendent in faith, hope and charity. Therefore, since they are tightly bound up in all types of temporal affairs it is their special task to order and to throw light upon these affairs in such a way that they may come into being and then continually increase according to Christ to the praise of the Creator and the Redeemer.”
Not in a sacramental way but surely in a practical way, the laity are to make Christ real for the world around them by their religious practice, by their upright living, by their respect for creation, by their charity towards neighbor, by their industry in transforming the world fully to reflect God’s grandeur. The feast of Corpus Christi rightly celebrates the Savior’s Presence in sacramental life and in secular life.