My favorite day of the liturgical calendar, hands down, is Corpus Christi. It is truly a day about what defines and sustains us as Catholics: the body of Christ offered upon the cross, resurrected and made present on every altar. It conjures up every image you’d associate with feast, joy, music, flowers, processions and community.
Let us think first of the circumstances in which Our Lord gave us the Most-Holy sacrament of the Eucharist, at a Passover Meal. In John chapter 6, his uses imagery of the Israelite fathers feasting upon manna in the desert and proclaims that a greater thing has come: “I am the living bread which has come down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:52). The same is done at the Last Supper, something greater than the Passover memorial is introduced: A new covenant: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Luke 22:20) By giving his body and blood, Jesus calls us to a feast like no other, one which pours out all the graces of his life and saving death.
We see clearly that this feast goes beyond ordinary food and fellowship, but is a real sacrifice that shows forth our liberation and makes the Kingdom of heaven truly present. The bread is not a figure but by the power of the Holy Spirit of God, has been transformed into the real flesh of Christ of which we eat and will not die. In eating the Body of Christ, we become likewise transformed into his likeness. We take on his life and immortality. The Church, called “the body of Christ” by St Paul, is united throughout the entire world by the Sacrament of Sacraments, and moreso, united with the Church in heaven. It is a feast of the whole universe.
One thing that makes Corpus Christi so festal is also the procession. In Rome, the Pope carries the Sacred Host from church to church in the streets. As the Body of Christ, we, the Church, show solidarity with the bishop, who represents our Head. The Corpus Christi procession shows the Body of Christ on the move- in more ways than one. We go out into the streets, marching as the Church Militant, not running away from the world’s problems but confronting them. And we confront them not with weapons or aggression but carrying aloft Christ in the monstrance! It is an unbelievable sight to see a crowd processing, incense-bearing servers up front and white-clad priests in the middle, singing and chanting. And what is in the hands of the priest but the King of Kings and Lord of Lords himself, marching with them? The scene is reminiscent of the Ark of the Covenant being carried around the walls of Jericho in Joshua, chapter 5. The priests lifted God’s presence on high, blew their trumpets and marched around the city seven times. Then, by God’s power, the walls fell.
There is tremendous power in a small white host. The Eucharist is truly life-changing. Symbolically, we conquer the streets and public places for Christ. What is profane meets what is holy. By Christ’s love and abiding presence, what seems impenetrable can be brought low. Yes, the evils of this world seem so formidable. Who can stand against it? But look how the walls of sin, ugliness, anger, pride and death can fall. In the face of unprecedented darkness and scorn for the Catholic faith, we go bravely, telling the world: “Behold your God!”
In the procession, Christ also shows he is among us, walking with us. He is not some distant deity unconcerned with our daily affairs. He is the God who is near his people, accompanying their joys and sufferings, different backgrounds and experiences. We go on our separate journeys and he comes with us, relentlessly pursuing each soul which is dearly loved. In our lowest moments, he is with us, the God who is close to the broken-hearted, who restores the weary and who heals the sick. Our faith is incredible for it proclaims the impossible possible. That a virgin can conceive? That a man can rise from the dead? That a mere piece of bread can become the Living God? Yes we believe!
Corpus Christi is a profound highlight to the Church’s liturgical calendar, crowning the year with the source and summit of Christian life. It is a time of festivity, community, and bravery. Most of all, it reveals a great mystery- for in it is everything wonderful about the mystery of faith.