I am going to begin this post with a familiar teaching: “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’” (CCC 1324). Christ divinely instituted this Sacrament at the Last Supper, ordering the disciples to continue that Sacrifice “in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22:19). For those who believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, it unites earth and heaven, the “communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being” (CCC1325). Even for those who do not believe, Christ died for all, though not all choose to avail of the redemption won for them by the shedding of His blood.
I can think of no better reminder of that last point than the traditional Eucharistic procession celebrating the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. There is no other liturgical feast during which the Blessed Sacrament is venerated outside of a church. To the passers-by, the procession is impossible to miss: scores of altar servers dispensing clouds of incense and, if you’re lucky, a Knights of Columbus color guard with drawn swords precede an elaborate tent being carried over a golden monstrance elevated by the priest (dressed in beautiful liturgical vestments, no less) while the faithful bring up the rear singing Eucharistic hymns. This spectacle is not merely ecclesiastically pleasing to the eyes, but, among other functions, introduces Christ to the world outside of the Church.
In the Eucharist, we recall the words of Christ now repeated by the priest: “Take this, all of you… this is my Body… this is… my Blood, the Blood of the new and everlasting covenant, which will be poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins” (it should be noted that “for many” refers to all who come to believe and not an exclusion/denial of others). The Church does not wish to deny anyone an encounter with Christ but instead continually seeks to evangelize the world. The Eucharistic procession, then, is an invitation extended by the faithful to bystanders to reciprocate the infinite love God has always shown to them, whether it is recognized or not. This invitation may not be immediately accepted, but, given time and the right conditions, the seeds planted in their minds could result in conversion and the desire to join Christ’s body, the Church (see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27).
The Solemnity also reminds me of the call to continuing conversion, the universal call to holiness. Each of us who bear the name “Christian” are to become more like the One whom we love and in whom we live— we are called to become what we consume. Christ comes to dwell within us; we live our lives now in Him. We are “living monstrances”, enthroning the Lord in our hearts and showcasing Him through our good works. The same Divine Host that we receive in this Sacrament is the same elevated in the procession. Processing outside of the walls of church serves to proclaim that Christ continues to come into the world through the Church. Our Lord dwells in each of us by virtue of our Baptism. We carry Him into the world just as we carry the monstrance into the streets.
Even so, there will always be those who scorn our belief in the Real Presence. The Eucharist, like the Cross are forever “stumbling blocks. It is the same mystery and it never ceases to be an occasion of division” (see CCC 1336, John 6:22-69). The fact that the Eucharist can never be fully understood by the human mind must not be a condition of belief. As St. Anselm of Canterbury once declared, “For I do not seek to understand in order that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe this: unless I believe, I will not understand.” Because Christ Himself has told us, “This is My Body”, what reason could remain for doubt (Matthew 26:26-28)? St. Thomas Aquinas recognized this when he composed the traditional and fitting Corpus Christi hymn, “Adore 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.
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.
Thomas Wong is an Undergraduate at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.