Corpus Christi - Holy Body and Blood of Christ

The Solemn feast that is celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday (or on the second Sunday after Pentecost) is the feast of the Most Holy and Precious Body and Blood of Jesus. Why is this day so special? Find out, through this article.
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world."
John 6:51

Having celebrated the birthday of the Church on Pentecost and the solemn feast of the Trinity, we come down to the feast of the Institution of the Eucharist to commemorate the highest gift ever given to mankind. The 'Real Presence' of Jesus Christ is celebrated and venerated through the Eucharist and the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The solemn feast celebrates the institution of the Holy Eucharist which occurred at the Last Supper. It is considered to be a Day of Obligation or compulsory attendance in church. Services include a solemn procession with the Consecrated Holy Eucharist which proclaims the fact that Jesus resides within every baptized Christian.

History

The Latin name, Corpus Christi is understood as 'the body of Christ'. The feast itself was promoted by Saint Juliana of Mt. Cornillon, a nun who was in awe of the Eucharist. She yearned for a solemn feast to venerate the Eucharist; according to her not observing such a solemn feast was not befitting the Church and proposed her views to Robert de Thorete, the Bishop of Liège.

Bishop Robert de Thorete then convened a synod (council) and hence, initiated the celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi in 1246. The feast gained a universal momentum only after Pope Urban IV issued a charter in 1264, asking Christians to observe the Thursday after Trinity Sunday as the feast dedicated to the Eucharist, giving the feast a solemn status. Pope Urban also requested St. Thomas Aquinas to compose special hymns and prayers to commemorate the feast.

Significance of the Feast

The Query: Why is there a special feast to commemorate the Holy Eucharist when we already celebrate it on Maundy Thursday?

Maundy (Holy) Thursday, as you know, celebrates the feast of the Last Passover, which in essence, is the Institution of the Eucharist. Maundy Thursday, undoubtedly, celebrates Jesus' Sharing of Bread with His apostles; besides, it also commemorates the institution of priesthood, and of the commandment of 'doing unto others as Christ had done to them (the disciples)'. However, the solemn feast gets subdued by Christ's death on the cross, becoming the greatest Sacrifice of Christ.
Institution of the EucharistOn the other hand, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus commemorates the Communion with God achieved through the Eucharist. The Feast of Corpus Christi allows us to venerate God and most importantly, gives praise and thanksgiving for the Gift of the Presence of Christ that is manifested through the Eucharist. The feast is a memorial of Jesus' command to partake in His Body and Blood through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist.

Through the Eucharist, Christians are presented an opportunity to be aware of the presence of Christ in each member present in the church as well as the Bread that is Broken on the altar and presented to them as the Body of Christ. In the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, the sacrament is best understood as, "the proper effect of the sacrament of the Eucharist is the conversion of man into Christ, so that he may no longer live for himself, but that Christ may live in Him".

Eucharistic Elements

Bread and Wine are the elements of the Eucharist which when consecrated become the divine Body and Blood of Christ, respectively. 'The Bread that is Broken and Wine that is Poured' stands for the Sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.

Bread
: Baked wheat wafers are used in the mass. The Bread, also called Host, plays an essential part or element to celebrate the supper of the Lord. The dough that is used to make the host has to be unleavened (not fermented) dough; the Eastern Church, however, uses leavened bread to prepare the host. The unleavened bread is symbolic of sincerity, purity and truth.

Wine
: "Fruit of the vine, work of human hands"; grape wine is the next element used in the Eucharist. It is important to note that no other type of wine other than red grape wine is used in the Eucharistic celebration.

Water
: A droplet of water is added to the wine just before the rite of consecration. The mingling of water represents the union of Christ and the church.

Apart from the Elements of the Eucharist, the Vessels or Liturgical Vessels that contain the Elements are:

Chalice and Paten
: The Chalice is a gilded gold or silver cup that holds the wine that is transformed into the Blood. The Paten is a gilded silver or gold plate that holds the Consecrated Host. Only the priest and deacons are permitted to touch the Chalice and the Paten.

Ciborium
: A larger version of the chalice, the ciborium comes with a lid and is used to hold the consecrated Bread used for communion. The Ciborium is always kept covered with a veil and placed in the tabernacle.

Cruets
: Cruets are tiny vessels preferably made of glass that are used to hold the water and wine before it is transformed into the blood of Christ.

Monstrance
: It is used to hold the consecrated Host during Benediction and Processions on Corpus Christi and Holy Thursday. The monstrance is made of gold or silver in a radiating sun shape with a clear glass area for hoisting the Sacrament. The monstrance which contains the Sacred Host cannot be touched by lay people; so, giving due respect to the Blessed Sacrament, the priest holds the vessel with a veil.
Eucharistic Celebration

Consecration of the BodyConsecration of the BloodConsecration
The mass, in reality, is a means or a way to recount the great sacrifice that had taken place on the mount of Calvary. The Holy Eucharist, like the other sacraments, gives us grace, but what makes the Eucharist special is the fact that it presents us the Grace of Christ who is the Author of all Graces; besides, it also fulfills the promise made by Jesus, to be with us eternally (Mt. 28:20). The Eucharist, at all times, has to be centered around the celebration of the Paschal Mystery that constitutes the death and resurrection of Christ. The Eucharistic celebration, in simple words, is partaking of Christ's Body and Blood as His true disciples did on the night of the passover. The offering of bread and wine, which is transformed on the Altar signifies the body and blood of Christ and is the perpetual sacrifice.

The Eucharist described in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), is "The Eucharist is 'source' and 'summit' of the Christian life. The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."

The Eucharistic Celebration or Holy Mass comprises or follows the following order:
  • Introductory Rites
  • Liturgy of the Word
  • Liturgy of the Eucharist
  • Concluding Rites
Liturgy of the Eucharist

The entire mass is focused on the Liturgy of the Eucharist, making it the most important part of the celebration. The Liturgy of the Eucharist in essence is the commemoration of the institution of the Paschal Sacrifice as instituted by Jesus Christ at the Last Supper. The celebration of the Eucharist involves Offering of the Gifts (that is the bread and wine) on the Altar, followed by the Prayer over the Gifts which is followed by the epitome of the mass known as the Eucharistic Prayer.

The Eucharistic prayer includes prayers of thanksgiving, memorial acclamation, invocation to the spirit, consecration, transubstantiation and final doxology. The Eucharistic Prayer is followed by the recital of the Lord's Prayer, the Giving of Peace or the rites of Peace. This is followed by the Breaking of Bread and inviting the congregation to partake in the Body and Blood of Christ known as Holy Communion.
Tabernacle

On the Feast of Corpus Christi, just like on Maundy Thursday, the Altar is stripped off the Missal and stand, post Communion to set the Monstrance in which is placed the Consecrated Host. The Priest, Deacon or the celebrant then genuflects before the exposed Blessed Sacrament, the congregation follows suit and a few minutes of silence is observed. The Priest/Deacon recites the 'Tantum Ergo' after which the Congregation moves silently in procession.

Importance of the Eucharist

The Eucharist is a Sacrament and is a means of conveying the Grace of the Lord to those who are willing to receive it worthily. It is known as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass through which atonement and forgiveness for sins can be achieved. In the Orthodox church, the Eucharistic is known as the Divine Liturgy and the Eucharist is considered to be a mystery than a sacrament like it does in the west. In the Lutheran Church, it is considered to be a Sacramental Union, i.e., Christ's presence is manifested in, with and under the bread and wine.

The Holy Eucharist gives the church an opportunity to enter into a communion with Christ both in love and spirit. The Eucharist is a means to enter salvation for it is said in John 6:51- 58;

"Truly, truly, I say to you unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever."

TransubstantiationTransformation into Body and BloodVenerating the Body and BloodVenerating Final Doxology

Transubstantiation
: The transforming of bread and wine into the most precious Body and Blood of Christ is called the transubstantiation. Transubstantiation is essentially not a mere process of substitution of the Body for the bread and Blood for the wine, but, actual transformation or conversion into the sacred elements. In simplified words, the bread and wine is blessed to reveal Jesus' presence. The consecration prayers that are recited are akin to the Lord's Supper when Jesus offers His disciples bread and wine and says,

"Take this, all of you, and eat it:
this is my body which will be given up for you. Do this in memory of me.
When supper was ended, he took the cup. Again He gave the cup to His disciples, and said: Take this, all of you, and drink from it; this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant. It will be shed for you and for all men, so that sins may be forgiven. Do this in memory of me."

Eucharistic Procession

The solemn feast is celebrated with a procession that is led by the Priest who carries the Most Holy Eucharist that is consecrated during the Eucharistic celebration. The procession that is carried out immediately after the mass, is in essence, the prolongation of the celebration of the Eucharist.

The procession is a means for the Christians to publicly display their faith and reverence for the Blessed Sacrament. During the procession, the congregation follows the priest bearing the Blessed Sacrament with lit candles, proclaiming their belief in the real presence of Jesus. The procession proceeds slowly and solemnly with the congregation partaking in hymns and prayers during the procession. The procession culminates in the Church where it is followed by Benediction, after which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed on the altar of Repose.
Tradition and Symbolism

Altar DecorationAltar

The Christians partake in the Mystery by attending mass, and receiving Holy Communion. It is considered an auspicious day for those receiving the Body and Blood of Christ for the very first time. The Procession of the Blessed Sacrament is welcomed with a carpet of red and white flower petals and banners depicting any of the Corpus Christi symbols.

The color of the day is white with red or red with white, symbolizing the Body and Blood of Christ. The priests, deacons and altar servers wear vestments in white and red. The altar, too, is decorated with red and white flowers with altar cloths of the same colors. During the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, the altar is decorated with six candles; three on either side of the monstrance.

The other symbols include Bread and Wine or the Paten and Chalice. A loaf of broken bread and a bunch of grapes are other symbols of this solemn feast. A peacock feeding on a bunch of grapes is another symbol used to commemorate Corpus Christi.
Corpus Christi is a feast to proclaim our solidarity with Christ and with our neighbor. Venerating Jesus through the Holy Eucharist and The Blessed Sacrament, we stand to testify the grace of Christ, and with one voice we can truly sing, "We are one, one in Jesus, we are One in the Lord, one in heart, one in soul." Have a Blessed Feast!
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