The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, historically known by its Latin name, Corpus Christi, celebrates the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist—Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The feast dates to the Middle Ages and came about because of an extraordinary miracle.
In 1263 a German priest, Fr. Peter of Prague, made a pilgrimage to Rome. He stopped in Bolsena, Italy, to celebrate Mass at the Church of St. Christina. At the time he was having doubts about Jesus being truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. He was affected by the growing debate among theologians who were speculating if the Eucharistic was Jesus’ actual Body and Blood or just a symbol. When Fr. Peter said the prayer of consecration, blood started seeping from the host onto the altar and corporal.
Understandably shaken, Fr. Peter reported this miracle to Pope Urban IV, who happened to be nearby in Orvieto. The pope sent delegates to investigate and ordered that host and blood-stained corporal be brought to Orvieto. The relics were then placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto, where they remain today. Pope Urban instituted Corpus Christi for the Universal Church and celebrated it for the first time in 1264, a year after the Eucharistic Miracle in Bolsena.
Inspired by the miracle, Pope Urban commissioned a Dominican friar, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose the Mass and Office for the feast of Corpus Christi. Aquinas’ hymns in honor of the Holy Eucharist, Pange Lingua, Tantum Ergo, Panis Angelicus, and O Salutaris Hostia are the beloved hymns the Church sings on the feast of Corpus Christi as well as throughout the year during Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
This belief that the Eucharist is actually the Body and Blood of Jesus is something that has distinguished Catholics from virtually every other Christian community and denomination. It’s the reason we genuflect when we come into Church. It’s why we have the unique practice of Adoration, where the Host is placed in something called a monstrance for us contemplate in wonder and awe. This fundamental belief in the Real Presence of Jesus in Holy Communion has enabled many Christians to give their lives for the Eucharist, not just in the early centuries, but even in modern times. In Nazi concentration camps, priests celebrated secret Masses so they and other prisoners could receive Communion. A priest in a Vietnamese prison celebrated Mass by holding a tiny particle of bread and single drop of wine in the palm of his hand.
If the Eucharist meant so much to so many Catholics over the last 20 centuries, we should also ask what it means to us? Here at Incarnate Word, we are doing our best to have a well-kept church and beautiful music. We have a welcoming community and I promise your clergy put a considerable amount of time, prayer, and effort into our preaching. But even if all these things were missing or downright terrible, would it not be worthwhile to come to Mass just to worship and receive Jesus himself?
As creatures made in the image and likeness of God, our first and most important responsibility to the Lord is worship! The primary purpose of music is to worship God. In a similar way, an effective homily should lead to worship and should itself be an act of worship, which means it doesn’t draw attention to me but directs the focus back to God. Our very gathering is an act of worship. We should, of course, be friendly and courteous, but we always keep in mind that we are here for a sacred purpose: to worship our Maker, our Savior, the One who gives us his entire self under the form of bread and wine.
St. Augustine said, "No one eats this flesh unless he first adores it." Which highlights the spiritual treasure we have in this wonderful parish: perpetual adoration! Every hour of every day except for Good Friday and Holy Saturday, we are blessed to have the Eucharist, the actual Body and Blood of Jesus in our adoration chapel waiting for you and me to visit in prayer. Think about that for a moment! The Savior of the world, the Victor over sin and death, the Redeemer of your soul and the souls of everyone you have ever loved, sits quietly just outside these doors 24 hours a day! He would be thrilled to see you, to have you sit with Him and whether you tell Him what is going on in your life or you just enjoy His company, nothing would make Him happier!
Lately we have been having trouble filling up hours for our adoration chapel. It is customary to have at least two people signed up for each hour of adoration which means this parish would need at least 336 people to visit with Jesus one hour each week. Many of you already do this. But there are some slots with only one person and other times where one adorer covers multiple hours. Incarnate Word has 2,053 registered households and 5,927 souls as members. Simple math tells me we have enough people to keep Jesus company.
I know many people hesitate from signing up because they aren’t sure what they would do for an hour. Maybe they feel like they don’t know how to pray or are afraid they will do it wrong. Don’t let that stop you. Adoration is as simple as sitting with someone you love and who loves you back. You don’t need a script. Sometimes you might talk, other times you will listen. Maybe you will pray the rosary, read the bible, write in a journal or even fall asleep. Many times it will be as simple as looking at the Lord and knowing He looks back and smiles at you. Hopefully you’ve had this sort of experience already as a spouse, parent, grandparent or friend and you enjoy sitting in the company of the people you love while your heart is fed and filled.
One other common concern: “Father, I’m too busy. I can’t commit to an hour.” To which I would offer the observation that love finds a way to be with the people near and dear to our heart. We all get the same amount of hours in a day but the way we spend them is up to us. I know it can be difficult, especially for our young families, to get away from ball games, meetings, and the business of raising kids every single week. But might it be possible to sign up for an hour with three or four other families or friends so each one covers an hour a month? Love is creative like that. It finds ways to spend time together despite the challenges.
One final comment. I have never met anyone who committed to a regular practice of adoration and found out that it was worthless, terrible, or ruined their life. In fact, person after person will tell you that even though they didn’t know what to do or expect at first, it has changed their life and made them a better Christian, spouse, friend, and overall person. So let’s honor the tremendous gift of Jesus in the Eucharist and do something good for ourselves at the same time. Please consider adding the practice of adoration to your prayer and let’s see how it might change your life by the time this feast rolls around next year!