Sunday, May 25, 2008

Fr. James's Homily: The Feast of Corpus Christi

The Feast of Corpus Christi - The Gift of Communion II

Most of the time, we need constant reminders of the immense gifts that God continually bestows upon us. The Eucharist is an immense miracle, but sometimes we need to be reminded just how amazing this miracle really

One such reminder took place in 1263. A German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He is described as being a pious priest, but one who found it difficult to believe in Transubstantiation. While celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Christina, located in Bolsena, Italy, he had barely spoken the words of Consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal.

The priest was immediately confused. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighboring city of Orvieto, the city where Pope Urban IV was then residing.

The Pope listened to the priest's story and gave him absolution for his lack of faith. He then sent emissaries for an immediate investigation. When all the facts were ascertained, he ordered the Bishop of the diocese to bring to Orvieto the Host and the linen cloth bearing the stains of blood. With archbishops, cardinals and other Church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and, amid great pomp, had the relics placed in the cathedral. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy.

Pope Urban IV was prompted by this miracle to commission St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the liturgical prayers in honor of the Eucharist. One year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced the saint's compositions, and by means of a papal bull instituted the feast of Corpus Christi.

The Feast of Corpus Christi reminds us that we possess an immense treasure. When a Catholic priest takes a little piece of unleavened bread and repeats the words that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper, "This is my body", and when he takes a small of amount of wine in a chalice and says, "This is my blood", the bread is no longer bread and the wine is no longer wine. At every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we participate in a marvelous miracle, the miracle called Transubstantiation.

Last week we reflected upon the mystery of communion. Our Triune God is a communion of persons. We can see the image of this communion stamped into all of existence. Human nature, marriage, the family, human society and the Church are all icons of the Triune God who is a communion of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Eucharist is called Holy Communion. Jesus himself, through the Eucharist, grants to us the most powerful experience of intimacy possible within our earthly existence. As Pope Benedict explains: “And that is what is really happening in Communion, that we allow ourselves to be drawn into him, into his inner communion, and are thus led finally into a state of inner resemblance”.[i]

What intimacy! When Jesus comes to us, he comes to us as communion. God and man become one. He comes to us as the divine lover. His communion with us is more intimate than the intimate union of husband and wife or a mother with her unborn child.

We cannot even begin to fathom the depth of God’s love for us. His love is so immense that he himself is defined as love. “God is love” (1 John 4: 8, 16). The Holy Eucharist is the most visible sign of God’s love for each of us. Jesus loves us so much that he cannot leave us. “And know that I am with you always until the end of time” (Matthew 28: 20).

Let us recall then the words from the first encyclical letter written by Pope John Paul II, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it”.[ii]

As we consider the mystery of God’s unconditional love we are reminded that love defines the very purpose of our existence too. The purpose of our life can be summed up with only one word: love. “…since God has loved us so much, we too should love one another” (1 John 4: 11).

The human person cannot live without the experience of divine love and human love. The human person cannot live without the experience of divine intimacy and human intimacy. The human person cannot live without communion. Man becomes fully realized in communion because he is created for communion by a God who is the most perfect communion.

This is why Pope Benedict calls the Church a “Eucharistic fellowship”. This is why the Catechism says that, “No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone… I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 166).

As I mentioned last week, I firmly believe that after every Eucharistic Celebration, whenever possible, there should always be some kind of fellowship activity. Moreover, sprinkled throughout the liturgical year, there should be well organized social activities that provide an opportunity for the entire parish to come together for fellowship.

How can we begin to live in our parish family the community life that we are supposed to live? First, start by forming the habit of seeing Jesus in each person. This will certainly help when you do not feel like talking to someone. Jesus is hidden in every individual. Secondly, no one should be seen as a stranger. We are all brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus. Thirdly, if you are shy, acquire a new virtue. Force yourself to be outgoing. In this way, you will be sure to make new friends. Fourthly, be universal in your charity. Do not avoid anyone. Do not form clicks. Do not stick to your own age group or your own nationality. If we really do what we are suppose to do, parish life can become a powerful experience. We can really experience the Church as a “Eucharistic fellowship”.[iii]

This is why it is liturgically incorrect to hold hands when we pray the Our Father during the Mass, the Eucharistic Celebration. It is the Eucharist that brings us together and forms us into one body, not the praying of the Our Father. We must not add things to the liturgy that are not authorized by the Holy Father. We already have a proper liturgical gesture that expresses our unity. Before we receive Holy Communion, we exchange an external sign of fraternal charity with the sign of peace. Peace, unity, and fraternal charity are all fruits of the Eucharist.

“Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf” (1 Corinthians 10: 17).

[i] God and the World, Joseph Ratzinger, p. 409
[ii] Redemptor Hominis, 10.1
[iii] God is Near Us, Joseph Ratzinger, p. 115

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