Today the Catholic Church celebrates Corpus Christi, the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia calls this a solemnity to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist. Pope John Paul II called the solemnity, not only a celebration of the Eucharist, but a public proclamation “that the sacrifice of Christ is for the salvation of the whole world.”
Whatever words one uses, we focus in a special way today on the transformation of bread and wine that completely transforms our lives.
While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, “This is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.”
The bread and wine do not merely symbolize Christ. They don’t merely serve as a reminder of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. Rather, the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ. Real presence. And that changes everything.
In a chapter on the Eucharist in The Mystery of Faith, Michael Himes points out that “there is no intrinsic difference” between the bread and wine that become the Eucharist and the bread we eat for sandwiches and the wine we offer friends at dinner. Thus, he asks, “If this bread can become the body of Christ, why not all that other bread? If this wine can become the blood of Christ, why not all wine?” And, he continues, if the bread and the wine, why not the grain, the vine, the soil and the rain that produce the bread and wine? In fact, he says, “if this tiny fragment of the material world can be transformed into the fullness of the presence of Christ, and therefore the fullness of the presence of God in human terms, then why not the whole material universe? And that is, of course, precisely the point.”
There is an antiphon in the prayers for the feast of this day that describes the Eucharist as a pignus futurae gloriae, which Himes translates from the Latin to mean a “down payment” or “first installment” of future glory. The Eucharistic bread and wine reveal our destiny: “The whole universe is destined to be transformed into the presence of Christ, the fullness of God in the flesh. The whole universe is destined to be tranformed into the presence of God in Christ.”
Now that’s something to celebrate. Happy feast of Corpus Christi!