Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
What I have read about the history of the feast is this: A Belgian Augustinian nun named St. Juliana of Liege, who from her youth had a great veneration for the Blessed Sacrament and longed for a special feast in its honor, is said to have had dreams of a full moon with a small dark spot, signifying the absence of such a feast. In 1246, at her suggestion, Bishop Robert de Thorete of the Belgina diocese of Liège, convened a synod at which the feasts was instituted. It spread from there and in 1264, Pope Urban IV issued Transiturus, the papal bull establishing the Feast of Corpus Christi as a universal feast of the Church. The office for the feast was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas and is considered one of the most beautiful in the traditional Roman Breviary.
In one sense, we might question why we have this feast – we celebrate the Eucharist at every Mass we attend. During each Mass we listen to the Eucharistic Prayer, hearing Jesus’ words to his disciples during the Last Supper and then we partake of the Eucharist.
But it is easy when we do something repeatedly to take it for granted, to become casual about it, to forget what is really going on. And what the Eucharist represents is way too central to who we are for us to be casual about it.
Hopefully the solemnity helps us to deepen our understanding of the reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. Thomas Merton describes powerfully an experience he had at a Mass in Havana during the Consecration. I leave you with an excerpt of that description with the wish that on this feast you may experience something of what Merton experienced that day:
Then, as sudden as the shout and as definite, and a thousand times more bright, there formed in my mind an awareness, an understanding, a realization of what had just taken place on the altar, at the Consecration: a realization of God made present by the words of Consecration in a way that made Him belong to me.
But what a thing it was, this awareness: it was so intangible, and yet it struck me like a thunderclap. It was a light that was so bright that it had no relation to any visible light and so profound and so intimate that it seemed like a neutralization of every lesser experience….
It was as if I had been suddenly illuminated by being blinded by the manifestation of God’s presence.
The reason why this light was blinding and neutralizing was that there was and could be simply nothing in it of sense or imagination. When I call it a light that is a metaphor which I am using, long after the fact. But at the moment, another overwhelming thing about this awareness was that it disarmed all images, all metaphors, cut through the whole skein of speciesand phantasms with which we naturally do our thinking. It ignored all sense experience in order to strike directly at the heart of truth, as if a sudden and immediate contact had been established between my intellect and the Truth Who was now physically really and substantially before me on the altar. But this contact was not something speculative and abstract: it was concrete and experimental and belonged to the order of knowledge, yes, but more still to the order of love.
Another thing about it was that this light was something far and beyond the level of any desire or any appetite I had ever yet been aware of. It was purified of all emotion and cleansed of everything that savored of sensible yearnings. It was love as clean and direct as vision: and it flew straight to the possession of the Truth it loved.
And the first articulate thought that came to my mind was: ‘Heaven is right here in front of me: Heaven, Heaven!” It lasted only a moment: but it left a breathless joy and a clean peace and happiness that stayed for hours and it was something I have never forgotten.
Blessings on this Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.