Thursday, May 31, 2018

Homily for Corpus Christi

Springfield Cathedral

We’re keeping the feast of Corpus Christi today; Corpus Christi—Latin for “Body of Christ.” It celebrates the gift of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist—more specifically, the Real Presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Holy Eucharist.

Now, you may be at least subliminally raising an eyebrow hearing me mention the Eucharist, since we are manifestly not celebrating a Eucharist on this occasion. Let me explain why we’re not celebrating a Eucharist. In just a bit, we’re going to be engaging in some rather elaborate devotions—devotions to Jesus, to Jesus specifically as he is sacramentally present with us in the consecrated Eucharistic bread. That is all well and good, a fine and pious thing on our part. Glory be to Jesus! But what we are doing, as wonderful as it is, is derivative, secondary. As grand as our ceremonial will be—and it will be grand!—it is utterly inferior to the simplest Mass said with a congregation of two on a weekday in the Lady Chapel of this cathedral church. So if we were to have a Solemn High Mass to mark this feast day, it really wouldn’t be appropriate to do the other things we’re doing. The Mass would eclipse our other devotions, cast them in a shadow, make them redundant. So, it is out of respect for the Mass, for the liturgy of the Eucharist, that we separate these devotions from it, even as our devotions are utterly dependent on the liturgy of the Eucharist for their coherence and meaning.

When we do come together for Mass, the Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, is re-membered. Vocal inflection is important here—we don’t just “remember” the Body of Christ, in the sense of conjuring up a certain mental image of a past event, we re-member it. That is, the various members of the Body of Christ, the community of the baptized, are brought together, called together, by God the Holy Spirit. So, we begin to re-member the Body of Christ just by showing up, by inhabiting this sacred space for a sacred purpose, by being the Body of Christ assembled, the ecclesial Corpus Christi.

As we re-member the Body of Christ, we re-present the “crucial” sacrifice of Christ—you know where that word “crucial” comes from, right?; it’s been adopted into our language as a metaphor for anything that is of absolutely fundamental importance, but it’s derived from the same Latin word from which we get “cross,” because the cross is of absolutely fundamental importance—we re-member the Body of Christ, the Corpus Christi, when we re-present the crucial sacrifice of Christ, in union with our own sacrifice of “praise and thanksgiving,” along with “ourselves, our souls and bodies,” which should all be familiar language to us. In so doing, we are connecting with the glorified Corpus Christi, who, we are told in scripture, pleads our case before the Father, as our great High Priest, continually making intercession for us—the heavenly Corpus Christi “having the back” of the ecclesial Corpus Christi.

Our final act in the liturgy of the Eucharist, then, is to receive back what we have offered in sacrifice—that is, “ourselves, our souls and bodies,” along with the gifts of bread and wine that represent the sum of our life and labor—we receive our gifts back, transformed into the sacramental Corpus Christi, the Body and Blood, the very life, of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The ecclesial Body of Christ is re-membered when its cells gather, the glorified Body of Christ is re-membered when the ecclesial Body joins it sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving with the perpetual intercession of Christ the High Priest, and the sacramental Body of Christ is re-membered when we come to the rail so that “we may dwell in him and he in us.”

So it is entirely “meet and right” that, in our devotions this evening, we gratefully acknowledge that the presence of the Corpus Christi among us is not a “now you see him, now you don’t” affair. His presence is perpetual. Even when the sanctuary lamp, which signals that presence, is snuffed out at the conclusion of the stripping of the altar on Maundy Thursday, there are still one or two consecrated hosts, tucked away on a shelf in the sacristy, or in an office, just in case of emergency, if someone is dying. As Christ, present in the consecrated host, is placed in the monstrance and lifted up for all to see, we will be drawn inexorably into that most sacred of mysteries by which the ecclesial Corpus Christi is invited by the exalted and glorified Corpus Christi to adore him in the sacramental Corpus Christi, through which we share in the very deathless life of the Holy Trinity, in the Celestial Banquet and the consummation of all bliss. Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

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