Best Homily on Feast of Corpus Christi – Evah!

I’m not being at all glib when I say that this passionate homily by Deacon Greg gave me chills. It is spot on, and difficult to excerpt, but here’s a taste:

Back in the 1970s, when there was a lot of liturgical innovation going on, Dorothy Day invited a young priest to celebrate mass at the Catholic Worker. He decided to do something that he thought was relevant and hip. He asked Dorothy if she had a coffee cup he could borrow. She found one in the kitchen and brought it to him. And, he took that cup and used it as the chalice to celebrate mass.

When it was over, Dorothy picked up the cup, found a small gardening tool, and went to the backyard. She knelt down, dug a hole, kissed the coffee cup, and buried it in the earth.

With that simple gesture, Dorothy Day showed that she understood something that so many of us today don’t: she knew that Christ was truly present in something as ordinary as a ceramic cup. And that it could never be just a coffee cup again.

She understood the power and reality of His presence in the blessed sacrament.

Which is really the sum and substance of what we celebrate on this feast, Corpus Christi. The reason for what we will do today – celebrating with the monstrance, the music, the procession – isn’t to glorify an inanimate object, a bit of bread contained in glass.

It is to remind the world that in that bread we have been given Christ.

Not an idea. Not a symbol. Not an abstract bit of arcane theology. No.

It is wider and deeper and more mysterious than that.

Look at that host — and you look at Christ.

I love his opening story. Dorothy Day (a convert and Benedictine Oblate) founded The Catholic Worker, and lived in voluntary poverty in solidarity with the poor of her day. She is often, and wrongly, dismissed as a “radical” by people who do not realize that Day was, in her own words, “an obedient daughter of the church,” and completely passionate about the grace-imparting sacraments given to us by Christ. Far from being “radical,” Day looked upon the Eucharistic Christ and recognized her King, just as even the earliest Christians knew him, the travelers who “recognized Jesus” in the breaking of the bread, and those Corinthians warned by St. Paul, (1 Corinthians 11:27) who wrote: Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.

More Deacon Greg:

Look at the host, and you look at Christ.

Everything we are, everything we believe, everything we celebrate around this altar comes down to that incredible truth. What began two thousand years ago in an upper room continues here, and now, and at altars around the world. The very source of our salvation is transformed into something you can hold in the palm of your hand.

A lot of you know Sister Camille D’Arienzo, who has been here many times to speak. She tells the story of a priest who was pouring some unconsecrated communion wafers from a bag, to get ready for mass. Some fell on the floor. He bent down and picked up the stray hosts, just ordinary wafers, unconsecrated, to throw them out. And he held one between his thumb and forefinger and showed it to her. “Just think,” he said, “what this could have become.”

Just think what we become when we receive the body of Christ. We become nothing less than living tabernacles. God dwells within us. As the hymn tells us, we become what we receive. And what we receive becomes us. That is the great mystery, and great grace, the great gift of this most blessed sacrament.

My question on this feast: what will we do with that knowledge? Once we have been transformed, by bread that has been transformed, how can we leave this holy place without seeking to transform the world? How can we just go out and head to brunch, or dinner, or out to do yardwork or the weekly grocery shopping?

We carry something greater than ourselves. And that makes us instruments of God’s great work in the world – literally.

Read it all; you will be inspired. You may not want to head forth in the world armed, as Dorothy Day was, with only her breviary, her jar of instant coffee (she did not have the Mystic Monks) and her daily mass-and-communion, but you may find yourself moved to examine your own conscience (I know I was) and to consider what you might say to Christ, ask of Him, offer to Him, this weekend as you receive his Body, Blood, Soul & Divinity, into your own flesh and blood, where the two will commingle, where your cells will absorb the Blood of the King, until his Royal Blood runs within you.

The Source and Summit of our worship is also its Deepest Mystery; a Hypermystery of Divine Indwelling. We do not ponder it enough. We could not, in any case, but we don’t even try.

We need to focus, to quiet down, and to listen.

The Body of Christ; Amen!
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Stargazing with Merton and Rambling Along
World Day of Prayer for Vocations;the Habit

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Anne

    How sad that the priest used a mug for Mass. How inappropriate.

  • Todd

    It doesn’t surprise me at all Deacon Greg was the source for this homily. Truly excellent.

    Allow me to quibble with you about Dorothy Day on one point. If you accept “radical” as being a quality of radix, or root, she was certainly a witness to the roots of the Gospel, both in her devotion to the Eucharist and to the poor. It would be a good thing if we were all more “radical” in the sense of being rooted.

  • Mimsy

    As usual, when something is bothering me, you write about an angle of it. In this case, I have been thinking about my hands. Are they clean enough–in every sense of the word–to dare to hold the Body of Christ? And after I have held Christ in the palm of my hand and picked him up with the thumb and forefinger of my other hand, how can I even touch anything else without feeling too careless? No, I’m trying not to be compulsive, but this concern has sprung from my thinking of our bodies as temples, especially after communion. The same goes for my mouth, naturally. Am I crazy? Lord, help me!

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    One of my favorite writers is Flannery O’Connor. A few weeks ago our family vistied Andalusia, her home in Georgia. One of the best stories told about her involves the Holy Eucharist. She was at a gathering of high powered literati. One of the writers, knowing of her devout Catholicism, condescendingly said to her how the Eucharist is such a wonderful symbol.
    Flannery retorted that if it is merely a symbol then to Hell with it.

  • Ursula

    Dorothy Day not a radical? Dear me. Please visit the Catholic Worker website and do a search on Stalin and Castro. You’ll find no condemnation of the former, and almost songs of praise for the latter. Try this account of her visit to Cuba in 1962 for a start: here.

    Edited to admit link. You can use html to create links. Please do. admin

  • Steve P in Bethesda, Md.

    For an understanding of the Sacrament that I think Dorothy Day would appreciate, read “Our Present Duty” at Frank Weston was an Anglican missionary bishop i Africa, and this was address he delivered to a conference of Anglo-Catholics in London in 1923. These were the “glory days” of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, but Weston recalls his listeners to what is truly important. Set aside for the moment your reservations about Anglican orders and sacraments, and just read this on its own terms. The last few paragraphs, I think, are about as powerful as oratory gets!

    Edited to insert link – admin

  • Francis W. Porretto

    “The reason for what we will do today – celebrating with the monstrance, the music, the procession – isn’t to glorify an inanimate object, a bit of bread contained in glass….It is to remind the world that in that bread we have been given Christ.”

    Surely the reminder is appropriate and valuable. However, I have a somewhat different angle on it.

    Contrast Christianity’s attitude toward sacrifice to that of all the other religions and pseudo-religions that have afflicted this ball of rock, and you’ll see a genuinely dramatic difference.

  • Jo-Ann

    Inappropriate? Did Christ give the disciples His Blood in a golden chalice? Of course not – it was most likely pottery, no doubt chipped from daily use. What is sad is that one would focus on the instrument of delivery rather than The Real Presence in the Eucharist. My husband and I are privileged to hear Deacon Greg’s homilies in person at Mass – he is truly an inspiration.

    [Yes, he is. I don't think we can judge Dorothy Day as somehow "sad" for focusing on the coffee cup...there is absolutely no suggestion that she was not wholly focused on the Real Presence in the Eucharist, to the point of wanting to be sure that a cup which had held the Blood of Christ would never again be used thoughtlessly or casually. How can anyone fault that movement which is borne out of such great love and understanding? And using an ordinary coffee cup for the blood of the King IS inappropriate. The mass rubrics themselves say that the vessels should be non-porous and not easily breakable." We have no way of knowing what Jesus used at the last supper, but it does behoove us to use our "best" for the King, not our "ordinary" in an effort to be somehow in "solidarity" with the poor. I have a priest cousin who worked on the mean streets of East New York and he will tell you; the poor don't want the Eucharist in a basket and a coffee cup; they want only the "best" for their Lord. - admin]

  • Not Getting Creaky Just Yet

    “most likely pottery, no doubt chipped from daily use. ”
    Nonsense. He was leading at the Passover Seder. It is a holy and special time for our Jewish brethren. They *do not* use ordinary chipped stuff to remember and emphasize that the Angel of Death “passed over” the house of Israel. This would have been as fancy a goblet at the household had at hand–and this household, which had an empty, spare upper room available for the feast, would have had a pretty fancy dinner service for the holyday feast. IMHO.

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  • djmoore

    Anchoress, thank you for pointing me, a crass skeptic, to this beautiful story.

    On inappropriateness:

    In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig tells the story of a congregation, having recently moved to a new church, complaining to their bishop that their old church building is being turned into a nightclub. He remonstrates them, saying that they are making exactly the error of materialism their faith preaches against. They are their church, he explains, the building is just bricks and mortar. Once it was desanctified, no further use is any more, or any less, appropriate than any other.

    How is the coffee cup any less appropriate than the ordinary wine poured into it, compared to the holy stuff the wine becomes once it is consecrated? (When I first skimmed the story, I thought the priest had actually used coffee instead of wine, and nodded: “A stimulant rather than a soporific. Excellent choice of sacrament!”) The act of consecration raises the wine, and its vessel, into a plane far above the mere materials they are made of, even as Communion raises us above the mere meat we are made of. This, I think, is what that young priest was trying to communicate.

    That said, I agree that in the ordinary course of things, using appropriate vessels for the wine is as important to the ritual as dressing ourselves for worship. It helps put us in the right frame of mind, to focus our attention on the task at hand.

    And yet, and yet, had he not thought, in that one instance, to perform that “inappropriate” act, Dorothy Day, and we, would have been denied her act of transcendent reverence.

    As a regular practice, yes, inappropriate.

    As a slap on the pulpit to awaken the dozing, as a reminder that the glory of God is within our minds and souls, not within our mundane animal clay, nothing could be more appropriate.

    Except maybe putting coffee in the cup….

  • djmoore

    One more thing, on our appropriateness, our worthiness:

    As I understand it, Christ himself declared us worthy, not only of his blood and body, but his life and crucifixion.

    Are folks saying they are more suited than Christ to judge their own worth? Is that not a kind of arrogance?

  • dymphna

    Chipped from daily use? No indeed. Only the best that could be affored would do. Ordinary objects were not used for Passover. A Jewish family would have two sets of cookware and tableware. A charity fund was set in up in every village to help people who were too poor to buy proper Passover items. At the very least a poor person would wrap their cookware and then let it smoulder in ashes to scorch off any particle of leaven.

  • Greta

    great sermon also at Father Fox site.

    Edited to admit link -admin

  • Betsy

    Though not dogma per se, it’s been written in the book “The Dolourous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ” that the chalice used at the Last Supper (pg. 69) was brought from Veronica’s house by the apostles; it had been kept in the Temple for a long time among other precious antiquities. Some of these antiquities had been dug up and sold or reset, and Veronica bought the chalice. They had been unable to melt it down as it was made of a mysterious metal that would not melt. Jesus had used it at several festivals before the Last Supper, according to the book. It stood on a plate and was in several pieces used to assemble it. It also mentions that it had formerly been in the possession of Abraham and Melchisedech. After the Last Supper it was left in the hands of St. James the Less and its whereabouts are today unknown.
    That said, would you consecrate and serve our King, the Eucharist, from anything but the finest of vessels?

  • Victor

    So many more questions to ask “Our Heavenly Father’s Blessed Trinity” when this earthly course is over and i, me, myself and all our cells join as “ONE” and find ourselves in “Spiritual Grade One” with God’s Angels!

    I hear ya! Stop exaggering again sinner vic and please remember that Victor is only flesh, blood and bones for the time being! :)

  • shanasfo


    There is a fine line between being so proud so as to believe we are never worthy, and to being so proud as to thinking we cannot ever do anything to render ourselves unworthy.

    We were made worthy through death of Christ (which we share in Baptism, 1Pet 3:21) but we are also to keep the commandments of Jesus (“He who keeps my commandments is the one that loves me…” Jn 14:21 ) We can become unworthy as seen in 1Cor 11:27-29. If we measure our daily life in the light of 1Cor 13 – are we acting as real Christians in imitation of Jesus?

    When we stray intentionally from the commandments of Christ, and do not repent, can we say truly that we are worthy any longer of so great a gift?

    But of course we do not have to stay like that as we have been given all the means through grace by which the Lord can bring us back to Himself, back to the original state we were in in Baptism; through frequent Confession and
    prayer, which saves (James 5:16) through acts of charity & penance for the love of Christ, and nightly examination of conscience and firm
    amendment of purpose.

    St Francis, used as an example in Deacon’s homily, was a very complex man, not the glazed eyed hippy simpleton seen in “Brother Sun, Sister Moon”. He had a deep loathing for his own sins, which comes with great holiness
    - the more one grows in holiness, the plainer and meaner one observes one’s own sinfulness to be and the more the soul weeps over his lack of true, godly love.

    St Francis had once lived such a life of pampered selfishness, and frivolousness, that he did what Christians centuries before had done; they did not frequently receive into themselves the Body and Blood of
    Christ as penance for their numerous sins. He battled the sin of pride all of his life, even refusing to be ordained a priest because he knew it was another outlet for pride (he was a deacon, however).

    It came, not of arrogance and pride, but of the deepest humility before God. Remember – while he also abstained from Eucharist to honor God, God also rewarded Francis’ complete self-giving to Jesus and the Church with the gift of the Stigmata.

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