Yesterday was St. James’s celebration of Corpus Christi. This is latin for the body of Christ, and the feast day celebrates the mysterious reality of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist. In the Gospel of Luke Ch. 22, Jesus says of the bread “this is my body.” In the Gospel of John Ch. 6, he says “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” For Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Anglican Christians, this is not a metaphor. Christ is really, truly and substantially present in the bread and wine when the priest consecrates the elements saying these words of Jesus. This is not to say that we all think we are eating physical human flesh and drinking physical human blood. I certainly do not imagine it that way! The doctrine of transubstantiation is one explanation for how Christ is truly present. But even this doctrine claims that the bread and wine appear unchanged. For most of us it is simply a profound mystery that mirrors the profundity of the Incarnation.
A year ago yesterday, I celebrated Corpus Christi in Navarre, Spain. The consecrated Host was placed in a large monstrance atop a litter with positions for four volunteers to carry it. Here in Vancouver, the priest carried the consecrated host in a small monstrance and we walked around our block of the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. What is usually confined to a church is brought out into the places we live and work and recreate. We had also just participated in the Eucharist, the procession took place after the Mass, so even though the visual focal point is on the Host, we were all walking tabernacles of Christ’s real presence.
As we walked, it occured to me that most monstrances looks a great deal like the sun with shining rays. How appropriate that we were celebrating the body of Christ with a sun shaped object on the eve of the summer solstice. Shining the light of Christ not just in the church but out on the street with a full brass band in tow no less!
There is a beautiful mystery of interconnection in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is bread. Bread is made from wheat grain, salt, water and yeast. Grain grows from wheat grass. Wheat grass in turn grows from a single grain. Grain cannot grow without soil, nutrients, water, favorable temperatures and of course the sun. On Corpus Christi we are celebrating the real presence of the sun in wheat; and in turn the real presence of the Son in bread.
In the Roman Rite Eucharistic prayer, the priest begins by saying:
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the bread we offer you: fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”
“Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we have received the wine we offer you: fruit of the vine and work of human hands, it will become our spiritual drink.”
We bring the work of the earth, and the work of our feeble human hands up to the altar, and God turns it into Christ. Happy Solstice!
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