June 12, 2020


Feast of Corpus Christi

This Sunday’s observance of the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) will seem different this year. For some of us, such as those 65 or older or those who aren’t healthy, it might mean that they will not attend Mass. Others might not be able to go to their parishes because the parishes must limit attendance at Mass.

Most of those who do attend Mass, though, will probably have a better appreciation for what we have in the Eucharist this year than they had last year. If “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” that has a strong significance for Catholics and the Eucharist this year.

This was clear in what Father Michael Keucher told Sean Gallagher in an article he co-authored in our May 29 issue. At the first weekend Mass that people were able to attend in Shelby County, he said, they were clearly moved to be able to receive Communion again. “They missed it a lot,” he said. “I could see their devotion in some of the tears that I saw. People just really have missed being able to receive our Lord.”

And Kim Koehne, who attended Mass again at St. Louis Parish in Batesville, said, “To be back and to actually receive Jesus truly and not just an act of spiritual Communion is incredible. You don’t realize what you didn’t have or what you’re missing out on, so now that we have it, I don’t want to take it for granted.”

It wasn’t long ago that surveys of Catholics revealed that large numbers of them did not believe that the Eucharist is truly the Body and Blood of Christ. Try telling that to Koehne and the people Father Keucher saw.

All over the archdiocese (or all over the world, for that matter), Catholics have truly suffered from their inability to receive the Eucharist at Mass. Parishioners were encouraged to make that act of spiritual Communion that Koehne mentioned, and the archdiocese continues streaming online daily Mass from SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

During the stay-at-home order, that Mass usually attracted several hundred views, which is more people than usually attend Mass at the cathedral. So, people obviously missed being able to attend Mass and receive the Eucharist.

The feast we will celebrate on Sunday, however we will be able to do so, emphasizes our belief that, when bread and wine are consecrated by a validly ordained Catholic priest, they really and truly become the body and blood of Jesus Christ while continuing to look and taste like bread and wine.

Our belief in this dogma is so strong that the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “The Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith” (#1327) and, “The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life” (#1324).

Not surprisingly because of his devotion to the Eucharist, the feast is closely connected to St. Thomas Aquinas. He proposed it to Pope Urban IV, who established the feast in 1264. St. Thomas composed his hymn “Pange Lingua” for Vespers of Corpus Christi. This hymn is also used on Holy Thursday at the end of Mass during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose. The last two verses of that hymn, the Tantum Ergo, are sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The feast is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday in about 25 countries where it is a holy day of obligation and a public holiday. Otherwise, as in the United States, it is celebrated on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday so that, during an ordinary year, more people can celebrate it.

Corpus Christi processions continue to be celebrated in many countries and in parishes across central and southern Indiana. In medieval times, especially in England, the feast was a time for mystery plays. However, these were suppressed in 1548 when the Church of England denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, many Catholics were martyred because they refused to renounce their belief in the real presence.

A piece of Catholic trivia: The feast of Corpus Christi is one of five occasions in the year when a diocesan bishop may not be away from his diocese unless for a grave and urgent reason. Canon 395, §3, found in the Code of Canon Law, states: “He [the diocesan bishop] is not to be absent from the diocese on Christmas, during Holy Week, and on Easter, Pentecost, and the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, except for a grave and urgent cause.”

—John F. Fink

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