Thursday, 30 May 2013

Feast of the Most Holy Body [and Blood] of Christ

Today is the (actual) feast of Corpus Christi.

On calendar foibles

Indeed, there is something of an irony to be observed today in that this is one of those cases where traditionalists (and Eastern Rite Catholics) will actually be celebrating the feast on the same day as Rome (where it is an official holiday as well as feast day), while in Australia and many other places, those following the novus ordo calendar will be out of sync, transferring the feast to Sunday.  There is one difference though: in the traditional calendar, devotion to the Precious Blood is reflected in a separate feast; in the novus ordo calendar the two are crunched down to one feast.

Either way, the Holy Father is making the most of the two different dates of the (novus ordo) feast by celebrating it both today and then again on Sunday by leading an hour of world-wide Adoration.  So traditionalists can perhaps appropriately follow that lead and likewise do double duty!

The origins of the feast and its relevance today

The feast itself has its origins in the thirteenth century, and most of the texts for the traditional Mass and Office for the day at least, were composed by St Thomas Aquinas.

It has long stood as a counter to those who seek to deny the Real Presence in the sacrament.

Such a reminder is needed today more than ever!

As Vexilla Regis blog recently pointed out in a commentary on the latest of the notorious Ms Harrington's 'Liturgy Lines' on a Brisbane Archdiocesan website, the liberal anti-liturgy band when confronted with the feast, attempt to reinterpret it to their taste, so rather than being about Christ's gift of his continuing Real Presence in our midst it becomes all about us instead.

As Pope Francis has been trying to emphasise, we need to be clear that Christianity is actually about Christ, not us!

The false dichotomy of 'passive presence' and 'active participation'

Ms Harrington's piece (unsurprisingly) also had a sideswipe at the practice of Adoration as being about 'passive presence' rather than 'active participation'.  It is a common view of the world, also echoed in a line used by Professor Anne Hunt in relation to the role of the laity in the Church at the recent Great Grace Conference.

Yet it is, I think, an altogether false dichotomy, as this feast reminds us, for Christ is present in the Eucharist and in the tabernacle whether we are conscious of the fact or not!

And the consequence of this is the theological reality that, for example, is that if a person is present at Mass, they are in fact participating in it by virtue of their baptism, regardless of how actively engaged they are in it.  Participating actively, of course, by being consciously engaged in what is happening and joining ourselves to it, offering ourselves in it, can increase the graces we give and receive, but it is a continuum that is at play here, not an either/or situation.

Nor should we confuse activity and active participation: when we enter a Church, Christ's presence is working on us, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Similarly, someone kneeling in deep Adoration at the transubstantiation, who opens themselves totally to the Real Presence of Christ, can be 'participating' far more actively than the person worrying about the next task they have to do in the liturgy.  The traditional view of the Church has always been that we can be transformed far more deeply through contemplation than through action; deep commitment and openness in prayer can be a far more grace-filled occasion than someone rushing around 'doing' things in the liturgy or outside it.

In short, as Pope Benedict XVI spelt out in his Encyclical Spe Salvi, to become witnesses in the world,  our faith needs to be deeply rooted in contemplation of the reality of Christ made present to us in a way that is ontologically different  - a whole different level of meaningful presence - to they way that he is made present to us in Scripture, for example, or in the faithful who manifest Christ to each other.

Truth and its consequences

The feast calls us to the worship of Christ, and the rejection of false idols such as worship of self, comfort, pleasure or wealth.

And the readings set for the feast remind us that there are consequences to the reality of the Eucharist:

"Therefore whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. Therefore are there many infirm and weak among you, and many sleep..." 1 Cor 11:27-32

Music for the feast

Ave Verum Corpus was not actually composed by St Thomas: it dates from the fourteenth century.

But its text  - and the sublime musical settings of them, such as Mozart's - are my favourite expressions of Eucharistic devotion.

Here is the translation from the wikipedia:

Hail, true Body, born
of the Virgin Mary,
who having truly suffered, was sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
whose pierced side
flowed with water and blood:
May it be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet]
in the trial of death.
O sweet Jesus, O pious Jesus, O Jesus, son of Mary,
have mercy on me. Amen.

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