The Miracle of the Holy Eucharist
Today’s Feast of Corpus Christi goes way back to the thirteenth century. In the year 1263, a German priest by the name of Peter of Prague was going on a pilgrimage to Rome and he stopped off at the town of Bolsena in Italy to celebrate Mass. He was having problems believing that Christ was truly present in the Holy Eucharist. And so while pronouncing the words of Consecration, blood started to seep from the consecrated Host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal (a square linen cloth). Naturally he was stunned and at first tried to hide it. But then he interrupted the Mass to go and tell the Pope, Urban IV (1195-1264) who was staying over in the nearby town of Orvieto. The Pope listened to the priest’s account and absolved him and ordered that the miraculous Host and the linen corporal stained with the Precious Blood be brought to Orvieto Cathedral. The blood stained corporal you can still see on display in the Cathedral today as a relic, and I have seen It myself. It was this miracle that prompted Pope Urban to ask St Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) to compose the Mass and Office (the psalms, readings and prayers priests have to say every day) in honour of the Holy Eucharist, and then one year later he instituted the great feast of Corpus Christi.
“Corpus Christi” means “the Body of Christ”. The purpose of this Feast is to thank Our Lord for the great gift of the Holy Eucharist because it is truly His living Flesh and Blood. While it is true that on Maundy Thursday (the day before Good Friday) we commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and the Priesthood, the atmosphere of sorrow that permeates the Holy Week ceremonies doesn’t really allow us to express the great joy we feel at having Our Lord so close to us. But today the liturgical books call for a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament which we shall do at the end of the 11.15am Mass when we witness to our belief in the Real Presence of JESUS in the Blessed Sacrament. Many of the children making their First Holy Communion this weekend will also walk in the procession.
When Our Lord foretold the Holy Eucharist, not everyone believed. Many who had followed Him walked away. But as St Augustine said, we need unbelievers because they give us the opportunity of knowing more clearly what we believe. In chapter 6 of St John’s Gospel, Our Lord explained the reality of the Real Presence and foretold He would give His own Flesh and Blood to His followers. “Whoever eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood will have eternal life” (John 6:54). His Flesh and Blood is the supernatural food for the soul. Over the centuries, almost all the major breaks with the Catholic Church have been over the interpretation of Christ’s words of institution of the Eucharist. Over the bread, JESUS said, “This is My Body which will be given up for you.” Over the chalice He said, “This is the chalice of My Blood of the New Testament which will be poured out for many unto the remission of sins.” There is nothing in the text to suggest He meant it symbolically or figuratively. Bread and wine are not flesh and blood by their nature or by their use as symbols in any language or culture, either in Our Lord’s time or in our own. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity meant what He said, “This is My Body, This is My Blood.” The clarity of these words do not allow His followers to misunderstand His meaning.
There was no doubt in the mind of the early Church that what Christ instituted at the Last Supper was His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist. One of many such testimonies is from St Justin Martyr writing around 150 AD. “We receive [the Eucharist] not as ordinary bread or ordinary drink, but just as our Redeemer JESUS Christ became incarnate by the Word of God and took on Flesh and Blood for the sake of our salvation, so as we have been taught the food which has been Eucharistized … is both the Flesh and Blood of that same Incarnate JESUS.”
O Sacrament most holy, O Sacrament divine! All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine!
Fr Paul Gillham, IC