22 June 2014

On becoming Corpus Christi

Solemnity of Corpus Christi (2014)
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Our Lady of the Rosary, NOLA

Audio File

All across the world, Dominican friars begin morning and evening prayer before the Blessed Sacrament: O sacrum convivium! in quo Christus sumitur. . .” In our English translation, we pray: “O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ becomes our food. . .” Christ/becomes/our/ food. Our meat and daily bread, our salt and saving drink. For those of us who follow Christ, his body and blood is our daily nourishment, our minimum daily requirement w/o which we cannot survive on the path to holiness much less thrive as forgiven sinners. To take into our bodies his body and blood, to take him in worthily and whole, is to participate not only in his mission and ministry but to become part of/to share in his body and blood. Paul asks the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ?” Yes, it is. “The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” Yes, it is. To take into our bodies his body and blood, to take him in worthily and whole, is to become Christ. Our Lord teaches us, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. . .” He lives among us, with us, and in us. And we are made Christs, sent into the world.

It may sound odd to say that “we are made Christs,” but that is exactly what happens when we step behind him to follow him on his Way. We are made into the image of Christ and sent out to be Christs for the world. Around 350 A.D., St. Cyril of Jerusalem*, teaching on the anointing of the Holy Spirit that follows baptism, notes that “having therefore become partakers of Christ you are properly called Christs. . . because you are images of Christ.” We are partakers of Christ in baptism, confirmation and, most especially, in the Eucharist. When we partake worthily of Christ in these sacraments, we are re-formed into the image of Christ. Now, what is an image? We might think of a snapshot or a painting, or even a statue. But the word “image” here is something more like “an imitation” or “a miniature.” Imitation could imply a fake, like an imitation Rolex watch, so let's go with miniature. When we partake worthily of Christ in the sacraments, we are re-formed into miniatures of Christ, little Christs – woefully imperfect for now but on the way to perfection in him. Cyril teaches us that we are therefore “properly called Christs.” All together, gathered as we are now, we constitute the Body of Christ, the Church. Millions of little Christs all over the world forming one body, Corpus Christi.

So far, we've covered two of the three Scriptural referents for the phrase “body of Christ.” Body of Christ in the Eucharist. Body of Christ as the Church. We also use “body of Christ” to refer to the historical, physical flesh and blood body of the incarnate Son – the body of the Christ Child born to Mary, the body of Jesus who hung on the cross. What's the connection among and between these three referents? What do they have to do with Christ's commandment to love and his commission to go out and preach the Gospel? Turn your attention to the crucifix above the altar. That is an image of the body of Christ, Jesus' body scourged and nailed to a cross. Is that an inspiring image? A depressing image? Does it prompt you toward joy or despair? Think for a moment: knowing that his torture and death leads to your freedom from sin and the offer of eternal life, are you moved to go out and tell others about the Father's mercy? How does that body, hanging on a cross, gives rise to the Body of the Church and the Body of the Eucharist? Can that body up there come down here and push us out those doors into a world that desperately needs a sign of hope?

It can and it does. The corpus Christi on the cross becomes the corpus Christi of the Eucharist and we – eating his body and drinking his blood – become the corpus Christi, the Church sent into the world to love, to forgive, to show mercy, and to preach and teach all that he preached and taught. Our eternal lives are at stake. Piety is necessary but not sufficient. Good works are necessary but not sufficient. Knowledge of Scripture, doctrine, the lives of the saints are all necessary, but they are not nearly sufficient. Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. . .” We can do nothing w/o him and the only way to be with him, to partake in his life, mission, and ministry is to eat his body and drink his blood. The only way is for us – each one of us – to become Christ in the living flesh. To make it our daily, hourly mission in life to be Corpus Christi wherever God has placed us. You may be teaching a class, or tending a family, or working 9-5 in an office, or haunting a library for a school project, wherever God has placed you, your mission is to be Corpus Christi right where you are. 

Dominicans all over the world pray twice a day, O sacrum convivium! in quo Christus sumitur. . .” In our English translation, we pray: “O Sacred Banquet, in which Christ becomes our food. . .” Christ becomes our food. His body and blood are our meat and daily bread, our salt and saving drink. Without this feast, we cannot partake/share in his life. We cannot move beyond the words of his teachings and reach the deeds of his hands. We cannot begin to grow in holiness, or even hope for mercy. In this feast, the memory of his Passion is made new, our hearts and minds are filled with his gifts, and we receive his promise of eternal life. Taken worthily, the body of Christ gives us all that need to live and thrive along his way to perfection. “My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. . .whoever eats this bread will live forever.”

* Catechetical Lecture 21, On the Mysteries, 1.
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