Corpus Christi Procession, F.M.S., Provenance Unknown.
Jesus said to them,”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.” John 6:53.
At the consecration of every Mass, the priest says over the chalice of wine that it is the blood of “the new and eternal covenant”. One might wonder, therefore, what was the old and transient covenant? And also, what makes this new covenant any way better than the old? First, what is a covenant? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A compact, bargain, contract under seal, compact between God and the Israelites, as Ark of the Covenant…” So it is more important than a regular agreement or shaking hands in a deal. It is more solemn; in fact, in the Book of Exodus, it is accompanied with “thunder and lightning, and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast…” (Exodus 19:16), and then the 10 Commandments, sealing the link, the covenant, between humanity and God was sealed in the blood of sacrificed animals (Exodus 24:3-8). And this is the covenant Jesus refers to at the Last Supper. The old covenant linked God and humanity in the life-blood of sacrificed animals. What makes the new and eternal covenant so different is that humanity and God are linked through the blood of God’s Only Son. Not only that; in the old covenant, that link was symbolized when the sacrificed animals’ blood was sprinkled over the altar, symbolizing God, and then over the people. In the new covenant God the Son’s blood is actually consumed by the people, who now become most intimately linked to God. And today’s feast remembers and celebrates that greatest mystery. Jesus actually states in today’s gospel that by doing so he remains in us and we remain in him. I cannot imagine a closer link than that. No wonder it is the new and eternal covenant! And this is not to ignore the consecrated bread, becoming God the Son’s flesh, Jesus taking perhaps the most basic foodstuff, at least in ancient Palestine, and identifying it with his body. Truly food for the soul.
In the old days, as I recall in London, there was always a large public procession in the neighboring streets on this day, with the consecrated host, unleavened bread, carried in the elaborate gilded monstrance, underneath a canopy, with banners flapping, incense pouring out all round. Hymns would be sung as non-Catholics would look on wondering what it all meant, but perhaps being somewhat overawed by the whole thing and who knows? I guess the idea was to bring the Lord to the masses and invite everyone to the feast!
Corpus Christi Procession, Gniezno, Poland, June 2019.
And I’ve read that this old tradition is becoming popular in more diverse religious countries once more, though not perhaps in this unhappy year. So the Corpus Christi Mass and perhaps procession is an expansion of the Last Supper. That was in a small upper room, and regular Mass today is in larger space, but still indoors. Then in the 13th century St. Juliana of Liège, which is now in Belgium, had a dream of the church under a full moon with a black spot on its face. In the Augustinian nun’s dream, Christ explained that the spot was to indicate a lack of any festival to celebrate the most holy mystery in Christian belief, the Eucharist. She reported this to her local bishop, and the result in 1246 was the creation of just such a celebration. It was the first festival in the church to acclaim publicly the greatest of Christianity’s truths. By 1264 the pope, Urban IV, had instituted it throughout the church. In the Reformation, the doctrine of the Real Presence of the Lord in the Eucharist was one of the most bitter points of contention (after all, he did say “This is my body….” and that we were to do that in memory of him). So in 1551 the Council of Trent confirmed this doctrine and its tradition of a grand procession, to display this belief to everyone in the most public way, and described it as a triumph over those who doubt it. I rather think St. Juliana smiles as she looks down on what happens today in her home town of Liège, so many years after her struggle to institute exactly what is celebrated now.
So a contemplation of the meaning of the Eucharist is in order today. When you think about it, it is so strange that strict fundamentalist Christians more often than not reject the claim that after consecration, the bread is the true body, and the wine the true blood, the Real Presence, of the Lord. Why strange? Well, on this particular occasion we Catholics become fundamentalist, accepting Jesus’ words literally, “This is my body, this is my blood” for what they are, when many fundamentalists do not! And here at Mass, we actually consume those sacred elements, and they become part of our make-up, part of us! No wonder at the end of Mass the priest exhorts us to “Go in peace glorifying the Lord by your life!”
This Friday we celebrate the feast of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, the burning center of God’s love for us.
Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, St. George Educational Trust.
We have heard quite a lot about the “Upper Room” recently. It was, by tradition, where the Last Supper was held, where the risen Jesus appeared to his disciples, and where those cowering disciples hid in terror until Pentecost when everything changed. There is a room in present-day Jerusalem claiming to be that Upper Room, also known as the Cenacle. Regard:
The Upper Room, Summer 2018.
Although no-one can be really certain that this is the actual room where those crucially important events took place, it is nice to think it could be so.
Pope Francis celebrates Mass in the Upper Room, 26 May 2014, Catholic Online.
Reflections on next Sunday’s Mass Readings will be posted on Wednesday.
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