Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) Sunday
This Sunday, in certain parts of the Universal Church, there is special celebration of the gift of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord. There has, of course, been celebration since the early Church. How could there not be? Jesus tells us in today’s gospel (John 6), “The bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world”, and a few verses later, “The one who eats this bread will live forever.” If this is not reason to celebrate, I don’t know what is!
A more formal universal Feast of Corpus Christi was instituted by Pope Urban IV in 1264, partly at the insistence of a young Belgian nun, Saint Juliana of Lieges, whom he knew when he was archdeacon in her diocese. He declared, “Although the Eucharist is celebrated solemnly every day, we deem it fitting that at least once per year it be celebrated with greater honor and a solemn commemoration.”
St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) wrote several hymns for this feast. He also composed a beautiful prayer for use before receiving Communion, which I share with you.
Almighty and Eternal God, behold I come to the sacrament of Your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. As one sick I come to the Physician of life; unclean, to the Fountain of mercy; blind, to the Light of eternal splendor; poor and needy to the Lord of heaven and earth. Therefore, I beg of You, through Your infinite mercy and generosity, heal my weakness, wash my uncleanness, give light to my blindness, enrich my poverty, and clothe my nakedness. May I thus receive the Bread of Angels, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, with such reverence and humility, contrition and devotion, purity and faith, purpose and intention, as shall aid my soul’s salvation.
Grant, I beg of You, that I may receive not only the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord, but also its full grace and power. Give me the grace, most merciful God, to receive the Body of your only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, born of the Virgin Mary, in such a manner that I may deserve to be intimately united with His mystical Body and to be numbered among His members. Most loving Father, grant that I may behold for all eternity face to face Your beloved Son, whom now, on my pilgrimage, I am about to receive under the sacramental veil, who lives and reigns with You, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, world without end.
Yours in Christ,