Longing to Receive Him
The Solemnity of Corpus Christ. Fr Dominic White reflects on the gift of the Eucharist in the light of the present pandemic.
Last year, the unthinkable happened. Catholics were unable to receive Holy Communion for four months – over Holy Week, Easter, and even Corpus Christi, the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ. And then again in the autumn. For us, who rejoice to have been given faith in this wonderful truth that Christ is present, Body, Soul and Divinity under the appearance of bread and wine, this has been so hard. He is our sustenance, our life, our share even now in the future glory of the Resurrection. A long fast.
As a member of a religious community and a priest, I was of course one of the privileged few who could receive Holy Communion every day. Consciously, we did this not just for ourselves, but also for our people. Yet we also sensed an absence: in our empty chapel, without our congregation of our laity and Sisters, men and women, old and young, we were incomplete. The sign of the fully body of Christ was not present, because the whole Church was not present.
Of course, technology came providentially to the rescue – online and radio Masses, website meditations for a time of retreat, social media. Our local communities quickly turned global. And something especially beautiful happened as we, the Dominican brothers and sisters, were not just the providers, but we received back. A member of our congregation wrote a beautiful testimony on her experience, through lockdown and its online liturgies, of being a member of a worldwide, universal Church, something she had not really felt before. The full reality of the Body of Christ. You can read Marianna’s reflection here.
Having reflected on this and other testimonies, come Corpus Christi 2020, and still not yet safe enough for public Mass, Fr Bob of the Cambridge Dominican community reflected on our desire for Holy Communion. We often speak of a “spiritual communion” when we can’t, for whatever reason, receive Holy Communion physically. But that is hardly to say that physical Communion isn’t spiritual. Rather, the “spiritual communion” is spiritual because it about desire for the reality, the reality of God made flesh, suffered, died, risen in glory, and making us whole, one body.
When we could gather again, I saw the truth of that desire with my own eyes. Bearing in mind that the bishops had lifted the Sunday obligation (it’s still lifted) so no one felt they had to choose between their Christian duty and saving lives, people turned up for Mass in droves. Out in our garden (all but one of our Sunday Masses are outdoors, as we have only a small chapel in Cambridge) people waited in the cold wind and driving rain to receive their Lord and Saviour. Such was their desire. Don’t tell me Catholics don’t believe in the Real Presence any more.
This Corpus Christi Sunday, under safe conditions, we’ll have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament in the garden (yes, together we’re discovering God’s presence in nature too, the presence of Him who ascended and filled all things, Eph. 4:10). In movement, as the Lord is carried aloft in the blazing monstrance, we will walk with him into His Passion – as perhaps, after the pain, suffering and bereavement of the past 18 month we have done as never before, remembering too those who have given before us and are in Him… He who celebrated the Holy Eucharist for the first time during his journey to the Cross in Jerusalem, lead us “further up and further in”, into His Rising and Ascending, catching us up with Him… And just as the Good Shepherd lifted up the lost sheep, raised it up high, so it is we, as the Body of Christ, who are lifted up high by the Lord in Christ’s Body, the Holy Eucharist, who are carried in triumph.
No wonder St. Thomas Aquinas, who usually wrote in such admirably disciplined prose, broke forth into rhapsodic poetry in the Lauda Sion, the great Sequence of today’s Mass (for a sublime choral setting of Richard Crashaw’s paraphrase poem, click here). Because spiritual reality is not unphysical: it is the depth of reality, it is what happens when God takes up bread and wine. It is the real thing, the Real Presence, of which the (brutal to us) blood of Moses’ sacrifice, thrown at the people, was only a shadow and sign. The same Holy Spirit through Whom the Eucharist is transformed, touches the whole creation so that matter is more material, the body more bodily, the community more communal.
Yet we see only bread. The blazing gold of the monstrance is a sign of the future glory when we shall see the Lord face to face. We’re not there yet. Not everyone can come to Holy Communion yet. Others have fallen away, scandalised, disappointed or just unable to believe. And then, there are the many whom the Gospel has not yet reached.
But a renewal has begun in the depths of distress, as at Calvary. It has begun in the Holy Eucharist. Let us rejoice today, remember forward into heaven, as we follow the Lord as He leads us on mission to preach the Gospel to the whole creation.
Throughout Great Britain, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi is transferred to this Sunday. However, sermons for 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time can be found here.