“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:55-56)
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as the Feast of Corpus Christi, is a celebration of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. On this day, we recall the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper.
While the Last Supper is also commemorated on Holy Thursday, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ focuses solely on the gift of the Eucharist. The mood is also more joyous than that felt on Holy Thursday, the day before Christ’s passion and death.
The origins of the Feast of Corpus Christi date back to the 13th century and to a nun from Belgium, Sister Juliana of Mont Cornillion. From an early age, she had a great love for the Blessed Sacrament and believed a special feast should be held in its honor. She is said to have had a vision of the Church as a full moon with a dark spot, symbolizing the absence of the feast. She took her cause to Church leaders including the Bishop of Liege and the Archdeacon of the Cathedral of Liege, both of whom became convinced. The bishop began celebrating the feast in his diocese. The archdeacon would go on to become Pope Urban IV, and in 1254, he issued a papal bull establishing the feast for the universal Church, placing it on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Unfortunately, Pope Urban died just one month later, and the feast would not become more widely celebrated until the 14th century.
In the United States, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday, rather than on the Thursday. This year, it is celebrated on Sunday, June 23.
The feast is often marked by Eucharistic processions, during which the Blessed Sacrament is carried in a monstrance through the church and into the streets. Many also spend time in Eucharistic Adoration on the solemnity.
The Sunday’s Readings
Moses tells the people to remember how God delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
Praise God, Jerusalem!
1 Corinthians 10:16-17
Though many, we are one body when we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Jesus says, “I am the living bread.”
Background on the Gospel Reading
This Sunday we celebrate a second solemnity during this period of Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. Today is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This day was once called Corpus Christi, which is Latin for “Body of Christ.” In the revised Lectionary the name for this day is expanded to reflect more completely our Eucharistic theology.
Today’s Gospel is taken from the Gospel according to John. The reading is part of a discourse between Jesus and a crowd of Jews. The discourse comes shortly after the miracle of Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In John’s Gospel, miracles such as this are identified as “signs” through which people come to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. These signs are followed by dialogue, or discourse that interprets and explains the miracle. In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ multiplication of the loaves is said to have occurred near Passover, thus linking it to the Exodus story and God’s saving action toward the Israelites.
Having seen Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes, the crowd pursues him, perhaps seeking more food but also looking for another sign. Jesus tells the crowd that he is the bread of life. He explains that just as God gave the Israelites manna to sustain them in the desert, so now God has sent new manna that will give eternal life. It is in this context that Jesus repeats those words in today’s Gospel and tells them again that he is the living bread that came down from heaven.
Jesus’ words are not well understood by the crowd; they argue that Jesus is not from heaven but born of Mary and Joseph. The crowd also has trouble understanding how Jesus could give them his flesh to eat. Jesus tells them that when they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they will remain forever connected to him. These are difficult words, but they are important because they seek to show us our intimate connection with Jesus.
This is the mystery that is at the heart of our Eucharistic theology. In the elements of bread and wine, Jesus’ Body and Blood are truly present. When we share in the Body and Blood of Christ, Jesus himself comes to dwell within us. This communion with the Lord makes us one body, brings us eternal life, and sends us forth to be Christ’s Body in the world.