Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Anthony of Padua Parish, New Bedford, MA
Corpus Christi, Year B
June 18, 2006
Exod 24:3-8; Heb 9:11-15; Mk 14:12-16, 22-26
1) Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. Our ancestors who built this beautiful parish dedicated to God through St. Anthony’s intercession left us so much so that we could celebrate this feast with faith and joy.
a. In the sanctuary, there are six disks attesting to the Eucharist. On the left, there is one from the Old Testament. On the right, there is one from the New Testament which is in counterpoint to the Old Testament Image. First, above the chancel pews on the left, there is the image of Melchisedek, offering to God gifts of bread and wine. On the right, we see Christ, a priest of the order of Melchisedek, offering to the Father and to us his body and blood in the Eucharist. On the left above the nearest stained glass window, there is the image of the eight-day rededication of the altar in 142 BC and the beginning of the feast of Chanukah, shown by the menorah. On the right, we see its fulfillment in the chalice and the host, Christ himself, who has become not just the priest, not just the victim, but the altar of sacrifice. On the left in the back, we have the image of the holocaust on the altar, the animal being consumed by flames. In contrast to it on the right, we have the depiction of the mother pelican, who, when food is scarce and there’s a risk that her new offspring will starve to death, is known to use her beak to puncture open her chest so that her young ones can live and survive off her blood as she herself dies. It’s an image of Christ, who allowed his side to be pierced and blood to flow out so that we, his offspring, may live through his death.
b. But those images are just the beginning. Over the two side doors in the transept, we glance upon what our spiritual forefathers wanted us to recognize upon departing. Over the door to my left, there is the image of the Ark of the Covenant, which contained within the treasures of the Old Covenant. Over the entrance to the right, in counterpoint, Christ Jesus depicted in the monstrance, which is like a new Ark of the Covenant containing within it Christ himself, who IS the new and eternal covenant.
c. In the most famous image of the Church, the Vision of St. Anthony above the main altar, we see Christ’s coming down to our patron with tremendous humility as a baby from the Cross. That is meant to prepare us to receive Christ who comes to us with even greater humility from the Cross, under the outward appearances of bread and wine.
d. At the top of the arch surrounding the vision, we see another place where Christ comes to us. We see two angels holding a monstrance from which Christ, the light of the world, present for us in the Eucharist, shines. It was placed there, right at the center, in the highest point of the arch, to symbolize that Christ in the Eucharist is the center of everything we do here, and it is to him that we lift up our hearts.
e. Lastly, in the enormous stained glass window on the south transept, we see the image of Christ the King in heaven, and the means which our spiritual progenitors left us to arrive to the adoration of Christ in heaven: the adoration of Christ on earth in the Eucharist in the monstrance. If we wish to have the joy of worshipping God forever in heaven, then we prepare for it by worshipping him here on earth in the Eucharist, as all of us will have the opportunity to do this afternoon at 5 pm, as our parish has the chance to do every Friday afternoon, as the Catholics of the city have the chance to do perpetually at Our Lady’s Chapel in downtown, New Bedford.
f. This entire Church is a witness to the celebration of this great feast of the Lord’s body and blood, given to us in the Eucharist.
2) This entire Church is a witness to the celebration of this great feast of the Lord’s body and blood given to us in the Eucharist as the foretaste of eternal life. This feast we celebrate today began in the 1200s as a result of two miracles, two interventions of the Lord. The first occurred in the early part of the century, when the Lord Jesus began to appear to a contemplative nun in Belgium, Blessed Juliana of Mont Cornillon (1193-1258 ). Beginning from the time she was 16, a moon would appear to her throughout the day with a black band in it. She wondered what it meant and the Lord Jesus appeared to her in a dream and mentioned that the moon referred to the liturgical year and the black band to the fact that the liturgical year lacked one thing, a day in honor of His Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
3) Up until that point, the Church had marked the institution of the Eucharist each year on Holy Thursday, when the Lord gave the apostles his body and blood for the first time and instituted the priesthood so that through his priests, that body and blood might be multiplied to every land in every age. But on Holy Thursday, the focus of most Christians is on the imminent betrayal that will occur after the Last Supper. Even the Gospel of the Mass of the Last Supper does not focus on the Eucharist, but rather on the Lord’s washing his apostles’ feet and commissioning them to do the same in loving, humble service of others. Missing from the liturgical calendar was a feast specifically dedicated to rejoicing in the incredible gift of the Eucharist and thanking God for it. Blessed Juliana went to the local bishop, Bishop Robert of Liège, and asked him to institute a feast in their diocese in Belgium, which he did beginning in 1246. The Archdeacon of the Bishop of Liège, who presented her to the bishop, was a man by the name of Jacques Pantaleon, whom we will encounter again soon. That was the first intervention of the Lord to bring about this feast.
4) The second intervention happened in the life of a Czech priest, Father Peter of Prague, who had lost his faith in the reality of Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. It might surprise some people to think that a priest might lose his faith in the Eucharist, but sometimes it does occur. A priest can begin to question whether what starts out as mere bread and wine in his hands can change, after a few sacred words, into the body and blood of the God-man, Jesus, even though all the appearances of the bread and wine remain. Father Peter felt like a hypocrite celebrating the Eucharist while having some doubts about whether the Lord Jesus were truly there. But he hadn’t yet lost his faith in God and, hence, decided to give God the opportunity to give him that faith by doing something quite drastic. In 1263, he decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome, to pray at the tomb of his patron, St. Peter, for the gift of a renewed faith in the Eucharist. This was a drastic move because to make a pilgrimage to Rome was quite an undertaking then. Today we can hop on a plane at Logan airport and arrive in Rome several hours later. To make a pilgrimage from Prague to Rome in 1263, however, would have meant WALKING 851 miles, the equivalent of leaving the front door of this Church and walking to Charlotte, North Carolina. Walking twenty miles a day, it would have taken a month-and-a-half, one way. Despite the hardship and sacrifice, however, Peter went out of desperation to save his priesthood and save his faith.
5) Why did he make the pilgrimage to St. Peter in Rome? There were tombs of saints and pilgrimage destinations much closer to Prague, but Father Peter did not choose any of them. He went to the tomb of his patron because St. Peter has always been an example to the whole Church of faith in the Eucharist. You very likely remember the scene when Jesus talked about the reality of the Eucharist the first time, in a synagogue in Capernaum, one year before his death. He told his listeners that unless they eat on his flesh and drink his blood, they would have no life in them, and the one who eats his flesh and drinks his blood will have eternal life (cf. John 6:53ff). St. John tells us that many of the DISCIPLES, those for whom the Lord had worked so hard for the previous two years to bring to the truth, walked away, thinking that Jesus was mentally ill, teaching them the necessity of cannibalism. They complained, saying, “This teaching is hard! Who can accept it?” And many of those disciples turned their back on Jesus and walked away. Jesus knew that they had heard him appropriately but were not willing to accept the truth about the Eucharist. He then turned to his closest followers, the twelve, and asked them, “Do you also wish to go away?” They fell silent. None of them could have understood what Jesus was talking about any better than those who had just abandoned Jesus. A Jew couldn’t even touch blood without becoming ritually impure. Yet Jesus was asking them to drink his blood and eat his flesh. It would take a year before what Jesus was saying would make any sense, when Jesus, during the Last Supper, took bread and wine into his hands and changed them into his body and blood, “This is my body,” “This is the cup of my blood.” Nevertheless, even though they didn’t understand truly what Jesus was saying and why he was saying it, St. Peter stood up after the Lord’s question of whether they, too, would leave the Lord over his teaching on the Eucharist, and said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” St. Peter believed in the Eucharist because he believed in Christ, which meant believing in what he said. St. Thomas Aquinas, who wrote so many beautiful hymns for the first celebration of Corpus Christi, wrote in the Adoro te Devote, “I believe whatever the Son of God has said; Nothing is truer than the Word of Truth.” Jesus, the Word of God, the Truth incarnate, said that we had to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and therefore, St. Peter, believed.
6) That’s the reason why Father Peter of Prague had made the pilgrimage to Rome, to ask for faith to his patron’s in Christ’s words. He finally arrived after a long and lengthy journey. He prayed for a few of weeks in front of the tomb of his patron, but after all of that, it seemed as if nothing had happened. Thus, Fr. Peter started to question his entire faith in God. Hadn’t Jesus said that whoever knocked would have the door opened, whoever asked would receive, whoever sought would find? Hadn’t he said that the Father knows how to give good things to his children? Yet when Father Peter, a priest, had asked for something so important for him to be a disciple and apostle of the Lord — faith in the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist — it seemed like he had come up empty. So, crestfallen, he began on his journey up north, now with very little faith at all. He was traveling in a group of returning pilgrims, because there was safety in numbers in warding off bandits who would wait in hiding to ambush individual travelers. When it came to be Sunday, members of the group asked Fr. Peter if he might celebrate Mass for them. More out of courtesy than faith, he assented. They stopped at a small Church dedicated to St. Christina in Bolsena, Italy, and celebrated Mass on a side altar. Right before the “Lamb of God,” when Father Peter broke the host, as a priest always does to put a particle into the chalice, the host in his hands began to bleed profusely. It bled over his hands. It bled on the corporal and on the altar cloths. It started to pour down the altar onto the steps. The people, beholding the miracle in front of their eyes, started to shriek. The priest of St. Christina’s came to see what all the commotion was about and beheld the miracle with his own eyes. They had to decide what to do with the miracle. The local priest knew that Pope Urban IV was at that time in Orvieto, a papal city only about 10 miles up hill from where they were, and they decided to take the miracle to Orvieto to see what the Pope would instruct them to do. When they arrived, Father Peter told his story, about how he had lost his faith in the Eucharist, made a pilgrimage to Rome, thought that the Lord hadn’t heard his prayer, but then made his real presence incontrovertibly present during the celebration of the Mass in Bolsena. Father Peter punctuated the truth of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist by saying, “Holy Father, bread can’t bleed.” That particular Holy Father, Urban IV, was the former archdeacon of Liège, Jacques Pantaleon, and he took that miracle as a sign that Christ wanted a feast to His Body and Blood celebrated not just in his home diocese in Belgium, but throughout the whole Church. The first one was celebrated in 1264 and it has been celebrated ever since. The Lord worked both of those miracles so that we might fittingly celebrate his body and blood today, right here, in this Church!
7) What should our reaction be to so great a feast, to so mind-blowing a reality? Every time we celebrate Mass, what occurred in Bolsena — and in so many other Eucharistic miracles across the centuries — can occur here. Regardless of whether he chooses to do so or not, the reality is the same: we receive the same Christ who bled on the Cross, who bled in Father Peter’s hands 743 years ago. And our reaction to the Eucharist should be the same, whether a dramatic manifestation occurs or not, because it is Christ, God, whom we receive. Knowledge of that reality should influence our actions with respect to the God-man in the Eucharist.
a. That’s why the Church asks all communicants to make a profound bow or genuflection before receiving the Eucharist, to help them to recognize inwardly that they are about to receive the Lord of Lords (and to help others to recognize that reality through observing their piety).
b. That’s why the Church says that if we receive the Eucharist on the hands, we should make a throne for the King of Kings, with one hand over another.
c. That’s why the Church says that before receiving, each of us needs to prepare a fitting place for Christ within, because each of us is called to be a living tabernacle, a walking monstrance, a temple of God. That implies both that if our soul is not clean of serious sin, that we first go to be cleansed by Christ in the sacrament he instituted to forgive our sins before coming to receive him here, and that we should prepare for his visit by hungering for him in the Eucharist through a Eucharist fast, and by spiritual communions.
d. The awesome reality of who Christ is in the Eucharist should also lead in us to a profound thanksgiving every time we’ve received the Lord. I always wonder whether those who leave Mass early after having received the Lord really know that they’ve just received God, or, if they know that, whether they really love him. This time with the Lord here is so much more important than anything else we might want to do after Mass.
8 ) Today some young people of our parish will be making their first communion. You see how well they’re dressed. You know how much they’ve prepared for this day, how much they’ve hungered to receive the Lord in Holy Communion. To celebrate this day afterward, they will all have parties with their families and friends. Mother Teresa used to tell everyone, from her sisters, to priests, to lay people throughout the world, that all of us should strive to receive each Communion, as if it were our first Communion, our last Communion, and our only Communion. We should dress for the occasion just like these young children have. They have dressed up not because it is our first time, but because they’re receiving the Lord, and we should be dressed in our “Sunday best” as well to receive the same Lord, whether it’s our first Communion, or 14,263rd Communion. Likewise, we should prepare for holy Communion just like they have done and like we did for our first Communion. They’ve hungered for years and looked so forward to this day. We need to make sure we’re hungry for him, by prayerful spiritual communions and fasting. Finally, we should celebrate our holy Communion each, just as they are about to do later. While few of us would have the resources to have a party every Sunday, if we did have the resources, then we really should throw a party, because our holy communion today should be as joyous for as it will be for them. The only thing that differs is the fact the number of times we’ve received. In fact, if we have received the Lord well in the past, then we should receive with either even greater love today, with deeper preparation, and more exultant thanksgiving, than we did the first time.
9) “Happy are those who are called to His supper!” The priest says those words right before he gives us the Lamb of God in Holy Communion. These young people are so happy that within less than a half-hour they will become living, breathing, rejoicing tabernacles and monstrances of God. Their happiness is a spiritual bouquet to all of us, reminding us that we should really be jumping up and down at the invitation the Lord gives us to receive him, not just on Sunday, but every day. Happy are those called to His supper! Today, on this feast of the body and blood of our Lord, we ask the Lord to grant us true joy at the awesome privilege to receive him, not just today but every day at daily Mass. We ask him to help us all to receive him in holy communion with the same piety, love and devotion, with which we received him at our first Communion. We ask him to allow the example of these young people to inspire us to do that, and that our example today may inspire them to continue to hunger, to prepare, and to celebrate the gift of the Lord in the Eucharist when one day they are our age. Happy are those called to His Supper!