Preparing as Priests for the 750th Celebration of Corpus Christi, June 18, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Monthly Day of Recollection for Priests
Holy Family Parish, Taunton, MA
June 18, 2014
“Corpus Christi in the Life of Priests”

To listen to an audio recording of this Meditation, please click below: 

 

The following text and notes guided the Meditation: 

A special opportunity or gratitude and devotion

While preparing students for first Holy Communion, one of our popular refrains is that it’s not so much the “first” as the “communion” that is the more important point, that the second, third, 27th and 4,069th communions are just as important as the first. That’s true. And with regard to the celebration of Corpus Christi, the first, second, tenth, 106th and every annual celebration is surely equally pleasing to the Lord when done with faith.

At the same time, however, major anniversaries are opportunities for us to be filled with more than routine gratitude and devotion. That’s the opportunity we and our people have this weekend as we prepare to celebrate this weekend the 750th anniversary of the first Corpus Christi. It was 750 years ago that Pope Urban IV, in his bull Transiturus de hoc mundo, decreed the Feast of Corpus Christi for the Latin Rite. It was 750 years ago that he published the Office written for the feast by St. Thomas Aquinas, who was living in Orvieto in which the Pope had taken refuge within its high walls. And so this year it’s a great opportunity for us, as disciples and priests, to return to the foundations of this feast such as to rediscover the Church’s first love and enthusiasm.

Wanted by the Lord

The feast of Corpus Christi began in the 1200s as a result of two miracles, two interventions of the Lord. He obviously desired that our faith in the Eucharist would pass from our head, to our heart to our needs, that it would go from theology to devotion.

The first intervention occurred in the early part of the century, when the Lord Jesus began to appear to a contemplative nun in Belgium, St. 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. 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 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. Saint Juliana went to the local bishop, Bishop Robert de Thorete 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.

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. We have to confront the fact that priests can lose their faith in the Eucharist, just as happened in the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena about four-and-a-half centuries before as well. We can start to take it for granted, celebrate Mass sporadically or without the proper dispositions and slowly our faith in what is happening — that what starts out as mere bread and wine in his hands totally changes, 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 — can wane. It had with Fr. Peter in Prague.

Father Peter felt like a hypocrite celebrating the Eucharist while having some doubts about whether the Lord Jesus was 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 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 — at twenty miles a day, it would have taken a month and a half, one way. Despite the hardship and sacrifice, however, Peter went, desperate to save his priesthood and save his faith.

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 ate His flesh and drank His blood, they would have no life in them, and the one who ate His flesh and drank His blood would 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 backs 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, saying. “This is my body”; “This is the chalice 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.”

That’s the reason why Father Peter of Prague made the pilgrimage to Rome, to ask for faith in Christ’s words like his patron had. He finally arrived after a long and lengthy journey. He prayed for a few 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 his journey 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 and on the corporal. 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 uphill from where they were, and so they went to inform the Pope of the miracle and the Pope sent the local bishop to investigate the Blood Stained Corporal. Eventually the Corporal was brought to Orvieto and likely Fr. Peter accompanied him. We can imagine his telling Pope Urban IV of 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 He had made His real presence incontrovertibly present during the celebration of the Mass in Bolsena. Father Peter would have punctuated the truth of the Lord’s presence in the Eucharist by saying something like, “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, that he wanted the routine Eucharistic miracle that was the basis of the extraordinary Eucharistic miracle to be celebrated.

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 to this day, in our own parishes, throughout the world.

Entering into St. Thomas Aquinas’ profound Eucharistic theology

Having pondered a little bit the Lord’s desire for this feast and how he brought it about through apparitions, miracles and the cooperation of people on earth, I’d like to ponder with you some of what the Lord inspired in the great theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas to write about the Lord’s body and blood, that has been nourishing the Church for the past three quarters of a millennium. Four months before he died, Jesus spoke to the Angelic Doctor from a Crucifix, saying, “Bene scripsisti de me, Thoma. Quam ergo mercedem accipias? “You have written well of me, Thomas. What do you wish that I give you?” and I have always believed that out of all the volumes he wrote about the Lord and about our faith, what he wrote best about the Lord was what he composed for Corpus Christi. Thomas responded to the Lord who spoke to him that day saying, “Nisi te, Domine,” “Nothing but you, Lord,” and that desire for the Lord was apparent in the Corpus Christi office he had written a year before. St. John Paul II called him an “impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist” and Pope Benedict XVI said he had an “exquisitely Eucharistic soul” that produced the “most beautiful hymns that the Liturgy of the Church sings.”

On May 31, on a day off while leading a pilgrimage in Rome, I traveled to Orvieto with Jack Shrader, a seminarian from our Diocese studying at the North American College, so that I could prepare better for this Feast. In between train rides through the Italian countryside and two nice Italian meals, we spent several hours praying in the exquisite Orvieto Cathedral that enshrines the bloodstained corporal. For my meditation, I pondered the five great hymns St. Thomas Aquinas had written for the Feast: the Sequence before the Gospel that Catholic parishes will sing this Sunday, Lauda Sion Salvatorem; the hymn for the Office of Readings Sacris Solemnis, which contains the famous Panis Angelicus; the chant for Morning Prayer, Verbum Supernum Prodiens, which concludes with the Adoration hymn O Salutaris Hostia; the canticle for Vespers, Pange Lingua Gloriosi, which finishes with the Benediction hymn Tantum Ergo Sacramentum; and the beautiful hymn for Eucharistic adoration Adoro Te Devote. I’d like to enter into a few thoughts of St. Thomas communicated to us in those hymns that combine both clear and deep Eucharistic catechesis and profound praise.

Going all out

At the beginning of the Lauda Sion, St. Thomas sings, “Quantum potes, tantum aude, quia maior omni laude nec laudare sufficis.” “Dare to do all you can because all the praise you give won’t equal all the praise Jesus deserves.”

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said this is the essence of Corpus Christi. Going all out. Giving everything we’ve got.

This is supposed to be an attitude not just for a feast day but also for a truly Eucharistic life.

We can ask whether we do all we can in our own Eucharistic piety and whether we help others to push themselves.

Need for growth in faith

In the Pange Lingua, we sing: Verbum caro, panem verum verbo carnem efficit: fitque sanguis Christi merum, et si sensus deficit, ad firmandum cor sincerum sola fides sufficit. “The Word made flesh by the word becomes in the flesh the true bread and the blood of Christ becomes drink, and if one’s sense fails, only faith suffices for strengthening a sincere heart.” We need this growth in faith to strength our truth-seeking hearts.

Later in the Pange Lingua, we specifically ask for that growth in faith: “Praestet fides supplementum sensuum defectui.” “May faith supply what the senses fail to grasp.”

The same truth and petition is given in the Adoro Te Devote, as we ask for faith in the words given us by the Word of God: “Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur, Sed auditu solo tuto creditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius; Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.” “Having seen, touched and tasted, we are deceived about you, but it’s only by hearing that everything can be believed. I believed whatever the Son of God has said. Nothing is truer than the Word of truth.”

Later in the Adoro Te Devote, after saying we don’t have the privilege of Thomas to see his wounds, we pray, “Fac me tibi semper magis credere, In te spem habere, te diligere.” This ought to be our perpetual petition: “Make me always believe more and more in you, more and more to have hope in you, more and more to love you.”

Need for wonder

In the Sacris Solemnis (Panis Angelicus), we ponder what I think are some of the most powerful words ever written about the Holy Eucharist,  “O res mirabilis: manducat Dominum pauper, servus et humilis.”  “O what a wondrous reality: a poor and humble servant eats [his] Lord.”

We would need far more than 750 years to ponder the love of the Lord in becoming so poor and humble so that we poor and humble servants could live off of him!

The pattern of the Lord’s giving

In the Verbum Supernum Prodiens (O Salutaris), St. Thomas has us ponder that the Lord’s Eucharistic giving and abasement is the pattern of his whole life: “Se nascens dedit socium, Convescens in edulium, Se moriens in pretium, Se regnans dat in præmium. “By his birth he gave himself as our companion; at the Last Supper he gave himself as our food; dying on the cross he gave himself as our ransom; reigning in heaven he gives himself as our reward.”

That’s the way we need to relate to Jesus in the Holy Eucharist: as our companion, our food, our ransom and our pearl of great price!

The Lord’s response to betrayal

St. Thomas makes a powerful play on words in his Verbum Supernum Prodiens (O Salutaris) about how Jesus responds to the betrayal of Judas and each of us. He says, “In mortem a discipulo Suis tradendus æmulis, Prius in vitæ ferculo Se tradidit discipulis.” The play on words concerns the word “tradere,” which means to hand over. As Jesus is “betrayed,” or “handed over” he “hands over” himself: “When about to be given over to his enemies by one of his disciples, to suffer death, he first gave himself to his disciples as the bread of life.”

We’re called to recognize both sides of that tradere, our part in the betrayal as well as our self-gift.

Need for examination

Some of the most harrowing words St. Thomas wrote are contained in his Lauda Sion Sequence.

They’re a commentary on St. Paul’s words to the Corinthians, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will have to answer for the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself, and so eat the bread and drink the cup” (1 Cor 27:28).

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali: sorte tamen inaquaeli, vitae vel interitus. Mors est malis, vita bonis: vide paris sumptionis quam sit dispar exitus.” “Good and evil both take up the host but to unequal fortune, one to life and the other to the tomb, death to the evil, life to the good. See how different an end comes from an apparently similar reception.”

Receiving Holy Communion is not a magical act, a potion we receive that no matter what the state of our soul leads us to communion. St. Thomas stresses that the Bread of Life becomes the bread of death for those who receive him unworthily.

This points to the importance of proper preparation for us as priests, first as disciples and second as celebrants. We could say that two types of priests celebrate Mass and “take up” the host in their hands, one to life and the other to death, depending upon whether the Communion leads to a communion of life.

The importance of our vocation as priests

In his Sacris Solemnis (Panis Angelicus), St. Thomas notes both the crucial importance o the priesthood to the celebration of the Mass as well as what the twofold priestly participation in the Eucharistic gift is supposed to be:Sic sacrificium istud instituit, cuius officium committi voluit solis presbyteris, quibus sic congruit, ut sumant, et dent ceteris.” “So [Christ] instituted this sacrifice whose ministry he wanted to entrust only to priests, to those he found so fitting, that they might take him up and then give him to others.”

Christ “wanted” to entrust this great “job,” this office, this service only to priests he considered fitting. He wanted to entrust it to us, first so that we might take up this sacrifice and celebrate Mass every day, even if we’re celebrating alone, and then so that we might give him to others. Sometimes priests don’t celebrate Mass on their so-called “days off” as if days without appointments when one has more time ought to be days in which we don’t take up the most important thing that happens in our life and the life of the world. But he also wants us to have a priestly heart that seeks to evangelize everyone so that they might enter into Communion and be fit to receive this great gift.

The Eschatological Conclusions

Basically in all of his Eucharistic hymns, St. Thomas finished by stressing the connection between the Eucharist and eternal life, basing himself obviously on Jesus’ words in John 6 that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood — those who enter into true communion with him in his risen life on earth — will live forever.

They’re beautiful prayers that I’d encourage all of us to make our own as part of our Thanksgiving after Mass as well as during times like this of adoration:

In the Lauda Sion, we pray: “Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales: Qui nos pascis hic mortales: Tuos ibi commensáles, Cohærédes et sodales, Fac sanctórum cívium.” “You who know all things and wish us every good thing who shepherds us mortals here below: make us there (in heaven) your fellow banqueters, co-heirs and companions of the citizens of the saints!”

In the Adoro Te Devote, we chant: “Jesu, quem velatum nunc aspicio, Oro, fiat illud quod tam sitio: Ut te revelata cernens facie, Visu sim beátus tuæ gloriæ.”  “Jesus, whom I now look at veiled, I pray that what I now thirst for be done, that now discerning the face by which you have revealed yourself I may be blessed with the vision of your glory!”

And finally in the Sacris Solemnis (Panis Angelicus), we sing: “Te, trina Deitas unaque, poscimus: sic nos tu visita, sicut te colimus; per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus, ad lucem quam inhabitas.” We beg you, God one and three: as you visit us as we worship you: lead us by your paths on which we have been made by you to seek to that light in which you dwell!”

As we prepare to mark the 750th anniversary of Corpus Christi, we ask the Lord to hear those prayers, so that we and the people we’re privileged to serve, like St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon, like St. Peter, like St. Thomas Aquinas, through the gift of the Eucharist may come to be his fellow banqueters, heirs and companions, blessed with the sight of his glory, in the eternal light that our hearts seek.