Aidan Kavanagh, osb, has said “In Baptism Eucharist is begun; in Eucharist Baptism is sustained.” Our solemn celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ is meant to sustain the baptismal faith that we have been baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ. He is the Word made flesh who, at the Last Supper, took bread and wine and said, “This is my body given for you; this is my blood poured out for you.” This great sacrament, this great mystery of the Body and blood of Christ makes present the reality at the heart of our Christian life:
God in Christ,
Christ in us, and
all of us in Christ’s Body, the Church.
Eamon Duffy, the great historian of the English Church, calls this feast of Corpus Christi “the most spectacular addition to the liturgical calendar.” It dates from 1318.
I grew up in Montreal when this kind of liturgical spectacle was still very much alive and was celebrated with great processions down the boulevard on which we lived. The monstrance with the consecrated host was carried under a canopy, with much incensing and chanting of Latin hymns like the Pange Lingua. Street sweepers (in those days horse manure had to be swept up) got down on their knees as the throng passed them, and people on their balconies knelt and worshipped.
When we ask where our faith is today or in what, we can answer: out faith is in the real presence—in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It’s also in the real presence of Christ in the Word of God proclaimed, and in the real presence of Christ in the People of God who gather to celebrate this mystery. It’s helpful to note that in his writings, Paul makes no distinction between the physical body of Christ and the risen body of Christ, or between the body of Christ as Church and the body of Christ as Eucharist.
It’s the Body of Christ as Eucharist that we celebrate today. If we were celebrating it in Kenya or some other part of Africa, our celebration would include singing and dancing and drumming, and would go on through the whole afternoon. We can’t help but ask, is there something lacking in our faith that we no longer celebrate it in a very lively way? Or is there something wrong with Western culture?
The problem lies not in our faith but in our scientific technological culture, which has given us so many wonderful things, but has left us somewhat crippled. This is not the place to analyze what is wrong with Western culture (Iain McGilchrist has tried to do this in his highly acclaimed book, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World). The challenge for us is how to renew Western culture so that it can once again help sustain our faith. Our trust is in the power of the Spirit to make all things new.