“Because the loaf is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” 1 Corinthians 10:16-17.
The festivals that surround the Solemnity of Corpus Christi have always fascinated my interests in the very history of the Catholic liturgy with his rich cultural emphasis.
Today, I’d like to address the festival that is the feast of Corpus Christi, and next how we need this “food of life” in season and out of season, and for the eternal life to come.
First, let me speak about this feast day, Corpus Christi.
The sisters of Liege, and Saint Juliana of Liege, in particular, promoted this feast day, combined their adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with works of mercy for the poor and the needy of 13th century Belgium.
Twenty-years later in 1264, when this feast became a universal Church celebration, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote the poem that became the “Great Sequence” chanted before the gospel.
Today, there is a public festival in the medieval Umbrian town of Orvieto. At the side altar of the Cathedral there is displayed a bloodstained altar cloth, a sign of Christ’s presence, as well as the civic pride in the efforts of Thomas Aquinas to further devotion to the Most Blessed Sacrament in the Forty-hours Devotion, as well as Aquinas’s popular hymns such as the Pange Lingua, Tantum Ergo, and the Panis Angelicus.
With the beginning of summer with longer hours in the day, these public festivals come after Trinity Sunday, and on Friday of this week — to the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
There is only a hint of this public festival here in the United States, with weekly farmers’ markets, artichoke and garlic festivals, July 4th celebrations; and this week’s 50th Anniversary of the Monterey Pop Festival. Nonetheless, these may get us into the sunshine and outdoors to appreciate the abundance of God’s grace in food and in music.
Today we listen to John’s gospel about the “living bread” and know that we must see this bread as nourishing and healing food for life.
Pope Francis reminds us that the sacramental bread or Eucharist is not so much a reward as it is a healing bread of forgiveness for our life’s journey of faith.
This brings me to a second theme, how this bread is there for us — in season and out of season. In recalling the words of Saint Paul in today’s second reading, I’m reminded of a quote from Anna Safford, a Presbyterian missionary who once wrote: “If you cannot see how you are the body of Christ, don’t bother looking for him in the bread and wine.”
For many years, I’ve taught a college course entitled “Religion, Media & Culture.” As you might suspect, it concerns the intersection of contemporary media with religious practice today.
In more recent years, I employ a film “Of Gods & Men,” by French director Xavier Beauvois; this film is the winner of the 2010 Cannes Film Festival Grand Prize.
The film concerns a French monastery with nine Trappist monks who live in harmony with their largely Muslim neighbors in Algeria. When in 1997, seven of the monks were kidnapped and assassinated by Islamic fundamentalists during the Algerian Civil War. Sad to say, this is a true story.
One element of the film that I careful point out to my students is how the director is able to film the celebration of the Eucharist. The monks are gathered in a circle around the table of the altar; it is so reverent, with music, and close ups of the monks.
The scene of their final Mass together reveals the inner turmoil in their lives as these men await their fate. They rely on this food of life, to sustain them despite mental and physical torment.
I point out to my students – remember these are actors, playing monks, and how all priests and all of us should consider how we look at every Mass, our own body language of mercy and forgiveness, and fully know how we need to be there for one another, in good times and in bad.
This film “Of God & Men” is the best example of how the medium of film might provide us with a mirror and how we might forward an openness to grace.
As the “body of Christ” we must look into that mirror – namely all of us present at Mass, and see Christ in ourselves, and in one another.
Again read the words of Saint Paul and listen to the quote from Anna Safford: “If you cannot see how you are the body of Christ, don’t bother looking for him in the bread and wine.” Because of this sacramental food, we are called to greater loyalty to Jesus Christ and to one another.
A final word:
Last Sunday, on the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity, at the Pontifical Irish College in Rome, a Mass was celebrated for Father Ragheed Ganni and three of his friends.
This is a place and residence that I know so well since I have lived there off and on, for the past ten years, while on teaching assignments in Rome.
About that same time, ten years ago, on the Holy Trinity Sunday came word at the College that Father Ragheed and his friends were stopped by a group of Islamic militants in Mosul, Iraq.
They asked him: “We told you to close the Church, why didn’t you?”
Father Ragheed simply responded: “We cannot close the House of God.” These were his last words. He and his brothers were killed that day.
Father Ragheed was ordained a priest for the Eastern Chaldean rite of the Roman Catholic Church. He was a student in Rome for seven years at the Irish College, where his holy memory is revered. In the chapel of the college, there is now a mosaic of Father Ragheed (by Ivan Rupnik, S.J.).
In 2008 Pope Benedict received his holy relics; in 2017 Pope Francis wore Father Ragheed’s priestly stole that is now kept at the Church of Saint Bartholomew on Rome’s Tiber Island along with the relics of the other modern martyrs.
As we celebrate this Corpus Christi Mass today, so serene here on the coastline of the Pacific, let us pray for all those whose lives are conflicted and in turmoil, as they too seek God’s presence, and receive nourishment from the bread of life.
Let us remember Father Ragheed, his friends; and also Father Jacques Hamel who in July of last year — was killed at the altar of his church in St. Etienne, France while celebrating the holy sacrifice of the Mass.