“Hoc est enim Corpus meum…”

The heart of every Mass

… the Latin translation of the words spoken by Jesus at the Last Supper. “(For) this is my Body”, He spoke, indicating the bread He had just broken and given to the Apostles. The three synoptic Gospels relate these words largely the same (Matthew 26: 26-28, Mark 14: 22-24 and Luke 22: 19-20). The identification of the traditional symbols of sacrifice, bread and wine, with the very substance and being of the Son of God has become the foundation and core of the Christian faith: the Sacrament of the Eucharist.

For such an important moment in the earthly ministry of Christ, in the entire Bible, even the entire history of humankind, the sequence of events is surprisingly simple. Embedded in the rituals of Jewish society, Jesus takes the symbols, prayers and blessings that He and the Apostles would have known very well and gives them a new meaning. In other words, He fulfilled them, just like He fulfilled the law and the prophets (cf Matt. 5: 17-18).

In identifying bread and wine with Himself and telling the Apostles to share them amongst themselves, He gives Himself to us, to share and to take into ourselves. The ultimate self-giving sacrifice of the Cross has its living core here, in Jesus Christ in the bread and wine.

And to return to the simplicity of the gestures, it is interesting to see that Jesus does not cloak His actions and words. No, very simply He says that the bread is His Body and the wine is His Blood. While we may not be able to understand how it all works, how it is possible that the living breathing Christ is somehow the same as a piece of bread or a drop of wine, it is possible to understand Christ’s intention: He did not say that He was symbolically present in bread and wine, no: the bread and wine is Him, or rather, He is the bread and wine.

Today the Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi. Actually, it should have been celebrated last Thursday, to reflect the connection of this feast with Maundy Thursday, but in many countries it has been moved to the next Sunday. The events described above tended to get a bit lost in the bustle of Holy Week, so, upon the urging of St. Juliana of Liège, the solemnity of Corpus Christi was established as a feast in the entire Church in 1264 by Pope Urban IV who, like St. Juliana, also hailed from Liège. Traditionally, in those places where it is allowed, there are processions with the Eucharistic Lord carried by the local ordinary or a priest, followed by one or more moments of Adoration.