Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
SOLEMNITY OF THE BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
Pope John Paul II
General Audience on June 15, 1995
Christ Left His Church This One Sacrifice Under The Appearances Of Bread And Wine
1. "For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).
Today, gathered here in front of the Basilica of St. John Lateran, the Bishop of Rome's cathedral, we proclaim Christ's death in a particular way. It is in this same church that we celebrate the Holy Thursday liturgy. Today's solemnity is "in a certain sense" the completion of the Holy Thursday liturgy, just as the solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which occurs next week, is a significant complement to the Good Friday liturgy.
Holy Thursday recalls the Lord's Supper and the institution of the Eucharist during Holy Week, the week of the Lord's Passion. This context does not allow us to express totally what the Eucharist means for us. At the end of the Holy Thursday liturgy, after the Mass of the Lord's Supper, the Blessed Sacrament is placed in a suitable chapel of reposition.
This Eucharistic procession has a characteristic note: we pause beside Christ as the events of his Passion begin. We know, in fact, that the Last Supper was followed by the prayer in Gethsemane, by his arrest and trial, first before Annas and then before Caiaphas, high priest at the time. Thus on Holy Thursday we accompany Jesus on the way that leads him to the terrible hours of the Passion, a few hours before he was sentenced to death and crucifixion. In the Polish tradition the place of reposition for the Eucharist after the liturgy of the Lord's Supper is called "the dark chapel", because popular piety links it to the memory of the prison where our Lord Jesus spent the night between Thursday and Friday. A night certainly not of repose, but rather a further stage of physical and spiritual suffering.
2. The atmosphere that surrounds the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is very different. It was instituted relatively late, in the Middle Ages, and answers the deep need to show, in a different and more complete manner, all that the Eucharist is for the Church.
"Pange, lingua, gloriosi corporis mysterium, sanguinisque pretiosi...." In the words of the well-known hymn St. Thomas Aquinas eloquently expressed that need of God's People. "Pange, lingua!" Human tongues must sing the mystery of the Eucharist! They must sing it not only as mysterium passionis, but also as mysterium gloriae. This gives rise to the tradition of the Eucharistic processions, especially the Corpus Christi procession, which is a wonderful expression of that deep emotion the believer feels as he faces the "mysterium" of the Body and Blood of the Lord, which the Church lives every day. This evening's procession from the Basilica of St. John Lateran along the streets of the Eternal City to the Basilica of St. Mary Major on the Esquiline Hill has a similar significance.
I remember many processions of this kind which I took part in as a child. I then led them myself, as a priest and Bishop. The Corpus Christi procession was always a great event for the communities to which I belonged. It is so in Rome too, indeed here more than elsewhere, since it was here that one of the direct witnesses to the Last Supper gave his testimony: the Apostle Peter. Carrying the Blessed Sacrament through the city streets, we take up the heritage of faith which was also his in the manner characteristic of the second millennium.
Today's reading, taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians, sheds clear light on this faith. It is probably one of the oldest scriptural accounts of the institution of the Eucharist. The Apostle wrote: "The Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me'. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" (1 Cor 11:23-26).
When the Church repeats at every Mass the words: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again", it is as if she took them from the lips of the Apostle to the Gentiles to make them her own and repeat them to the whole world.
3. The Corpus Christi liturgy reminds us of Christ's priesthood. This is mentioned in both the responsorial psalm and the first reading from the Book of Genesis. "You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek" (Ps 109 :4). Melchizedek, who lived in the time of Abraham, was king of Salem, the city that was later to take the name of Jerusalem. He offered bread and wine to God. Abraham honored this extraordinary priest-king, as if foreseeing in him the future vocation of that people of God he was to become father of in faith: a vocation, then, which was not limited to the Old Covenant alone, but also extended to the New and Eternal Covenant.
This psalm, which refers to Christ's priesthood modelled on that of Melchizedek, is extraordinary. It emphasizes that this was an eternal priesthood: "You are a priest forever!" In the light of the paschal faith, it clearly appears that this priest of the New and Eternal Covenant is the Son, consubstantial with the Father.
Let us pause to reflect on these words: "The Lord says to my lord: 'Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool'. The Lord sends forth from Sion your mighty spectre. 'Rule in the midst of your foes!'" (Ps 109 :1-2); and finally: "Before the daystar, like the dew, I have begotten you" (109 :3). What does this poetic metaphor mean? Read in the light of the full revelation of the New Testament, it speaks of the generation of the Word, the Son of the eternal Father. This Son, by virtue of the promise of God himself, became through his own sacrifice, "priest for ever". He offered the sacrifice as priest, he offered the sacrifice of his Body and Blood. And at the same time, he left the Church the one and unrepeatable sacrifice, under the appearances of bread and wine, the same food, that is, which Melchizedek offered in sacrifice in Abraham's time.
Thus Christ's sacrifice, as the Eucharist, becomes a banquetthe banquet of the Lamb. The Church invites us to this banquet, urging us to participate in the Eucharist. She does so every day and in a special way today. She also has the awareness which stems from faith that this food and this drink, which is the Eucharist, will never be exhausted, will never be lacking. They are meant for all, as today's passage in St. Luke's Gospel indicates: "And all ate and were satisfied. And they took up what was left over, twelve baskets of broken pieces" (Lk 9:17).
On the day of Corpus Christi we wish to honour this remarkable abundance of the Eucharistic gift, on which the People of God constantly draw.
4. Yes! Everywhere on earth! Today, on the day of Corpus Christi, as we celebrate the liturgy and especially as we walk in the Eucharistic procession, we feel united with all those who are celebrating it in different parts of the world, "from the rising of the sun to its setting". This is the Eucharist of Rome, but at the same time, the Eucharist of Italy and the islands in the Mediterranean; the Eucharist of so many Churches on the continent of Europe; the Eucharist of North, Central and South America; the Eucharist of Africa and the countless communities which have received the Gospel message on that continent; the Eucharist of the islands in the Atlantic Ocean, in the Indian Ocean and in the Pacific; of the Churches of Asia and Australia.
We set out then on this Eucharistic procession which winds through the streets of Rome and, at the same time, deeply moved, we utter this one word: Eucharist, Eucharist, Eucharist. Before our mind's eye all the Churches scattered across the globe, from East to West, from South to North are present.
With us they profess, celebrate and receive the same Eucharist. With us they repeat the Apostle's words: "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again"!
This is an expectation that will never be disappointed.
Weekly Edition in English
21 June 1995, pp. 1-2
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