Corpus Christi, Observed
In the United States, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi is observed on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday, but throughout much of the world (particularly in Europe), the celebration of this Holy Day of Obligation takes place on the traditional day--the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
The period after Pentecost Sunday is reserved by the Church for important feasts that celebrate the central mysteries of the Christian Faith. While Trinity Sunday highlighted the most fundamental doctrine of Christianity, which separates it from all other monotheistic religions--that God is Three in One--Corpus Christi celebrates our belief that what we receive in the Sacrament of Holy Communion is not bread and wine but the true Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. So central is this belief to the Catholic Faith that Corpus Christi was traditionally celebrated with a Eucharistic procession, in which the Sacred Host was held aloft while the faithful proceeded through town. Indeed, Pope Benedict XVI has often led such processions through Rome, from St. John Lateran to St. Mary Major. As Catholic World News reported of one such procession (in 2007), "Behind him thousands of people joined in prayers and hymns as they walked. Various fraternities and parish groups carried banners as they marched, and buildings along the route were decorated with Eucharistic banners, added to the colorful procession."
In his homily for Corpus Christi that year, Pope Benedict stressed the importance of the feast, declaring that the Body and Blood of Christ are "the indispensable nourishment that sustains [Christians] as they cross the desert of this world, made barren by ideological and economic systems that fail to promote life . . . a world dominated by the logic of power and possession rather than by the logic of service and of love; a world in which the culture of violence and death often triumph."
A year later, on the Feast of Corpus Christi 2008, Pope Benedict let his actions testify to the importance of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. He distributed Communion on the tongue to the faithful, who knelt at a kneeler before him. While this is the traditional posture in the West for receiving Communion (and is still the posture for receiving Communion at the Traditional Latin Mass), it has fallen out of favor with many of the faithful in recent decades, especially in the United States, where Communion in the hand is nearly universal. Yet Pope Benedict's action reminds us that kneeling to receive Communion on the tongue is still the norm, and any other posture that is allowed is an exception to that norm.
And, when you think about it, that is as it should be. While pastoral reasons may dictate departures from the norm, our approach to this greatest of sacraments should be one of the utmost reverence, as if we were approaching Christ Himself in the flesh. Because, in fact, we are.
(Bishop Thomas Doran elevates the Host at the consecration during the 125th anniversary Mass at Saint Mary's Oratory, Rockford, Illinois, December 5, 2010. Photo © Scott P. Richert)