Issue 21 - 1 June

Corpus Christi

In the mid 1980’s in Churches in Paris I saw for the first time reconciliation rooms that had ceiling to floor glass. The priest sat at a candle-lit table and the penitent knelt behind the priest or sat with him at the table. Restoring the public dimension to the Sacrament increased its power and witness.

Last year in our community we renovated our chapel. One of several things we did was put glass doors on the tabernacle, install a diffused light inside and reserve the chalice.

The overall effect was startling. For the first time in my life I could see at all times the elements toward which I direct my devotion.

The reaction of others was interesting too. One person protested that “you can see the Blessed Sacrament and the chalice looks ready to drink”, another felt that “the wafers we reserved should not be broken, but be one complete host” and still a third objected that it “looks like real food”. 

These were curious reactions given what we celebrate today, the feast of Corpus Christi. The devotion we as Catholics have to Christ’s presence in the Eucharist is precisely caught up in the meal he left us. Therefore it is right that the food we share and venerate should be on display, should look inviting and be broken, for this is what Jesus did at his final supper and what he offers us as gifts – himself, broken and poured out in love.

Each time I pray in front of our new tabernacle I have been struck by the power of these elements as the definitive symbol of Jesus’ presence in our world. Not only in grand Cathedrals or libraries of words does God visit us. Not only in prophet’s speeches or laws set in stone. But in simple gifts of broken bread and poured wine. And at these times I recall that the action of being broken and poured out is the core of what we believe: our God poured himself out in love for in Christ; Jesus was broken unto death for us so that we might be made whole; the Spirit gives us strength and courage to face the daily breakings and pourings that make up our lives and every time anyone, anywhere shares bread or passes a cup with those in need, our God is really present.

Praying there also reminds me that following the Trinity’s example this pattern is repeated in all faithful Christian lives too. The martyrs, the saints and all of those we know who have gone before us having led lives of selfless devotion, continue to embody the Body and Blood of  Christ we venerate.

And so to us. When we come forward, when we say “Amen” and receive into our hands the Bread of  Life and the Cup of Salvation we too take on to ourselves the invitation to become what we receive: a body broken in love, blood poured out in hope that the world may be saved from itself and find life to the full in Christ.

Rev Dr. Richard Leonard SJ is the author of ten books, the last one being The Law of Love: Modern Words for Ancient Wisdom.