Posted June 12, 2018
Today we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. This feast has a character all of its own. Most of the other great feasts of the liturgical year commemorate key Biblical events, like Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. Even Maundy Thursday, the celebration par excellence of the gift of the Eucharist, is part of the great historical and liturgical drama of Jesus’ passion and death, and we celebrate it, therefore, in a spirit of high drama and in an atmosphere of foreboding. But Corpus Christi is the ‘people’s Feast’. It is about simple, happy devotion. It has always been associated with popular celebration and simple piety: in some Catholic countries (even in this country, once upon a time) it has been celebrated with all the marks of popular festivity, like colourful processions and carnivals, and dressing up in your finest, decking the streets and the houses with flowers and greenery and bunting and banners; and of course the ubiquitous town band with its excruciating music.
And even if you missed out on the floats and the flower carpets and the excruciating music, still, those of you who are of a certain age must have taken part in more sober and more prayerful celebrations when the parishes of the locality came together to celebrate Corpus Christi. I well remember the Corpus Christ processions of my childhood, when old and young came together, mums and dads, and babes in arms, and all the little girls dressed in white, and all the little boys scrubbed up specially for the occasion, and altar servers in red cassocks and the priests in gold vestments, and the ornate canopy covering the Blessed Sacrament, and lovely hymns like Sweet Sacrament Divine and O salutaris hostia – and such an atmosphere of piety and devotion and closeness to our Lord, and hopes for the future, a life-time before us. That was when the culture of simple Eucharistic piety entered our souls.
For many of us, it was also the time of our First Holy Communion. I vividly remember that day. In addition to receiving our Lord for the first time, there was the added bonus of a hard-boiled egg in the parish hall after Mass, available only to First Communicants, and a big white silk bow on my left arm, of which I was inordinately proud, and even when I grew out of big white silk bows, the memory of it all remained with me, and the emotions of it all, burnt into the psyche, part of our Catholic instinct. I love those words of Pope Benedict recalling the day of his First Holy Communion: ‘On that day I was really filled with great joy, because Jesus came to me and I realized that a new stage in my life was beginning – I was nine years old – and that it was from now on important to stay faithful to that communion. I promised the Lord as best I could: “I always want to stay with you”, and I prayed to him, “but above all, you stay with me”. So I went on living my life like that. Thanks be to God, the Lord has always taken me by the hand and guided me, even in difficult situations.’
The culture of Eucharistic piety is still there in our souls. Perhaps we have let it become routine, or we have failed to foster it, or we have let it be smothered by busy lives and perhaps useless preoccupations with other things. People often say in confession: ‘I missed Mass.’ I suspect that their thinking is: I have broken the Church’s rule. What they should be thinking is: I know that there is a wealth of spiritual beauty in the sacraments and in my soul, but in spite of that I chose to impoverish myself because I care more about other things.
In any case, today, if need be, let us renew our contact with this sacrament, revitalize what we have inherited from our childhood, all the days of our life, so that one day all that loveliness will explode into eternity. That was the real meaning of the white silk bow.
And those of you who are parents of young children: what an opportunity you have, what a vocation, to foster in your children a spirit of happy childhood piety that will enrich and sustain them throughout their lives. So many parents have nothing to pass on to their children beyond the values they themselves have imbibed from a trite and wretched world; whereas you have the opportunity to foster in your children something beautiful for eternity.
Let us all of us today approach the sacrament with renewed fervour. Let us share in the bread of life and the chalice of salvation. Let us tell the Lord, in our own way, what little Joseph Ratzinger told his Lord on that happy day: ‘I always want to stay with you, but above all, you stay with me’ – and ask our Lord to take us by the hand and guide us, even in difficult situations.
Fr Tom Deidun