This weekend, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, customarily known as the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for “Body of Christ”). This solemn feast was established in the Middle Ages by the authority of the Church to celebrate a miraculous possession of the Church: the real, personal presence of Jesus Christ in the Host, consecrated at the celebration of the Eucharist and received by the faithful, reserved in the tabernacle, or sometimes displayed in a special vessel known as the “monstrance” (the “show-er”—because it would hold the host over the altar in about the same location as the priest would hold it to show the people during the Eucharistic Prayer). Thomas Aquinas, the famous Dominican Saint and Doctor of the Church was commissioned to write the special prayers for the feast (including the hymns, “Pange lingua gloriosi”, also known by the first two words of its second last verse, “Tantum ergo”, as well as “O salutaris hostia” and “Panis angelicus”).
A Change in Emphasis
With the research and theological reflection that led to the liturgical movement in the Catholic Church during the Twentieth Century, theologians put a new emphasis on the action of the Eucharist (that is, the action of the Church community, led by the priest, in giving communal worship of thanks and praise to God the Father, through Jesus Christ, in the Holy Spirit). There was also a new emphasis on the assembly of the Christian faithful people as the Body of Christ, which we find in Sacred Scripture in some of St. Paul’s letters, and which was featured in Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Mystici corporis.
So then, what is the Body of Christ? Is it the people of the Church as a community/assembly, or is it what looks like a wheat wafer or chalice of wine? Which is the real definition of the Holy Eucharist? Is it an action of the people of God, or is it the Eucharistic elements which are consumed and adored by the faithful people? These questions (like many theological questions) are best answered with an inclusive both/and, rather than an exclusive either/or. Yes, we are the Body of Christ. Yes, the host we receive is the Body of Christ (and yes, every little crumb of it and every little drop of what is in the chalice is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ). Unfortunately, a polemic insistence on either/or has made many people deny, or at least forget, half of the truth. In fact, we must come together to be the Church (the word “Church” in the original Greek of the New Testament means congregation or assembly!). When the faithful gather for the Eucharist, they are not there just to occupy space, or to serve as an audience to watch the important actions of the priest. They are supposed to be there to give thanks and praise to God in Jesus Christ, to pray, to hear/experience His holy word as an assembly of committed believers, to offer their lives and good works in union with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ made present on the altar, and to receive His holy Body and Blood with a disposition of reverent adoration, as well as committed obedience to the Lord.
The Eucharist “to go”, or the Eucharist by the Internet?
While the Church has always provided “carry-out” Eucharist to those who are sick, the expectation is that everyone who is able-bodied and not prevented by some very good reason should attend Mass, as a part of the assembly to receive Holy Communion as a present member of that assembly. For this reason, “Communion Services”, once promoted as a convenient way to receive the Body of Christ, are now criticized for undermining the full meaning of the Eucharist. During the covid-19 crisis, many people began to see restaurants as a place to go to pick up food, or from which to have it delivered to their homes. The Eucharistic Liturgy began to be seen by many as a live-stream or a recording to be enjoyed at one’s convenience, in the comfort of one’s home, maybe over a cup of coffee in a comfortable chair—no dressing up, no driving, no traffic, no parking, no weather, no finding a place to sit, no one singing or responding off pitch or with the wrong timing, and no trying to get out of the church parking lot. The temptation for many is to keep things this way, even though the crisis is over and they have returned to their other dining and social patterns. The “Sunday Mass Obligation” was suspended, for a very serious reason, but this reason has passed. I believe that the time has now come to recognize an obligation to God, to your soul (which needs the Body of Christ—according to Jesus Himself cf. John 6) and to the Church community, to attend Sunday and Holy Day Masses, as a connected member (severed members do not survive) of the Body of Christ. May the Lord bless us with an appreciation of His Body!