Q: Archbishop J, what is Corpus Christi?
Corpus Christi comes from two Latin words, corpus, body and Christi, Christ, thus it means the body of Christ. As a feast it is really part of the Holy Week celebration.
Holy Thursday is such an epic event that it is broken into three separate feasts: The Chrism Mass—priesthood, Holy Thursday Evening Mass—foot washing and Passover and Corpus Christi—Celebration of the Body of Christ.
This threefold mystery is at the very core of our identity and our expression of faith as Catholics. The celebration of Corpus Christi, in itself, holds a mystery that is vital for all disciples of Christ.
St Paul teaches the Corinthians on the Eucharist: “For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night 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, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor 11:23–26).
The Mass is an invitation to enter into sacred mystery. The same Jesus who walked in Israel 2000 years ago is the one who is present. The same Jesus who healed the leper and the women with the haemorrhage, is present in the form of bread, in the form of wine.
I pray that we may have the eyes to see the truth of the Eucharist; to “Look beyond the bread you eat. See your Saviour and your Lord”. The Eucharist demands the greatest act of faith that God asks of us. It is at once a mystery and a stretch of faith. St Paul reminds us that “we walk by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7). Nowhere is this truer than in the Eucharist.
Through the eyes of faith, we see the humility of God as bread. Without faith the Eucharist is dull, boring and humdrum—only bread. Through the eyes of faith, it is an exciting encounter with the living God. We will see that God comes to us and makes His home in us. This is the deepest encounter with God while on earth.
The Eucharist is the source and summit of the whole Christian life (CCC 1324). It is what we draw from and what we aspire towards. We live in a fast-paced culture where people are accustomed to fast food.
The Eucharist is a gourmet meal. It is precise in its preparation; slow in its delivery, and it is one course after another, each designed to build towards the ultimate climax—missioning the disciple to go into the world.
We are the Body of Christ
St Paul tells us that “in Christ we who are many are one body, and each member belongs to one another” (Rom 12:5). Here, the image of the human body is used as an image of the Body of Christ, Corpus Christi. We are all members of this body, each having a different role and a different function for the sake of the body. We are connected to Christ and to each other.
Some plants—including, ginger and turmeric—have a special root structure called rhizome. This root spreads and connects and interconnects. Aspen trees are also rhizome. Their roots spread for acres and acres.
The real life of the aspen tree is in the complex root structure that spreads and pushes up shoots, as it continues to spread. Up on top you see all these trees that look like individual trees. Down below is a complex root structure that is the real life of the forest.
Because the complex root structure in the forest is very resistant to most forms of disaster, fires may burn the whole forest down, storms may flatten all the trees, hail and snow may be unleashed, and individual trees may be damaged or destroyed, but the forest will not be destroyed. New shoots will spring up, there will be rebirth: the forest will emerge again.
There is a forest that is over a hundred acres and is 80,000 years old. It was given life from one seed that was put into the earth and died.
The Body of Christ is rhizomatic! One seed went into the earth and died. One seed gave birth to this root. This root, a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Is 11:1) has given all the shoots and trees we call the Christian Church. Each Christian, each Church, each diocese is a shoot from the root of Jesse.
What we see above the ground is the shoot. This shoot is sustained from the root that is Christ. This is an image for the body of Christ. We are all integrally connected to Christ and to each other. This is the vine and branches. The integral connection is vital for the health of the Christian. There is no isolated Christian; we are all dependent upon each other and Christ.
This is why the migrant, the poor, the prisoner, the stranger, the abandoned are all very important to the Christian. They are all integrally connected to Christ and to us. We are all one people, brothers and sisters. This is a view of the body of Christ from the perspective of faith. Remember, we walk by faith and not by sight.
The individual pope, cardinal, bishop, priest, religious or Christian could be cut down, but the forest cannot be killed. It will spring up time and time again in the most surprising ways.
Let us pray for the grace to look at the Eucharist and at our neighbour and see the face of Christ. Let us pray that in contemplating the Eucharist and the poor, we may—like St Thomas—have the grace to say, “My Lord and my God”.
Key messages: Corpus Christi is the Body of Christ. It refers both to the Eucharist and to the poor. We are integrally connected to each other and to Christ and members of His body.
Action Step: Pray for the grace to see the truth of the mystery—Christ present to us in the Eucharist and in His body the Church and the poor.
Scripture Reading: 1 Cor 11:23–26; Jn 15:1–17