Today, on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, the Roman Catholic Church commemorates the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. For this movable feast, I am posting Dom Prosper Gueranger’s (b. 1895- d. 1875) Corpus Christi piece from his book, The Liturgical Year; the source is noted at the end of the excerpt. This piece is long, but it does fill in the possible holes in Catholic education on the vital topic of the mysterious gift which is the Holy Eucharist. And, so Dom Gueranger writes:
A great solemnity has this day risen upon our Earth: a Feast both to God and men, for it is the Feast of Christ the Mediator who is present in the sacred Host that God may be given to man, and man to God. Divine union — yes, such is the dignity to which man is permitted to aspire, and to this aspiration, God has responded, even here below, by an invention which is all of Heaven.
It is today that man celebrates this marvel of God’s goodness. And yet, against both the Feast and its divine object there has been made the old fashioned objection: “How can these things be done?” (John iii. 9; vi. 53). It really does seem as though reason has a right to find fault with what looks like senseless pretensions of man’s heart. Every living being thirsts after happiness, and yet and because of that it only aspires after the good of which it is capable, for it is the necessary condition of happiness that in order to its existence there must be the full contentment of the creature’s desire. Hence, in that great act of creation which the Scripture so sublimely calls “His playing in the world” (Proverbs viii. 30, 31), when with His almighty power, He prepared the heavens and enclosed the depths, and balanced the foundations of the earth (Proverbs viii. 27, 29), we are told that Divine Wisdom secured the harmony of the universe by giving to each creature, according to its degree in the scale of being, an end adequate to its powers. He thus measured the wants, the instinct, the appetite (that is, the desire) of each creature, according to its respective nature so that it would never have cravings, which its faculties were insufficient to satisfy.
In obedience, then, to this law, was not man, too, obliged to confine, within the limits of his finite nature, his desires for the good and the beautiful, that is, his searching after God, which is a necessity with every intelligent and free being? Otherwise, would it not be that, for certain beings, their happiness would have to be in objects, which must ever be out of the reach of their natural faculties? Great as the anomaly would appear, yet does it exist. True psychology, that is, the true science of the human mind, bears testimony to this desire for the infinite. Like every living creature around him, man thirsts for happiness. And yet, he is the only creature on earth that feels within itself longings for what is immensely beyond its capacity. While docile to the lord placed over them by the Creator, the irrational creatures are quite satisfied with what they find in this world. They render to man their several services, and their own desires are all fully gratified by what is within their reach: it is not so with Man. He can find nothing in this his earthly dwelling which can satiate his irresistible longings for a something which this Earth cannot give, and which time cannot produce: for that something is the infinite.
God Himself, when revealing Himself to man through the works He has created, that is, when showing Himself to man in a way which His natural powers can take in: God, when giving man to know Him as the First Cause, as Last End of all creatures, as unlimited perfection, as infinite beauty, as sovereign goodness, as the object which can content both our understanding and our will — no, not even God Himself, thus known and thus enjoyed, could satisfy man. This being, made out of nothing, wishes to possess the Infinite in his own substance. He longs after the sight of the face, he ambitions to enjoy the life, of his Lord and God. The Earth seems to him but a trackless desert where he can find no water that can quench his thirst. From early dawn of each wearisome day, his soul is at once on the watch, pining for that God who alone can quell his desires. Yes, his very flesh too has its thrilling expectations for that beautiful Infinite One (Psalms lxii.) Let us listen to the Psalmist, who speaks for us all: “As the hart pants after the fountains of water, so my soul pants after you, God! My soul has thirsted after the strong, living, God: when will I come and appear before the face of God? My tears have been my bread, day and night, while it is said to me daily:Where is your God? These things I remembered, and poured out my soul in me, for I will go over into the place of the wonderful tabernacle, even to the house of God. With the voice of joy and praise, the noise of one that is feasting. Why are you sad, my soul? and why do you trouble me? Hope in God, for I will still give praise to Him: the salvation of my countenance, and my God” (Psalms xli.)
If reason is to be the judge of such sentiments as these, they are but wild enthusiasm and silly pretensions. Why talk of the sight of God, of the life of God, of a banquet in which God Himself is to be the repast? Surely, these are things far too sublime for man, or any created nature, to reach. Between the wisher and the object longed for, there is an abyss— the abyss of disproportion, which exists between nothingness and being. Creation, all powerful as it is, does not in itself imply the filling up of that abyss. If the disproportion could ever cease to be an obstacle to the union aspired to, it would be by God Himself going that whole length, and then imparting something of His own divine energies to the creature that had once been nothing. But, what is there in man to induce the Infinite Being, whose magnificence is above the heavens, to stoop so low as that? This is the language of reason.
But, on the other hand, who was it that made the heart of man so great and so ambitious that no creature can fill it. How comes it that while the heavens show forth the glory of God, and the firmament declares how full of wisdom and power is every work of His hands (Psalm xviiii. 2), how comes it, we ask, that in man alone there is no proportion, no order? Could it be that the great Creator has ordered all things, excepting man alone, with measure, and number, and weight? (Wisdom xi. 21) That one creature who is the masterpiece of the whole creation, that creature for whom all the rest was intended as for its king, is he to be the only one that is a failure, and to live as a perpetual proclaimer that his Maker could not, or would not, be wise, when he made Man? Far from us be such a blasphemy! God is love, says Saint John (1 John iv. 8), and love is the knot which mere human philosophy can never loosen, and therefore must ever leave unsolved the problem of man’s desire for the Infinite.
Yes, God is charity. God is love. The wonder in all this question is not our loving and longing for God, but that He should have first loved us (1 John iv. 10). God is love, and love must have union. And union makes the united like one another. Oh the riches of the Divine Nature in which are infinite Power, and Wisdom, and Love! These three constitute, by their divine relations, that blessed Trinity which has been the light and joy of our souls ever since that bright Sunday’s Feast, which we kept in its honour! Oh the depth of the divine counsels in which that which is willed by boundless Love finds, in infinite Wisdom, how to fulfil in work what will be to the glory of Omnipotence!
Glory be to you, Holy Spirit! Your reign over the Church has but just begun this year of grace, and you are giving us light by which to understand the divine decrees. The day of your Pentecost brought us a new Law, a Law where all is brightness. And it was given to us in place of that Old one of shadows and types. The pedagogue, who schooled the infant world for the knowledge of truth, has been dismissed. Light has shone on us through the preaching of the Apostles, and the children of light, set free, knowing God and known by Him, are daily leaving behind them the weak and needy elements of early childhood (Galatians iii. 5, 24, 25; iv. 9). Scarcely, divine Spirit, was completed the triumphant Octave in which the Church celebrated your Coming and her own birth which that Coming brought, when all eager for the fulfilment of your mission of bringing to the Bride’s mind the things taught her by her Spouse (John xiv. 26), you showed her the divine and radiant mystery of the Trinity, that not only her Faith might acknowledge, but that her adoration and her praise might also worship it. And she and her children find their happiness in its contemplation and love. But, that first of the great mysteries of our faith, the unsearchable dogma of the Trinity, does not represent the whole richness of Christian revelation. You, O blessed Spirit, hasten to complete our instruction, and widen the horizon of our faith.
The knowledge you have given us of the essence and the life of the Godhead, was to be followed and completed by that of His external works, and the relations which this God has vouchsafed to establish between Himself and us. In this very week when we begin under your direction, to contemplate the precious gifts left us by our Jesus when He ascended on high (Psalms lxvii. 19), on this first Thursday, which reminds us of that holiest of all Thursdays — our Lord’s Supper — you, O divine Spirit, bring before our delighted vision the admirable Sacrament which is the compendium of the works of God, one in Essence and three in Persons; the adorable Eucharist, which is the divine memorial (Psalms cx. 4) of the wonderful things achieved by the united operation of Omnipotence, Wisdom and Love. The Most Holy Eucharist contains within itself the whole plan of God with reference to this world of ours. It shows how all previous ages have been gradually developing the divine intentions which were formed by infinite love and, by that same love, carried out to the end (John xiii. 1), yes, to the furthest extremity here below, that is, to Itself. For the Eucharist is the crowning of all the antecedent acts done by God in favour of His creatures. The Eucharist implies them all, it explains all.
Man’s aspirations for union with God —aspirations which are above his own nature, and yet so interwoven with it as to form one inseparable life — these strange longings can have but one possible cause, and it is God Himself — God who is the author of that being called Man. None but God has formed the immense capaciousness of man’s heart, and none but God is willing or able to fill it. Every act of the divine will, whether outside Himself or in, is pure love, and is referred to that Person of the Blessed Trinity who is the Third and who, by the mode of His Procession, is substantial and infinite love. Just as the Almighty Father sees all things before they exist in themselves in His only Word, who is the term of the divine intelligence, so likewise that those same things may exist in themselves, the same Almighty Father wishes them, in the Holy Ghost, who is to the divine will what the Word is to the infinite intelligence. The Spirit of Love, who is the final term to the fecundity of Persons in the divine essence, is, in God, the first beginning of the exterior works produced by God. In their execution, those exterior works are common to the Three Persons, but they are attributed to the Holy Ghost inasmuch as He, being the Spirit of Love, solicits the Godhead to act outside Itself. He is the Love who, with its divine weight and influence of love, sways the Blessed Trinity to the external act of creation: infinite Being leans, as it were, towards the deep abyss of nothingness, and out of that abyss, creates. The Holy Spirit opens the divine counsel, and says: “Let us make man to our image and likeness!” (Genesis i. 26) Then God creates man to His own image. He creates him to the image of God (Genesis i. 27) taking His own Word as the model to which He worked, for that Word is the sovereign archetype according to which is formed the more or less perfect essence of each created being. Like Him then, to whose image he was made, Man was endowed with understanding and free-will. As such, he would govern the whole inferior creation and make it serve the purposes of its Creator, that is, he would turn it into a homage of praise and glory to its God. And though that homage would be finite, yet would it be the best of which it was capable.
This is what is called the natural order. It is an immense world of perfect harmonies and, had it ever existed without any further perfection than its own natural one, it would have been a masterpiece of God’s goodness. And yet, it would have been far from realising the designs of the Spirit of Love.
With all the spontaneity of a will which was free not to act, and was as infinite as any other of the divine perfections, the Holy Spirit wills that Man should after this present life be a partaker of the very life of God by the face-to-face vision of the divine essence. Nay, the present life of the children of Adam here on this Earth is to put on, by anticipation, the dignity of that higher life, and this so literally, that the future one in Heaven is to be but the direct sequel, the consequent outgrowth, of the one led here below. And how is man, so poor a creature in himself, to maintain so high a standing? How is he to satisfy the cravings thus created within his heart? Fear not: the Holy Ghost has a work of His own, and He does it simultaneously with the act of creation, for the Three Persons infuse into their creature, Man, the image of their own divine attributes and, upon his finite and limited powers, graft, so to say, the powers of the divine nature. This being made for an end which is above created nature: these energies superadded to man’s natural powers, transforming, yet not destroying, them, and enabling the possessor to attain the end to which God calls him — is called the supernatural order, in contradistinction to that lower one, which would have been the order of nature, had not God, in His infinite goodness, thus elevated man above his own mere state as man, and that from the very first of his coming into existence.
Man will retain all those elements of the natural order which are essentials to his human nature. And with those essential elements, the functions proper to each: but there is a principle that, in every series, that should give the specific character to the aggregate which was the end proposed by the ruling mind. Now, the last end of Man was never other in the mind of his Creator than a supernatural one, and consequently the natural order, properly so called, never existed independently of, or separate from, the supernatural. There has been a proud school of philosophy, called “free and independent,” which professed to admit no truths except natural ones, and practise no other virtues than such as were merely human: but, such theories cannot hold. The disciples of godless and secular education, by the errors and crimes into which their unaided nature periodically leads them, demonstrate, almost as forcibly as the eminent sanctity of souls which have been faithful to grace, that mere nature, or mere natural goodness, never was and never can be, a permanent and normal state for man to live in. And even granting that he could so live, yet man has no right to reduce himself to a less exalted position, than the one intended for him by his Maker.
“By assigning us a supernatural vocation, God testified the love He bore us. But at the same time He acted as Lord, and evinced His authority over us. The favour He bestowed on us has created a duty corresponding. Men have a saying, and a true one: ‘He that has nobility, has obligations,’ and the principle holds with regard to the supernatural nobility, which it has pleased God to confer on us” (Mgr. Pie, Bishop of Poitiers, First Synodical Instruction on the Chief Errors of our times, viii.). It is a nobility which surpasses every other. It makes man not only an image of God, but like Him! (Genesis i. 26). Between God — the Infinite, the Eternal — and Man, who but a while back was nothing, and ever must be a creature — friendship and love are henceforth to be possible: such is the purpose of the capabilities, and powers, and the life, bestowed on the human creature by the Spirit of Love. So, then, those longings for His God, those thrillings of his very flesh, of which we were just now reading the inspired description by the Psalmist (Psalms lxii.) — they are not the outpourings of foolish enthusiasm! That thirsting after God, the strong, the living God; that hungering for the feast of divine union — no, they are not empty ravings (Psalms xli.). Made “partaker of the divine nature” (1 Peter i. 4), as Saint Peter so strongly words the mystery, is it to be wondered at if man be conscious of it, and lets himself be drawn by the uncreated flame, into the very central Fire, it came from to him? The Holy Spirit, too is present in his creature, and is witness of what Himself has produced there. He joins His own testimonies to that of our own conscience, and tells our spirit that we are truly what we feel ourselves to be — the sons of God (Romans viii. 16).
It is the same Holy Spirit who, secreting Himself in the innermost centre of our being, that He may foster and complete His work of love — yes, it is that same Spirit who at one time opens to our soul’s eye, by some sudden flash of light, the future glory that awaits us, and then inspires us with a sentiment of anticipated triumph (Ephesians i. 17, 18; Romans v. 2), and then, at another time, He breathes into us those unspeakable moanings (Romans viii. 26), those songs of the exile, whose voice is choked with the hot tears of love, for that his union with his God seems so long deferred. There are too certain delicious hymns, which coming from the very depths of souls wounded with divine love, make their way up to the throne of God. And the music is so sweet to Him that it almost looks as though it had been victorious, and had won the union! Such music of such souls does really win: if not the eternal union — for that could not be during this life of pilgrimage, and trials, and tears — still it wins wonderful unions here below, which human language has not the power to describe.
In this mysterious song between the Divine Spirit and man’s soul, we are told by the Apostle, that “He, who searches hearts, knows what the Spirit desires, because he asks for the saints according to God” (Romans viii. 27). What a desire must not that be which the Holy Spirit desires! It is as powerful as the God who desires it. It is a desire, new, indeed, inasmuch as it is in the heart of man, but eternal, inasmuch as it is the desire of the Holy Spirit, whose Procession is before all ages. In response to this desire of the Spirit, the great God, from the infinite depths of His eternity, resolved to manifest Himself in time and unite Himself to man while yet a wayfarer, He resolved thus to manifest and unite Himself, not in His own Person, but in His Son, who is the brightness of His own glory, and the true figure of His own substance (Hebrews i. 3) God so loved the world (John iii. 16) as to give it His own Word —that divine Wisdom, who, from the bosom of His Father, had devoted Himself to our human nature. That bosom of the Father was imaged by what the Scripture calls Abraham’s bosom, where, under the ancient covenant, were assembled all the souls of the just, as in the place where they were to rest till the way into the Holy of Holies should be opened for the elect (Hebrews ix. 8). Now, it was from this bosom of His eternal Father, which the Psalmist calls the bride-chamber (Psalms xviii. 6), that the Bridegroom came forth at the appointed time, leaving His heavenly abode and coming down into this poor Earth to seek His Bride that, when He had made her His own, He might lead her back with Himself into His kingdom where He would celebrate the eternal nuptials. This is the triumphant procession of the Bridegroom in all His beauty (Psalms xliv. 5), a procession of which the Prophet Micheas, when speaking of his passing through Bethlehem, says that his going forth is from the days of eternity (Michaes v. 2). Yes, truly from the days of eternity, for as we are taught by the sublime principles of Catholic theology, the connection between the eternal procession of the divine Persons and the temporal mission is so intimate that one same eternity unites the two together in God: eternally, the Trinity has beheld the ineffable birth of the Only Begotten Son in the bosom of the Father. Eternally, with the same look, it has beheld Him coming as Spouse from that same Father’s bosom.
If we now come to compare the eternal decrees of God one with the other, it is not difficult to recognise which of them holds the chief place and, as such, comes first in the divine intention of creation. God the Father has made all things with a view to this union of human nature with His Son — union so close, that, for one individual member of that nature, it was to go so far as a personal identification with the Only Begotten of the Father. So universal, too, was the union to be, that all the members were to partake of it, in a greater or less degree. Not one single individual of the race was to be excluded, except through his own fault, from the divine nuptials with eternal Wisdom which was made visible in a Man, the most beautiful above all the children of men (Psalms lxiv. 2). For as the Apostle says, “God, who heretofore commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has Himself shined in our hearts, giving them the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in and by the face of Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians iv. 6). So that the mystery of the Marriage-Feast is, in all truth, the mystery of the world and the kingdom of Heaven is well likened to a King who made a Marriage for his Son (Matthew xxii. 1-14).
But where is the meeting between the King’s Son and his Betrothed to take place? Where is this mysterious union to be completed? Who is there to tell us what is the dowry of the Bride, the pledge of the alliance? Is it known who is the Master who provides the nuptial banquet, and what sorts of food will be served to the guests? The answer to these questions is given this very day throughout the Earth. It is given with loud triumphant joy. There can be no mistake. It is evident from the sublime message which Earth and Heaven re-echo, that He who is come is the Divine Word. He is adorable Wisdom, and is come forth from His royal abode to utter His voice in our very streets, and cry out at the head of multitudes, and speak His words in the entrance of city gates (Proverbs i. 20, 21). He stands on the top of the highest places by the way, in the midst of the paths, and makes Himself heard by the sons of men (Proverbs viii. 1-4). He bids His servants go to the tower and the city walls, with this His message: “Come! Eat my Bread, and drink the Wine which I have mingled for you; for Wisdom has built herself a House, supported on seven pillars; there she has slain her victims, mingled her wine, and set forth her table (Proverbs ix. 1-5): all things are ready; come to the marriage!” (Matthew xxii. 4).
Epistle – 1 Corinthians xi. 23‒29
Brethren, for I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread, and giving thanks, broke it and said: “Take and eat: this is my body which will be delivered for you: do this in commemoration of me.” In like manner, also, the chalice, after He had supped, saying: “This chalice is the new testament in my blood: do this, as often as you will drink, in commemoration of me. For as often as you will eat this bread and drink the chalice, you will show the death of the Lord until he comes.” Therefore, whoever eats this bread or drinks the chalice of the Lord unworthily, will be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But, let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice. For he who eats and drinks unworthily, eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Dom Prosper Gueranger:
The Holy Eucharist, both as Sacrifice and Sacrament, is the very centre of the Christian religion, and therefore our Lord would have a fourfold testimony to be given in the inspired writings to its Institution. Besides the account given by Saints Matthew, Mark and Luke, we have also that of Saint Paul, which has just been read to us, and which he received from the lips of Jesus Himself, who vouchsafed to appear to him after his conversion, and instruct him.
Saint Paul lays particular stress on the power given by our Lord to His disciples of renewing the act which He Himself had just been doing. He tells us what the Evangelists had not explicitly mentioned that as often as a Priest consecrates the Body and Blood of Christ, he show (he announces) the Death of the Lord. And by that expression tells us that the Sacrifice of the Cross, and that of our Altars, is one and the same. It is likewise by the immolation of our Redeemer on the Cross, that the Flesh of this Lamb of God is truly meat, and His Blood truly drink, as we will be told in a few moments by the Gospel. Let not the Christian, therefore, forget it, not even on this day of festive triumph. The Church insists on the same truth in her Collect of this Feast: it is the teaching which she keeps repeating, through this formula, throughout the entire Octave: and her object in this is to impress vividly on the minds of her children this, the last and earnest injunction of our Jesus: “As often as you will drink of this cup of the new Testament, do it for the commemoration of me.” The selection she makes of this passage of Saint Paul for the Epistle should impress the Christian with this truth — that the divine Flesh which feeds his soul, was prepared on Calvary and that, although the Lamb of God is now living and impassible, He became our food, our nourishment, by the cruel death which He endured. The sinner who has made his peace with God will partake of this sacred Body with deep compunction, reproaching himself for having shed its Blood by his sins: the just man will approach the holy Table with humility, remembering how he too has had but too great a share in causing the innocent Lamb to suffer and that if he be at present in the state of grace, he owes it to the Blood of the Victim, whose Flesh is about to be given to him for his nourishment.
But let us dread, and dread above all things, the sacrilegious daring spoken against in such strong language by our Apostle — and which, by a monstrous contradiction, would attempt to put again to death Him who is the Author of Life. And this attempt to be made in the very banquet which was procured for us men by the Precious Blood of this Saviour! “Let a man prove himself,” says the Apostle, “and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of the chalice.” This proving one’s self is sacramental confession, which must be made by him who feels himself guilty of a grievous sin which has never before been confessed. However sorry he may be for it, were he even reconciled to God by an act of perfect contrition, the injunction of the Apostle, interpreted by the custom of the Church and the decisions of her Councils, forbids his approaching the holy Table until he has submitted his sin to the power of the Keys.
Sequence of Corpus Christi
Praise your Saviour, O Sion! Praise your Guide and Shepherd, in hymns and canticles. As much as you have power, so also dare; for He is above all praise, nor can you praise Him enough.
This day, there is given to us a special theme of praise—the living and life-giving Bread, which, as our faith assures us, was given to the Twelve brethren, as they sat at the Table of the holy Supper.
Let our praise be full, let it be sweet; let our soul’s jubilee be joyous, let it be beautiful; for we are celebrating that great day, on which is commemorated the first institution of this Table.
In this Table of the new King, the new Pasch of the new Law puts an end to the old Passover. Newness puts the old to flight, and so does truth the shadow; the light drives night away.
What Christ did at that Supper, that He said was to be done in remembrance of Him. Taught by His sacred institutions, we consecrate the Bread and Wine into the Victim of Salvation.
This is the dogma given to Christians — that bread passes into flesh, and wine into blood. What you understand not, what you see not — that let a generous faith confirm you in, beyond nature’s course.
Under the different species — which are signs not things — there hidden lie things of infinite worth. The Flesh is food, the Blood is drink; yet Christ is whole, under each species.
He is not cut by the receiver, nor broken, nor divided: He is taken whole. He is received by one, He is received by a thousand; the one receives as much as all; nor is He consumed, who is received.
The good receive, the bad receive — but with the difference of life or death. ’Tis death to the bad, ’tis life to the good: lo! how unlike is the effect of the one like receiving.
And when the Sacrament is broken, waver not! but remember, that there is as much under each fragment, as is hid under the whole.
Of the substance that is there, there is no division; it is but the sign that is broken and He who is the Signified, is not thereby diminished, either as to state or stature.
Lo! the Bread of Angels is made the food of pilgrims; verily, it is the Bread of the children, not to be cast to dogs.
It is foreshown in figures—when Isaac is slain, when the Paschal Lamb is prescribed, when Manna is given to our fathers.
O good Shepherd! True Bread! Jesus! have mercy on us: feed us, defend us: give us to see good things in the land of the living.
O You, who know and can do all things, who feeds us mortals here below, make us your companions in the banquet yonder above, and your joint-heirs, and fellow-citizens with the Saints! Amen. Alleluia.
Gospel – John vi. 56‒59
At that time Jesus said to the multitude of the Jews, “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father has sent me, and I live by the Father; so, he who eats me, the same, also, will live by me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna and are dead. He who eats this bread will live forever.”
Praise be to you, O Christ.
Dom Prosper Gueranger:
The beloved Disciple could not remain silent on the Mystery of Love. But, at the time when he wrote his Gospel, the institution of the Eucharist had been sufficiently recorded by the three Evangelists who had preceded him, as also by the Apostle of the Gentiles. Instead, therefore, of repeating what these had written, he completed it by relating the solemn promise made by Jesus on the banks of Lake Tiberias a year before the Last Supper. He was surrounded by the thousands who were in admiration at his having miraculously multiplied the loaves and fishes: Jesus takes the opportunity of telling them that He Himself is the true bread come down from Heaven, and which, unlike the manna given to their fathers by Moses, could preserve man from death. Life is the best of all gifts, as death is the worst of evils. Life exists in God as in its source (Psalms xxxv. 10). He alone can give it to whom He pleases, and restore it to him who has lost it. Man, who was created in grace, lost his life when he sinned, and incurred death. But God so loved the world, as to send it, lost as it was, His Son (John iii. 16) with the mission of restoring man to life. True God of true God, Light of Light, the Only Begotten Son is, likewise, true Life of true Life, by nature: and, as the Father enlightens them that are in darkness, by this Son, who is His Light, so, likewise, He gives life to them that are dead, and He gives it to them in this same Son of His, who is His living Image.
The Word of God, then, came among men, that they might have life, and abundant life (John x. 10). And whereas it is the property of food to increase and maintain life, therefore did He become our Food, our living and life-giving Food, which has come down from Heaven. Partaking of the life eternal which He has in His Father’s bosom, the Flesh of the Word communicates this same life to them that eat It. That, (as Saint Cyril of Alexandria observes) which, of its own nature, is corruptible, cannot be brought to life in any other way, than by its corporal union with the body of Him who is life by nature: now, just as two pieces of wax melted together by the fire make but one, so are we and Christ made one by our partaking of His Body and Blood. This life, therefore, which resides in the Flesh of the Word, made ours within us, will be no more overcome by death. On the day appointed, this life will throw off the chains of the old enemy and will triumph over corruption in these our bodies, making them immortal. Hence it is, that the Church, with her delicate feelings both as Bride and Mother, selects from this same passage of Saint John, her Gospel for the daily Mass of the Dead, thus drying up the tears of the living who are mourning over their departed friends, and consoling them by bringing them into the presence of the holy Host, which is the source of true life, and the centre of all our hopes. Thus was it to be, that not only the soul was to be renewed by her contact with the Word, but even the body, earthly and material as it is, was to share, in its way, of what our Saviour called the Spirit that quickens (John vi. 64).
“They,” as Saint Gregory of Nyssa has so beautifully said, “who have been led by an enemy’s craft to take poison, neutralise, by some other potion, the power which would cause death. And as was the deadly, so likewise the curative must be taken into the very bowels of the sufferer, that so the efficacy of that which brings relief may permeate through the whole body. Thus we, having tasted that which ruined our nature, require a something which will restore and put to right that which was disordered and that, when this salutary medicine will be within us, it may, as an antidote, drive out the mischief of the poison, which had previously been taken into the body. And what is this (salutary medicine)? No other than that Body, which had both been shown to be stronger than death, and was the beginning of our life. For, says the Apostle, as a little leaven makes the whole paste to be like itself, so, likewise, that Body, which God had willed should be put to death, when it is within ours, transmutes and transfers it wholly to Itself… Now, the only way by which a substance may be thus got into the body, is by its being taken as food and drink.” (source)
May you have a good day on this great feast!
~Image, top of post: painting by Carl Emil Doepler (b. 1824- d. 1905), Corpus Christi procession, source.