Today Catholic Christians celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, sometimes called “Corpus Christi.”
In today’s selection from the Gospel of Mark, we read,
While they were eating, he [Jesus] took the bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them and said, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, “This is my blood of the covenant which will be shed for many. Amen, I say to you, I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Then, after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives (Mark 14: 22-26).
This feast day came into the Catholic Church in the 13th century. The purpose of the feast is to celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus in the consecrated elements of bread and wine. We call the consecrated elements Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, and sometimes Eucharist, though the word “Eucharist” is also used to describe the entire Mass.
In Catholic churches throughout the world, a lit sanctuary lamp indicates that Jesus is really present in the church building. In our church, the lamp is red.
Before discussing some important things we should learn about this feast, let’s look at a man whose love for the Blessed Sacrament was so great, that he is sometimes known as an “Apostle of the Holy Eucharist.” His name was Peter Julian Eymard.
Peter was born in the French Alps on February 4, 1811. His father was a metal smith whose second wife was Peter’s mother. From the time he was a small boy, Peter had a great devotion to Mary and Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
When he was five years old, Peter Julian disappeared from home. After frantically searching for him, his sisters found him in the parish church standing on a stool close to the tabernacle. When they asked what he was doing, he said, “I am here listening to Jesus.”
Peter Julian grew up during the Industrial Revolution, a time when men were taken away from the warmth and security of their homes and families to work in impersonal, mechanized factories. Also during this time, a terrible religious movement called Jansenism was infecting the Catholic Church in France. This movement focused on the sinfulness of human beings, and this led to the idea that people should avoid receiving Holy Communion because they were unworthy. This toxic religious movement eventually spread to other countries of the world such as Ireland, Mexico, and the United States.
As a result of Jansenism, poor Peter Julian struggled his whole life, trying to become worthy enough for Jesus. Perhaps this contributed to his lifelong problem with migraine headaches.
Peter was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Grenoble in 1834 and served as a parish priest in two different parishes. However, Fr. Peter found he did not like being a parish priest very much. So, in 1837, Fr. Peter entered the Society of Mary – Marists.
As a Marist priest, Fr. Peter was very successful. However, in 1855, Peter found himself in trouble with his Marist superiors. The problem was that he tried to start a separate fraternity within the Order dedicated to promoting adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. The Marist leaders, however, said this was not part of the Marist charism – or special mission – so they nixed that idea.
Finally, Fr. Peter left the Marist order to found a new community of priests dedicated to adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. In 1856, the Paris bishops consented to Fr. Peter’s order, and the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament was born. In 1858, along with Marguerite Guillot, he founded the Servants of the Blessed Sacrament, a contemplative congregation for women. Fr. Peter is famous for saying, “You take communion to become holy, not because you already are.”
Fr. Peter died on August 1, 1868 and was canonized on December 9, 1962. His feast day is August 2nd.
From the Scripture of today and Church teaching, and from the life of St. Peter Julian Eymard, we can learn many things about the Blessed Sacrament. Here are just three.
First, as the Church Fathers reminded us at the Second Vatican Council, Jesus is really present in 4 ways at every Eucharist (Mass). He is present in: the assembly; the presider (or priest who is celebrating the Mass); the proclaimed Scripture; and the consecrated bread and wine.
Second, as St. Peter Julian Eymard said, we take Communion to become holy, not because we already are.
Third, if you are of age to receive Communion and there is an obstacle preventing you from receiving Communion in the Catholic Church, please make an appointment with the priest to see how you can eliminate this obstacle from your life.
As we continue our life journeys this week, it would be a good idea to reflect on this amazing gift Jesus gave us – his very self in the Blessed Sacrament.
And that is the good news I have for you on this Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, 2018.
- “Saint Peter Julian Eymard.” Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, 2018.
- Wikipedia Contributors. “Peter Julian Eymard.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, 9 January 2018.