We have now reached the final reflection in our four-part series on Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s Eucharistic homilies. This homily is entitled, What Corpus Christi Means to Me: Three Meditations. It is unclear when and where this homily was given or if the three meditations were perhaps even separate homilies at one point. Regardless, the three meditations are presented together as the fourth Eucharistic homily in his collected works on the theology of the liturgy. The reflections are a bit long, so I will draw out the key points as they relate to our focus on Eucharistic revival.
After reviewing the Church’s various approaches to the feast of Corpus Christi since the feast’s inception, Ratzinger directs our attention to how the Council of Trent addressed the feast and how it relates to us in modern times. “It [Trent] said that the purpose of Corpus Christi was to arouse gratitude in the hearts of men and to remind them of their common Lord,” (Decr. De sc. Eucharistia – session 13, October 11, 1551). From this statement, Ratzinger extracts three purposes:
Corpus Christi is to counter man’s forgetfulness, to elicit his thankfulness, and it has something to do with fellowship, with the unifying power which is at work where people are looking for the one Lord.
Ratzinger laments that in our modern times, the busyness of our lives and the access provided to us by technology have left us “appallingly thoughtless and forgetful.” He says that we have transitioned our awareness from the depths of our souls to that which is superficial, causing us to lack real authenticity. I don’t know about you, but not only can I see this happening around me, I can relate to it myself. Because of this superficiality, Ratzinger says we’ve lost our connection to our relationship with time. We want to forget that we will one day grow old and die and we romanticize the future. We try to master our time through our schedules, forgetting that time is a gift and one for which we ought to be grateful in the present moment.
Going back to the three purposes of the Council of Trent’s statement on the feast of Corpus Christi, we now see that the Eucharist restores our relationship to time. First, by focusing on the truth of the Eucharist, we let go of the superficialites of the world that have caused us to be forgetful of the deeper realities of our souls, which ought to be oriented to their eternal end instead of being preoccupied with things that are temporal and fleeting. Secondly, from this renewed perspective on time, a renewed sense of thankfulness should spring forth. The Eucharist is a physical reminder that Jesus has conquered death and has therefore provided us with the opportunity for eternal fulfillment and happiness. What more is there to be thankful for? Finally, the Eucharist unites us in fellowship with one another as we move from the superficial to the authentic soul within each human person while we work together toward our goal of eternal salvation.
For his second meditation on Corpus Christi, Ratzinger focuses on the Eucharistic procession. He explains that processing with the Eucharist may seem counterintuitive at times because it might make more sense for us to process to the Eucharist instead. After all, we spend most of our time moving to the Eucharist as we travel to the chapel to meet Jesus in adoration or to the church on Sunday for Mass to receive Him in the Eucharist. We find that processing with the Eucharist becomes fitting when we realize that, throughout human history, man’s relationship to God is not a private affair, but one that needs to be expressed in a community of those who share in that relationship with God.
Ratzinger then recounts two specific events in the gospels where the people processed with Jesus. The first is on Palm Sunday, when the people join Jesus on His procession into the holy city of Jerusalem in joy and triumph. The second is His solemn procession to Calvary, where He carries His cross and meets His death. Ratzinger links these two processions with the Eucharist, stating that Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem immediately precedes His cleansing of the temple before instituting the Eucharist on Holy Thursday at the Last Supper. Then, with the procession of His passion, He offers up His body, which will then become the Eucharist in which all may partake as they commemorate His sacrifice. Both processions—Palm Sunday and Good Friday—take place publicly, with vast crowds of people, not privately for a privileged few. Thus, we are also invited to participate in the public procession of the Eucharist, illustrating both our joy in the presence of our King and in solidarity and thanksgiving through the passion and death He suffered for our sakes.
Ratzinger’s third and final meditation on the feast of Corpus Christi is rather short and sweet. He explains how the liturgical calendar and the Church’s feast days “make present the mystery of Christ.” Each feast day highlights a particular aspect of the truth of who God is and what He has done for us. The feast of Corpus Christi comes in the spring after Easter and Pentecost, mirroring our seasonal calendar in which we have periods of seed planting and periods of harvesting. Placing Corpus Christi at this time is logical and fitting because it draws our attention to the way in which God uses the earthly signs of bread and fruit to communicate His grace to us. It is in the Eucharist that heaven and Earth meet and in the person of Jesus Christ that God and man have become one.
Corpus Christi also falls near the Feast of the Trinity, which Ratzinger also claims is fitting due to the Trinitarian nature of relationship and love. The Trinity is a self-sufficient relationship in which love is the only means of communication. Ratzinger explains that in a practical sense, saying, “Only because he himself is in relationship can we relate to him; only because he is love can he love and be loved in return.” In other words, because we are made in His image and likeness, our ability to exist in relationships and experience love is because He is relationship and love. The feast of Corpus Christi emphasizes the mystery of transubstantiation, in which bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. We give our assent to this truth in faith, which is an expression of our love for God. Therefore, like transubstantiation, love transforms us. When we experience God’s divine love for us in the Eucharist, we are profoundly transformed at our very core as we partake in the divine relationship that is the Trinity.
This week, contemplate how these three distinct mediations on the Eucharist work together. Can you turn your gaze from worldly preoccupations and your perspective on time into a focused effort to walk and process with Jesus, opening yourself to be radically transformed by His love as you do? The next time you receive the Eucharist or visit the Blessed Sacrament in adoration, realize you are in a place where time and eternity, heaven and earth, and God and man, all meet. It’s a gift of love meant for you. Receive this gift with joy and thanksgiving!
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