Updated: Jul 3, 2021
Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
Today, we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as the feast of Corpus Christi. As Catholics, we believe that the Eucharist is Jesus Christ, himself. At every Mass, when the priest pronounces the words: “This is my Body,” “This is my Blood,” bread and wine are transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
The greatest thinkers in the world have wrestled with how to express this mystery, which we call transubstantiation, by which the substance of bread and wine changes into Jesus, but the accidents of bread and wine remain.
If certain philosophically charged terms seem a bit confusing, it might help to “modernize” our language a bit. The words substance and accidents can be readily translated as: reality and appearances. Usually, reality and appearance coincide, but we all know that’s not always the case.
For example, it might appear that the sun moves across the sky, but the reality is that our world is rotating. It might appear like we look up into the night sky and see the stars as they are; but the reality is that we’re seeing the past when we look at the stars, because it takes time for starlight to actually reach us. Someone might appear to be an unfriendly person at first, but in reality, that person might actually be really nice. Reality and appearance don’t always coincide.
That’s how it is when it comes to the Eucharist. Jesus might appear to be bread and wine, but the reality is, that’s Jesus. That is our God, whom we worship, which is why we kneel down at a certain time in Mass. That’s why we strive to receive the Eucharist worthily. That's why we take our time purifying the vessels after Communion; the smallest drop from the chalice and the smallest fragment of the Eucharist is Jesus.
I know that appearances can sometimes be obstacles to faith. At least, that was the case with a certain priest, whose doubt is closely associated with the origin of this solemnity we celebrate today.
In the year 1263, there was a priest from Prague who was traveling to Rome on a pilgrimage. He stopped by the town of Bolsena, which is about seventy miles north of Rome. While celebrating the Holy Mass there, above the tomb of Saint Christina, he had barely pronounced the words of consecration, when the bread visibly turned into flesh and began to bleed. Drops of blood fell onto the corporal, which is the small white cloth that is placed upon the altar.
Confused, the priest initially tried to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass, and asked to be taken to the nearby town of Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was residing at the time. The priest confessed to the Pope that he had been having doubts about the real presence of Jesus Christ as the Holy Eucharist.
With this doubt in his soul, when that priest had said the words of consecration, “Hoc est enim Corpus Meum… Hic est enim calix Sánguinis Mei…” (“This is my Body… This is my blood…”), it was then that the miracle had taken place.
The Pope listened to the priest’s account and absolved him. Then he sent emissaries for an immediate investigation. After reviewing their findings, he ordered the bishop of that diocese to bring the Host and the linen cloth bearing the stains of blood to Orvieto. And with archbishops, cardinals and other Church dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession on the way; and with great joy and celebration, he placed the relics in the Cathedral of Orvieto, where they can still be viewed and venerated today. I had a chance to see those relics personally over a decade ago.
The legend says that it was this miracle that prompted the Pope to commission Saint Thomas Aquinas to compose for a Mass and an Office honoring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ. You might be familiar with certain traditional Catholic hymns, like the: O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum Ergo; and one of my personal favorites, the Adoro te Devote. You’ve heard that one in English after Communion on a number of occasions.
These were all composed over 750 years ago by Saint Thomas Aquinas himself. And in the following year, Pope Urban IV introduced the Saint Thomas’ composition, and instituted the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
This is just one account of a Eucharistic miracle. There are many other accounts of miracles involving the Blessed Sacrament, some more famous than others: from Siena, Amsterdam, Blanot, Lanciano, Bolsena.
But we have no need to travel to far off places to witness a Eucharistic miracle. At every Mass, bread and wine are transformed into the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: there is nothing more intimate in our life of faith, than to receive Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. There is no blessing greater than receiving Jesus in the Eucharist. Receiving communion is the summit and perfection of our faith in this world.
In this mass, may we increase in our devotion to Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, and may we receive him with believing hearts. May God bless you.