When my nephews were a lot younger they liked to help me when I washed my truck my nephew Owen especially liked to help. Now that they’re all teenagers they’re not as helpful. I remember this one instance with Owen, we sprayed, we soaped, we wiped, we armoralled, we windexed, and at last we waxed every square inch of my truck. It was so shiny. Owen was impressed with the shine and he kept looking at his reflection. If you’ve ever looked at your reflection in a newly polished car door you’ll remember that everything is distorted. It’s like looking at your reflection in a funhouse mirror. Owen looked at himself in the shine of the door and saw a shorter and much much wider version of himself. Owen then shouted out to me pointing at the truck, “Uncle Chris, look at me, look at my reflection, I look just like Grandma.” His reflection did sort of look like my Mom. Children have a way of speaking the truth; sometimes it can be funny but sometimes it can be quite profound.
Years ago when I was still a seminarian I had to find some altar boys for a morning Mass. I found two young boys, they were brothers. One had served before the other hadn’t. I told the one who hadn’t to just follow the lead of his older brother. They did a great job. The younger brother followed his brother’s lead perfectly. At Communion time they both received the Sacred Host. After Mass the younger brother excitedly ran back to his Mom saying, “I ate God, I ate God.” Unknowingly the priest had given this younger brother his First Holy Communion. He was only in first grade. But in his excitedly spoken three words, “I ate God” this first grader spoke a profound and ancient truth.
This Solemnity today, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ was given to us back in the 13th century by Pope Urban IV. And he gave the Church this solemnity in part because of a theologian by the name of Berengarius. Berengarius was a wayward theologian and had taught against the true presence of our Lord in the Eucharist. And many people were coming to take for granted the Eucharist. They were beginning to doubt and disbelieve, even some priests. As you can imagine the Pope did not want this. He wanted more reverence and more piety in regards to the Eucharist he wanted everyone to believe in the real presence and to help us he gave us this feast we celebrate today.
Now at this same time period there was a priest by the name of Fr. Peter of Prague, he was making a pilgrimage to Rome. And like many people of the time he harbored great doubt about the True Presence, of Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. But he was still faithful to his priestly duties and to celebrating Mass every day. So as he was making his way to Rome he stopped at a small church to celebrate Mass, this was just outside of the city of Orvieto, Italy. He dutifully and carefully celebrated Mass but with all the doubts he harbored it was a very distracted Mass for him. He kept thinking over and over, “Am I doing this for nothing?” “Is this real?” “Am I really offering to the Father the sacrifice of the real body and blood of Jesus? Is this really Calvary made present to me?” But then after the consecration, a miracle happened, the host began to bleed, the blood dripped down his hands and arms and unto the corporal linen that lay on the altar. As with all Masses Calvary was made present. Fr. Peter was amazed, all doubt evaporated. He ran to the city of Orvieto where coincidentally Pope Urban IV was staying. He found the Pope and confessed his doubt and the miracle that wiped all the doubt away. The Pope sent a delegation to investigate. This was Heavenly confirmation, and so the feast we celebrate today was instituted the following year of 1263. The Corporal linen stained with the blood is still on display in the Cathedral of Orvieto.
The ultimate purpose of all of God’s saving deeds is to elevate us to the status of his adopted sons and daughters. The early Christians would say of Christ: “He became man so that we might become gods!” God wants to share his divine life with us. Our Lord says to us, “You will not change me into yourself, but, you will be changed into me.” And this is made concrete and tangible and possible for us in the Sacrament that we celebrate today and every day. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. The one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” If we let him, if we are prepared, the Eucharist draws us directly and intimately into the divine life of the Holy Trinity. Venial sins are purged, virtues are increased, and our souls are filled with spiritual gifts. The humble servant feeds upon his Lord!
When Pope Urban IV created this Solemnity he envisioned processions where the Blessed Sacrament would be carried solemnly through the streets of cities and towns. Bringing our Lord into the ordinariness of our daily life, because He walks where we walk, and He lives where we live and as we walk on the streets of this earth, we know that He is at our side always. He walks among us to guide us to Heaven. In Orvieto, Italy this morning there was a two hour long procession and during those two hours only two stops were made. The first was the convent of cloistered Carmelite nuns, who aren’t allowed to go out, and the second stop was at the local prison. At both of these stops the Cardinal carrying the Monstrance offers special prayers and blessings. In these two stops we are reminded that our Eucharistic Lord comes to every one of us. He comes to both saints and sinners alike. The love of Christ is intended for all.
At the end of Mass along with that first grader we can say, “I ate God” but it doesn’t end there because we bring him into the World, which is in desperate need of knowing Him. And even if we don’t take part in an organized solemn procession, every time we leave Mass we in a real and profound way are processing out bringing our Lord into the World.
“When you have received the Eucharist, stir up your heart to do him homage; speak to Him about your spiritual life, gazing upon Him in your soul where He is present for your happiness; welcome Him as warmly as possible, and behave outwardly in such a way that your actions may give proof to all of His presence.”
St. Francis de Sales
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley