Sunday, 14 June 2009

Adoremus in Aeternum

A suitably impressive procession attended by the Swiss Guard.

Today is Corpus Christi. Ignoring the liturgical vandalism which sees this medieval festival transferred to a Sunday we can nontheless enjoy a time of deep reflection on the nature of the Blessed Sacrament.

The Second Vatican Council admirably defined the Eucharist as the "source and summit of the Christian life." It is virtually impossible to overstate the importance of the Eucharist to Christians. "This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." No real Christian could dare disobey such a direct command from Our Lord, given at such a significant point in the Gospels.

On Corpus Christi, we take time to pray before the Sacrament in the Tabernacle or the Mostrance, but it remains axiomatic that the Sacrament is to be received. The manner in which it is received is particularly interesting.

Nowadays the Host is received with the words "The body of Christ". A very simple statement which testifies to the objective presence of Christ in the elements. The Extraodinary Form of the Mass has the priest give the Host with the words "The body of Our Lord Jesus Christ keep your soul in eternal life." This is a more theologically interesting phrase, as it makes very clear the nature of the sacrament as a pledge of eternal life. St. Ignatius of Antioch spoke of the Eucharist being

"one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death which gives eternal life in Jesus Christ".

Cranmer's Communion service in the BCP goes even further, with bread being handed to the communicant with the words:

The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life. Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving.

The words "given for thee" and "died for thee" remind us of the intimate nature of the Eucharist. We are guests at a banquet, personally invited by the host (no pun intended!).

The Divine Liturgy celebrated in the full splendour of the ancient Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

The personal nature of our reception of the Eucharist is further strengthened in the Byzantine rites employed both by the Orthodox Churches and by the Greek Catholics:

The servant of God N. partaketh of the holy precious body and blood of our Lord and God and Saviour Jesus Christ, unto remission of his sins and unto everlasting life.

Speaking of the Eucharist in the East, it is perhaps useful to remember the Trinitarian nature of the Eucharist, with this quote from St. John Damascene:

"The Holy Spirit comes upon [the elements], and achieves things which surpass every word and thought..."

Just as through the Incarnation of the Word the Trinity was made intelligible to man, so through the Eucharist the Incarnate Word makes the life of the Trinity available for man to receive.

The Holy Spirit... achieves things which surpass every word and thought...

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