‘I would like to invite all parishes throughout the Diocese to put Sunday, June 3, the date of next year’s Corpus Christi celebration, in your 2018 calendars....It is more important than ever to restore a sense of the presence of God’s holiness in our midst.’
Corpus Christi, or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, which we just celebrated last weekend, was the fulfillment of one woman's dream.
Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Augustinian nun, had a strong devotion to eucharistic veneration. She had a series of visions over a period of 20 years in which she saw the image of the moon with a dark spot in it, which she interpreted to mean an absence of eucharistic devotion.
Eventually, she told her spiritual director, who advised her to inform her local bishop. He, in turn, began the custom with which we are familiar today.
From personal experience, Juliana and her fellow religious sisters understood the transforming power of God's love in their lives and how this was given a "jump start" through frequent participation in the Holy Eucharist and the practice of eucharistic adoration. It helped her to "fall in love" with God -- particularly in the eucharistic presence of Jesus, the greatest and purest lover.
Naturally, like all people who have an experience of true love, she had to share her joy in it with others. So, she persisted until the practice of celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi became established. By God's grace, we continue it today.
The celebration usually consists of a Mass, followed by a procession around the local neighborhood in which the Blessed Sacrament is carried with reverence. Stations, or stops along the way, are occasions to rest the Blessed Sacrament -- typically enshrined in a monstrance -- on decorative altars prepared by those at whose homes the procession will stop along the way. Hymns and prayers accompanying the blessings are given at each station.
The custom spread quickly throughout the Latin Church and, eventually, the Holy See recognized the feast that came to be held on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Thursday is the day Jesus instituted the Holy Eucharist at the Last Supper. In most United States dioceses, including our own, it is celebrated on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.
I hope that, in some way, your parish honored this practice last Sunday. You can post or comment about that on the diocesan Facebook page if you wish.
Because the focus of the celebration is the eucharistic presence of Christ, no other images or sacred objects for veneration may be carried in the procession - not even a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Banners that identify participating churches or societies are allowed, but should not detract from the eucharistic theme.
In keeping with this tradition, I would like to invite all parishes throughout the Diocese to put Sunday, June 3, the date of next year's Corpus Christi celebration, in your 2018 calendars.
It comes at the end of a period in which many parishes will have celebrated the conferral of the sacrament of confirmation. It's also two weeks after Pentecost Sunday, the birthday of the Church, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles.
One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is what has been called "fear of the Lord." Corpus Christi is an excellent reminder of what this means. It has nothing to do with being afraid that God will do something terrible or frightening to anyone - though God surely gets besieged to do certain things to deal with "people who need to be taught a lesson," in the opinion of some supplicants.
Instead, "fear of the Lord" refers to the rightful awe and reverence that we owe God simply because of who God is and what God does for us. God, our loving Father, sacrificed His only Son for us when our sins were destroying us. This saving and rescuing God did this completely out of a generous and loving heart and deserves our respect and thanks for it.
Christ paid a very high price for our salvation on Good Friday so that we could have the reward He deserved for His holiness, instead of the just consequences we brought on ourselves through sin. Can anyone alive today be blind and insensitive to the presence of evil and sin in and around us? Has there ever been a time in history in which the challenge to respect all human beings seems to be greater?
In our own time, it is more important than ever to restore a sense of the presence of God's holiness in our midst. When we come into God's holy presence, something begins to happen. We are changed by this encounter. However, as St. Teresa of Kolkata often said, it cannot happen unless we give God permission to change us.
A good way to approach God's holy presence is to open one's heart completely to God and ask for the grace to be changed by whatever grace God wants to put there. It might be an attachment to a certain sinful habit, dependency on a certain person or a preoccupation that is draining us of our freedom, time and energy.
We need not wait till tomorrow to do this! Now would be an excellent time for all parishes to restore or increase the practice of eucharistic adoration, creating safe and quiet spaces for everyone to spend time opening our hearts to the Lord's real and loving presence.
Whoever draws close to the holiness of God experiences two things: freedom and personal fulfillment. These are certainly concepts that should not be too difficult for modern people to grasp, although there has been a strange tendency to think of God, or even just the idea of God, as one who limits our choices or restrains our desires -- as if God were some kind of a party pooper.
Just the opposite is true. God takes our deepest passions and longings and liberates them so that they do not become fixated on persons, objects or ideologies -- idols, really -- that cannot really satisfy us.
The Holy Spirit, who is the master of relationships, has a way of "untwisting" our false loves. Sadly, we are often willing to settle for so much less than what our hearts are capable of. Coming into the real presence of God, especially by receiving the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, makes the impossible possible.
It is no exaggeration to say that it brings heaven to earth -- right into the center of our being, our very hearts. Whoever draws into God's holy presence becomes more like God -- more and more able to love like God, the perfect lover. True love is an exhilarating experience. Why not try it for a change?
(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)
(June 22, 2017)