Spiritual Life

Feast of Corpus Christi fosters faith in the Real Presence

The feast we celebrate this Sunday – Corpus Christi, or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ – is an ancient one, originating in 1264. The prior 100 years had undergone a threat to the belief of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, namely through the Albigensian heresy.

In response, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast we celebrate today. He commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to write the office for the liturgies of this feast. The hymns he wrote are the ones we are so familiar with today: “Pangue Lingua,” “Tantum Ergo,” and “Panis Angelicus,” to name a few.

Today we face a crisis similar to what Pope Urban and St. Thomas Aquinas faced in the 13th century. A 2019 Pew Research poll indicated that just one-third of U.S. Catholics believe what the church teaches on the Holy Eucharist. Shortly after the poll was published, priests and bishops were asking, “What can we do to reverse this trend?”

The Gospel we read today couldn’t be more clear. In his “Bread of Life Discourse” given in Capernaum, Jesus says, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (Jn 6:54). The Eucharist is not a symbol or a sign, but truly his flesh and truly his blood.

Maybe these past three months have brought part of the answer to this crisis of faith. Just as one only really appreciates water when he is parched by thirst, so too our hunger for the flesh and blood of Jesus seemed to increase during this time. Yes, we yearn for community. We have been praying our “Act of Spiritual Communion.” Yet, that longing we have to receive the Eucharist would not exist for a symbol – as if we were longing for Easter lilies or a Christmas tree. This is the type of longing a wife has when her husband has been shipped off to war: a longing for communion with a person.

The Lord provided this Feast of Corpus Christi especially through the hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas to restore the church’s faith in his precious Body and Blood. I pray that a parish priest writing for his diocesan paper 800 years from now may look back at our time and see how a pandemic brought a resurgence of eucharistic faith in the Catholic Church.

Father Joseph Sund is associate pastor at St. Patrick Parish in O’Neill, St. Joseph Mission in Amelia, Sacred Heart Parish in Boyd County, St. Boniface Parish in Stuart and St. Joseph Parish in Atkinson.