Take to the Streets This Body of Christ
By James D. Spurgin, MA, Senior Editor for RCL Benziger
Be our acts ones of adoration, hymns, petitions, or processions, the love we have for the Blessed Sacrament has taken us to the streets to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Bread of Eternal Life. This has been the history and is our practice of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi).
While Holy Thursday does commemorate the institution of the Holy Eucharist, the Church joyfully celebrates this institution on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, this year on June 22. At the end of the Late Middle Ages, the earnest petitions of Saint Juliana of Mont-Cornillon influenced the Bishop of Liège in Belgium to establish a liturgical celebration focused on the Body of Christ. By 1264 Pope Urban IV universally decreed this feast day to be celebrated after Trinity Sunday. At the request of the Pope, Thomas Aquinas wrote in Latin the liturgical prayers and hymns for this great solemnity, which include most notably the Lauda Sion, Pange Lingua, and Sacris Solemniis.
Aquinas' prayers and hymns for Corpus Christi emphasize the fullness of Christ being entirely present in this wonderful Sacrament of the Eucharist. In both the Divine Office and the Mass for Corpus Christi, we give thanks and praise to God for this gift of Living Bread from Heaven. And so wonderful is this Bread that we proclaim through public singing the Real Presence of Christ.
Most popular among the prayers and hymns of this solemn feast is probably that part of the Sacris Solemniis, known as Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels). Since set to music by César Franck in 1872, Panis Angelicus has become expected in the repertoire of some of the most famous singers in Classical Music. Some of the popular singers who have recorded Aquinas' hymn set to Franck's composition include Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, Josh Groban, and Charlotte Church.
Clearly the song has touched the hearts of millions, yet I wonder if Saint Thomas Aquinas ever expected the Church's teachings on transubstantiation would become popular in this way. Franck's composition has captured a glimpse of the mystery of the Eucharist in such a way that audiences worldwide, even those of us who do not speak Latin, desire to hear the mystery of Christ's Real Presence, even outside church walls.
And perhaps that is how we should allow ourselves to be transformed by the Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Perhaps this is what Pope Francis meant when he told the Youth in Rio de Janeiro that "the Church [must] go out onto the streets." (Meeting with Young People from Argentina, Address of Pope Francis, World Youth Day, 25 July, 2013) If that Bread of Angels has captivated us, then evermore shall our resolve be to take the Body of Christ to the streets, to the public. If Christ has touched our hearts, then how can we not sing of the Lord from the mountaintops (cf. Isaiah 42:9-11)? We are to embody Christ to others and give nourishment to the poor as humble servants. If we have partaken of the Blessed Sacrament, we become a real presence of Christ in the world. We become the Body of Christ out on the streets.
James D. Spurgin, MA, is a Senior Editor for RCL Benziger. He served as Project Editor on the following RCL Benziger programs: RCL Benziger Family Life, Our Catholic Heritage, and the Be My Disciples Junior High series.