“Corpus Christi” is a Latin term for “Body of Christ.” It speaks of a mystery and as such is impossible to explain in the world of physical reality. The actual feast was promulgated in the Church in the thirteenth century by Pope Urban IV at the urging of Saint Thomas Aquinas to celebrate the real presence (“body and blood, soul and divinity”) of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. The roots of the feast, however, go back all the way to the meal that Jesus celebrated with his closest associates before his death. We call it “the Last Supper.” Today’s lectionary readings include the testimony of St Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians where he writes:
I received from the Lord what I handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night before he was handed over, took bread, and, after he had given thanks, broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in in remembrance of me.”
From this testimony has come the doctrine of “the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist.” Not just a symbol, Catholic teaching says, but real presence. How are we to interpret such a mystery?
It may seem irreverent to speak of the great mystery of this feast with reference to the story of The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams but somehow it seems to make sense to me today. “What is real?” said the Rabbit to the Skin Horse one day? “Real isn’t how you are made ,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
At the Last Supper, it seems that Jesus was trying to make his friends understand how much he loved them and had tried to teach them the love that God had for them. He wanted to incarnate that love by giving them his whole self. We cannot understand that gift in a brief encounter. It takes a very long time to experience the depth of a love like that – for it to become real. When it does, it can never be taken away and then we realize that we, too, have become a real presence for the world.