Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. In former times the Feast was known by the name “Corpus Christi” and was often marked in parish communities with processions and other devotional practices that varied according to location and culture. I have fond memories of my childhood, growing up in our rural village in the West of Ireland. Corpus Christi was one of those major events in the year of the community, and lots of people would turn out for the event. And it was quite the event. The local police would seal off the streets of the town and traffic was either diverted or halted outright, as hundreds of people processed through the streets following mass in the parish church. The village was decorated with festive bunting and there were large banners carried by different members of the community for whom it was considered a great honor. These banners were carried by men whose fathers and grandfathers before them had also carried them, and so there was a definite sense of family tradition too. Different organizations and groups within the community had particular responsibilities. The local football club had responsibility for providing stewards to safely guide the process. The local youth group provided basic first aid to any who needed it. The choirs of the parish combined to provide hymns along the route of the procession. Children who made their first communion carried baskets of flower petals which were strewn before the Blessed Sacrament, carried in reverential procession from the church to a purpose-built altar on one of the streets, each street rotating the honor from year to year. There, at the altar, there would take place Eucharistic adoration and benediction, before returning to the parish church. This practice from 40 and more years ago was a profound expression of the living presence of Christ among us. It served to remind us that we are a Eucharistic people.
Times have changed, and we live in a different part of the world with different customs and expressions of community life. The pendulum of church life has swung toward turning our focus on the life of the Body of Christ to a broader understanding of what it means to be a Eucharistic people. While we reverence the blessed sacrament in the Eucharistic species, we are also more attuned to the need for our lives to be conformed to the life of Christ, so that we can witness more effectively what it means for us to be the Body of Christ in our world. We consider different ways of building up our life as a community that is not solely focused on our gathering in Church on a Sunday morning.
As I write, I have just finished reading a thank you letter from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, expressing gratitude to our community for our support of their outreach and hands-on assistance given to people in great need. I just helped to facilitate a connection between a young person in need with a parish organization who can help meet that need. These are living examples of some of our parishioners living what it means to be Eucharist for others, to put flesh on the living presence of Jesus in our own lives. I’m adjusting to the relative ‘quiet’ of the campus now that school is out, but the usual sounds of youth present on our yard also remind me of the vitality of our Eucharistic community here at Lourdes.
A couple of weeks ago I saw parishioners old and new gathered together for our annual Men’s Club golf tournament. People came together, had fun together, and renewed the bonds of fraternity as they played and shared a meal together. Eucharistic living. That same week we celebrated the graduation of the class of 2019 from Our Lady of Lourdes School. Our graduates basked in the warmth and love of proud families who have sacrificed much over the years smiling on at this significant step in the lives of our school students. These graduates remind us of the broader transitions of so many of our parishioners who are taking significant steps in their life’s journey this summer, from elementary to high school, from high school to college, from college to careers… The Body of Christ continues to grow and permeate the broader world.
As I write, we are preparing for our parish’s Jubilee Concert, which will have taken place by the time this is read. I’ve witnessed the rehearsals and planning that has been going into this event, and I see our community growing and being built-up as, people come together, get to know one another, and achieve something together for the good of the broader community. This too is a wonderful expression of the vibrancy of a Eucharistic community.
So here’s my take-away… My memories may turn to former days, and even suggest a certain longing for them, but what I witness, what I see happening around me, reminds me of the living, breathing Body of Christ in our time and in our place. I remember with fondness the Corpus Christi of my youth, but I celebrate with joy the Body of Christ alive in Northridge today.