Christ in Our Neighborhood
The feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of the Lord, brings with it one of the most vibrant Catholic traditions of all time, the practice of Eucharistic Adoration, and of the Eucharistic Procession. While for those familiar with the Church and her customs, this beautiful habit of our might seem commonplace, it never fails to impress or confuse the unfamiliar. Why is it that we would walk about with a Communion Host? Why parade the Eucharist around the Church or outside into the streets? Even for those who understand that the Eucharist really is, as Christ taught, the body and blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Himself, this practice can seem strange. What are we doing, dragging our God out into the uncertain world when He comes to us as our food? As the Orthodox often ask Catholics: why look at Him when we are supposed to consume Him reverently?
Part of the answer to this question is historical. The feast of Corpus Christi and the accompanying devotion of Eucharistic Adoration came about at a time when Christians would rarely receive Communion at Sunday Mass. While they were bound to be present and pray each week at Mass, and many would demand that priests find excuses to offer Mass each day—a practice that was usually not permitted in the ancient Church—lay people would often receive the Eucharist only once or twice a year, at Easter and perhaps Christmas. This reception of Communion would be preceded by confession, fasting, and days of spiritual preparation, out of an abundance of reverence for the real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. In the place of receiving Jesus in the Host, Catholics who still wished to be as close to Him as possible would ask to see the Him for extended periods of time, demanding that the priests hold the Host up longer at the consecration of the Mass, and eventually, display it for worship outside of the Mass.
Of course, though the historical reasons for Adoration no longer apply, since people now receive with frequency, preparing themselves with much more frequent confessions, there are still plenty of reasons it is still fitting for us to adore the Eucharist outside of Mass, taking Him on procession around our Church and through our neighborhood.
The first, and perhaps most important, is that Adoration is one of the best ways we can live the life of heaven here on Earth. We know that the greatest joy of eternity will be the vision of God, and that we will spend our heaven looking at Him face-to-face, so to spend time simply looking at Him in the Eucharist is a close analog to the life we long for as Christians. It is practice for the greatest joy a soul could ever receive.
Second, by bringing the Lord on procession, we acknowledge His right to rule over all things. When He passes through our streets, He does so as the King of Kings, simply taking possession of what was already His, and blessing what He created out of love. When anything in this world is subjected to Christ, it finds its true purpose, and becomes what it ought to be, in freedom and in peace.
Third and finally, we are reminded by Adoration and Eucharistic processions that Christ cares for even the small and daily details of our existence, coming to us where we are in order to save us. The Lord makes Himself present not only in the Holy Land, not only in Rome, not only at the Cathedral, but even in our own neighborhood, in our own parish church, in the midst of our homes, schools, businesses, and parks, to live with us here, and help us find holiness right where we are.
This Corpus Christi, as we receive the Lord and even simply honor Him when we see the Sacred Host, let’s make sure that we really do open every aspect of our lives to His gentle governance and saving presence, clearing away any obstacle to a union of love. He brings all that is good and beautiful, and takes nothing of what is for our best. May He find in each of our hearts a generous welcome.