Benedict XVI's Corpus Christi Homily

«Jesus Goes Before Us to the Father»

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VATICAN CITY, MAY 30, 2005 ( Here is a translation of the homily Benedict XVI delivered last Thursday during the Mass on the solemnity of Corpus Christ, held in the square of the Basilica of St. John Lateran. Afterward the Pope presided over the Eucharistic procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

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On the feast of Corpus Christi, the Church relives the mystery of Holy Thursday in the light of the resurrection. On Holy Thursday, a Eucharistic procession is also held, with which the Church recalls Jesus’ departure from the Cenacle for the Mount of Olives. In Israel, Passover was celebrated at home, in the intimacy of the family, recalling the first Passover in Egypt, the night that the blood of the paschal lamb, sprinkled on the lintels and doorposts of homes, protected against the executioner. On that night, Jesus went out and handed himself over to the traitor, the executioner and, in this way, he triumphed over night and the darkness of evil. Only thus was the gift of the Eucharist, instituted in the Cenacle, brought to fulfillment. Jesus really gives up his body and blood. Crossing over the threshold of death, he becomes the living Bread, authentic manna, inexhaustible nourishment for ever. His flesh becomes the Bread of life.

During the Holy Thursday procession, the Church accompanies Jesus to the Mount of Olives. The praying Church feels the intense desire to watch with Jesus; not to leave him alone in the night of the world, in the night of betrayal, in the night of the indifference of many. On the feast of Corpus Christi, we resume this procession, but with the joy of the resurrection. The Lord has risen and goes before us. In the accounts of the resurrection there is a common and essential feature. The angels say: The Lord «is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him» (Matthew 28:7). Reflecting on this with greater attention, we can say that this «going before» of Jesus implies a double direction. The first is, as we have heard, Galilee. In Israel, Galilee was considered the gate to the pagan world. And, in fact, precisely in Galilee, on top of the mountain, the disciples saw Jesus, the Lord, who said to them: «Go therefore and make disciples of all nations» (Matthew 28:19).

The other direction in which the Risen One goes before us appears in the Gospel of St. John, in Jesus’ words to Magdalene: «Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father» (John 20:17). Jesus goes before us to the Father, he ascends to God in the highest and invites us to follow him. These two directions of the way of the Risen One are not in contradiction, but together indicate the way to follow Christ. The real end of our journeying is communion with God, God himself is the house of many rooms (cf. John 14:2 and following). But we can only ascend to this room by walking «to Galilee,» walking on the roads of the world, taking the Gospel to all nations, taking the gift of his love to the men of all times. Because of this, the apostles journeying extended «to the end of the earth» (cf. Acts 1:6 and following); this is how Sts. Peter and Paul reached Rome, the city that was then the center of the known world, the genuine «caput mundi.»

The Holy Thursday procession accompanies Jesus in his loneliness to the «via crucis.» The Corpus Christi procession, on the contrary, responds symbolically to the mandate of the Risen One: I go before you to Galilee. Go to the end of the earth, take the Gospel to the world. For faith, the Eucharist is certainly the mystery of intimacy. The Lord instituted the Sacrament in the Cenacle, surrounded by his new family, by the Twelve Apostles, a prefiguration and anticipation of the Church of all times. Because of this, in the liturgy of the early Church, the distribution of Holy Communion was introduced with the words «Sancta sanctis,» the holy gift is destined for those who have remained saints. This was the response to the warning addressed by St. Paul to the Corinthians: «Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself» (1 Corinthians 11:28).

However, from this intimacy, which is an extremely personal gift from the Lord, the force of the sacrament of the Eucharist goes beyond the walls of our churches. In this sacrament, the Lord is always coming to the world. This universal aspect of the Eucharistic presence is shown in the procession of our feast. We take Christ, present in the figure of bread, through the streets of our city. We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness. May our streets be Jesus’ streets! May our homes be homes for him and with him! May his presence penetrate our everyday life. With this gesture, we place before his eyes the sufferings of the sick, the loneliness of youth and the elderly, temptations, fears, our whole life. The procession is intended to be a great and public blessing for our city: Christ is, in person, the divine blessing for the world. May the ray of his blessing extend over all of us!

In the procession of Corpus Christi, we accompany the Risen One on his journey through the whole world, as we have said. And, in this way, we also respond to his mandate: «Take, eat … Drink of it, all of you» (Matthew 26:26 and following). The Risen One, present in the form of bread, cannot be «eaten» as a simple piece of bread. To eat this bread is to commune, it is to enter into communion with the person of the living Lord. This communion, this act of «eating,» is really a meeting between two persons; it is to allow oneself to be penetrated by the life of the One who is Lord, who is my Creator and Redeemer. The purpose of this communion is the assimilation of my life with his, my transformation and configuration with the One who is living Love. Therefore, this communion implies adoration, the will to follow Christ, to follow the One who goes before us. Adoration and procession form part, therefore, of only one gesture of communion. They respond to his mandate: «Take, eat.»

Our procession ends before the Basilica of St. Mary Major, in our meeting with the Virgin, called by the beloved Pope John Paul II the «Eucharistic woman.» Mary, Mother of the Lord, really shows us what it is to enter into communion with Christ: Mary offered her own flesh, her own blood to Jesus and became the living tent of the Word, allowing herself to be penetrated in body and spirit by his presence. Let us ask her, our Holy Mother, to help us to open our being ever more to the presence of Christ, to help us to follow him faithfully, day after day, on the paths of our life. Amen!

[Translation by ZENIT]

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