That Bread Is Really Jesus Christ

Rome’s Director of Liturgy Explains Importance and Meaning of Corpus Christi Feast

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By Salvatore Cernuzio

ROME, JUNE 5, 2012 ( This Thursday, Benedict XVI will preside over Holy Mass in the courtyard of Saint John Lateran, and then lead the procession of the Body of Christ to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major.

To prepare for this feast of Corpus Christi, ZENIT interviewed Carmelite Father Giuseppe Midili, director of the Liturgical Office of the Vicariate of Rome.

ZENIT: Corpus Christi celebrates the Eucharist, fulcrum of the Christian faith. What is the meaning of this solemnity?

Father Midili: Eucharist means thanksgiving. Every day, especially on Sunday, the Church gathers to celebrate the holy mysteries and to thank the Father for the gift of his Son, who offered his life in sacrifice for us and merited salvation for us. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord is the liturgical occasion for a special thanksgiving. The Christian community gathers to become conscious that only in the Eucharist does it find the summit and source of its whole life. Every act of faith, every form of piety, of devotion, every form of genuine charity can never do without this sacrament.

ZENIT: The birth of this feast goes back to what date?

Father Midili: The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord was instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV, so that the Christian people could participate with special devotion in the Holy Mass and in the procession, and thus witness their faith in Jesus, who willed to remain present under the species of consecrated bread and wine. In the course of the centuries this solemnity constituted the highest point of Eucharistic devotion, because it united devoted adoration to that original event, which we cannot do without, which is the celebration of the Mass.

ZENIT: The celebration of Corpus Christi at Saint John Lateran was started by John Paul II. Why did he wish to give it such great importance?

Father Midili: Since the year 1979 Pope John Paul II wanted the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord to be celebrated in Rome on Thursday, because in fact on Holy Thursday Jesus gathered his disciples and during the Supper instituted the new and eternal sacrifice, the nuptial banquet of love. On the feast of Corpus Christi this same mystery is proposed for the adoration and meditation of the People of God.

The Pope wished to celebrate in the Cathedral of Rome, together with all the priests and faithful of the city, because the Eucharist is the mystery of communion with God, but also among persons. The best image of the Church, in fact, is that which is constituted around the Bishop to celebrate the divine mysteries, to eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord, to give thanks and thus witness the communion and love that Jesus taught.

ZENIT: Why is this feast in the courtyard of the Basilica of Saint John?

Father Midili: Saint John’s Square is at the same time the courtyard of the Basilica Cathedral of Rome, but it is also the place of public gatherings for the city and for Italy; it is often the scene of concerts, of political events and, unfortunately, also of clashes; it is the Agora of the ancients. It became a symbol of our country, it is a courtyard-square.

To celebrate Holy Mass in such a significant place on the day of the feast of the Eucharist confirms that Jesus is in the midst of his people at every moment of life. He sanctifies the everyday with his presence, sees and heals suffering, he is for all a sign of hope. Jesus is not far from us and from our life, but is always present, he made himself close. We can meet him in the celebrated Eucharist and in the consecrated bread. He comes to meet us.

ZENIT: The procession, led by the Holy Father is an event of great impact whose central idea is that “Christ walks in our midst.”

Father Midili: The Holy Mass and procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord is a unique event, which manifests the Church as Church. It is the feast of the gathered community. Believers come together to celebrate the sacrifice of Christ and, in the celebration, they thank God for all that they have received. The best image of the Church is the one gathered around her bishop to celebrate the holy mysteries, to eat and drink the Body and Blood of the Lord, to give thanks and thus witness the communion and love that Jesus has taught us.

Adoration is the continuation of the celebrated Eucharist, testimony of love and faith toward Jesus, prolongation of the thanksgiving after every Holy Communion. Once again the Church identifies herself with the journeying people, who follow their Master. The experience of the disciples of Emmaus is repeated, who travel a way with Jesus and listen to him while he instructs them. In the Eucharistic procession the community journeys with Jesus, but does not recognize him more while he breaks the bread. We recognize the Master present in that bread.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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