In 1928, Myles Connolly published a small novel entitled Mr. Blue. A compliment to G.K. Chesterton’s life of Saint Francis of Assisi and as a sort of anti-Gatsby (Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby had been published three years before), Mr. Blue tells the story of a young man—Blue himself—who decides to live out the Christian Faith in a serious, transforming way. Like J. Gatsby, Blue lives a life of extremes, we might even say of excess, but it is a far cry from the extravagance of the 1920s. Blue’s love affair with St. Francis’ “Lady Poverty” leads him to live in a packing crate atop a skyscraper, in mansions, in a Boston lodging house and, finally, the ward of a public hospital. He works odd jobs and survives on “backdoor begging.” He prays and he shares his faith with everyone he meets.
Mr. Blue has much to say to us about how faith in Christ can shape a life, transforming a person’s very existence into an act of Eucharist—an act of Thanksgiving—that by its very nature draws others into communion.
In the novel, Blue tells the story about the kingdom of the Antichrist: the days of the “the ecstatic, passionate, beauty-loving, liberty-seeking people had, as was early predicted, come to a close. The sluggish frigid races had survived.” In the climax of Blue’s tale of a new world in which even laughter and curiosity had been forbidden by law, a priest, the last Christian, climbs the highest tower in a city of metal and, using hosts made from wheat he has grown himself, offers the last Mass, fulfilling his promise to “bring God back to the earth.” As the government’s forces prepare to destroy the priest high atop the tower using planes and bombs, the priest began to repeat the words of Christ as the Last Super (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26):
And now the priest comes to the words that shall bring Christ to earth again. His head almost touches the altar:
Hoc est enim corpus meum…
The bomb did not drop. No. No. There was a burst of light beside which day itself is dusk. Then a trumpet peal, a single trumpet peal that shook the universe. The sun blew up like a bubble. The stars and planets vanished like sparks. The earth burst asunder… And through this unspeakably luminous new day, through the vault of the sky ribbed with lightning came Christ as he had come after the Resurrection.
The image of a lone priest standing atop a tower in a burned-out world from which even the most basic expressions of joy, fraternity, and human freedom had been banned is a powerful one. But, its force isn’t found in the revolutionary act of the priest but in the way we are reminded of the expansive power of the Eucharist.
Here are four thoughts that might help you better celebrate the great feast of the Eucharist—Corpus Christi.
1. Corpus Christi is a celebration of the transforming power of Christ.
The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi) is the day set aside each year to reflect in a special way on the gift of the Eucharist. But, to use this celebration only as a time to focus our own individual engagement and devotion with the Christ who is present—body, blood, soul, and divinity—in the Eucharistic elements is to limit the scope of this Solemnity and the dynamic of the Eucharist itself.
The mystery of Transubstantiation is, as Fr. James T. O’Connor notes, “not one wherein the Lord descends from heavenly glory to "enter" under the appearances of bread and wine. Rather it is one in which he, not coming down, lifts the creaturely realities to himself, drawing them up to where he is now with the Father… By drawing the reality of all the elements scattered throughout the world unto and into himself, Jesus maintains his own bodily unity. The elements are changed into him, not he into them” (from
The Hidden Manna: A Theology of the Eucharist).
2. This solemnity celebrates our communion with one another.
In the same way, in our sharing in the Eucharist, an act of communion, we are brought into the life of Christ and the Church and we are brought out of ourselves. We are raised up into the expansiveness of the Eucharist in a way that transcends any personal acts of devotion—we are given a share in the life of God which is by nature expansive and always oriented to others. We are reminded of this when, in the account of Jesus feeding the multitude with only a few fish and loaves, he gives the command: “You feed them!”
3. This is a feast of thanksgiving.
Our word “Eucharist” comes from the Greek word for “Thanksgiving.” And so, that’s what we do every time we come together for Mass—we offer a great prayer of thanks to God the Father for the gift of creation, for salvation, and for our place in the communion of saints. The traditions, Scripture readings, and prayers of Corpus Christi all invite us to show our gratitude for God’s gifts—especially the gift of Jesus who is truly present in the Eucharist—by joining together in communion with the Church.
4. The Corpus Christi procession is a reminder that we are to share the gift of the Eucharist with the world.
The most beloved tradition associated with Corpus Christi is the Eucharistic procession. In the procession, we take the gift we have been given—the Eucharist and the new life we have been brought into by our act of communion—and we share that with others.
The procession isn’t intended to be a sort of holy “parade.” Instead it is a sign to the world of who we are and of what we believe, while we say to them, “This gift is so important, we want to share its blessings with you!” But this sharing isn’t limited to Corpus Christi. It also happens daily through the actions of the priest in the Mass and in our work to provide for the spiritual and physical needs of those who hunger for their “daily bread”—in what whatever way.
Silas Henderson is a catechist, retreat director, and writer whose reflections and articles have appeared in numerous Catholic publications. He is also the author of From Season to Season: A Book of Saintly Wisdom and Moving Beyond Doubt. He currently serves as the managing editor of Abbey Press Publications and Deacon Digest Magazine. He blogs at www.fromseason2season.blogspot.com.