Sunday, June 2, 2024



This weekend we celebrate the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, a melding of two former feasts. Until a few years ago the church celebrated the “body” on one day (Feast of Corpus Christi) and the “blood” (Feast of the Precious Blood) on another.


Even though the church encourages us at every Mass to spend a brief period of silence after communion, this Feast encourages us to spend some longer devotional time before the Blessed Sacrament so we can reflect more deeply on this great mystery. A quiet church before Mass offers introverts like myself to prepare themselves for this great celebration, while the extroverts meet and greet in the vestibule before Mass time.  The time spent reflecting on this great mystery reminds us that we become what we eat so that we can be the self-giving Christ for others.


The evolution of the Last Supper into the Mass we know today is quite interesting. 


Did you know that the first record of the Eucharist was not the story of the Last Supper in the various gospel accounts. They came later. The very first record comes from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians written in about 54 AD. 


Brothers and sisters:

I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, 

that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was handed over, 

took bread, and, after he had given thanks,

broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you.

Do this in remembrance of me."

In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood.

Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, 

you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.

I Corinthians 11:23-26



The first Last Supper account, from the Gospel of Mark which we read today, was probably written 66-70 AD, about 12 to 16 years later than the Last Supper account from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. 


At the time of Paul, it was customary for Christians to hold an Agape meal (Love Feast) before the Eucharist. It was some sort of pot-luck dinner that the rich and the poor shared. However, in Corinth things had gotten a little out of control and the art of sharing was being lost. The rich would not share their food, but ate it in little exclusive groups by themselves, hurrying through it so they did not have to share, while the poor went with almost nothing. Some of them even got drunk at these meals. Did you know that Paul basically reams them out for this in this same letter we read from today?


Did you know that St. Clement of Alexandra had to write a letter to his people in the year 200 about the problem of lengthy mouth-to-mouth kissing during the sign of peace? 


Did you know that in the year 350, the Council of Nicea outlawed the practice of kneeling during Mass as “novel,” preferring the older custom of standing as the proper way of praying at the Eucharist?


Did you know that the Mass changed from Greek to Latin in 384 so that people could understand and participate. Even in the old Latin Mass, we had some hang-over Greek Words - Kyrie Eleison is Greek, not Latin! That wasn’t changed again till 1963, when we went to English, for the same reason – so that people could understand and participate? 


Did you know that lay people had their parts of the Mass taken away around the year 1000 and they were not restored to them till Vatican Council II? Growing up the priest and the altar boys, and maybe the choir, interacted while people said the rosary or read along from their missals in silence.  The Mass today is more like it was in the church’s early years than it was when most of our older members were growing up. 


Did you know that tabernacles in churches did not start till the 12th century and did not become standard until the 17th? Did you know that Protestants invented pews? Catholics had been using chairs, as we do here in our Cathedral, just as they do in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome today and in most European Cathedrals? There weren’t even chairs in the early church. People stood, even during long homilies. They did provide a bench along the wall for the sick and elderly. 


Did you know that so few people were going to communion in the 13th century, because they considered it too sacred to receive, that the Pope had to make a law saying people must receive communion at least once a year? It came to be called our “Easter duty.” Did you know that veneration of the Blessed Sacrament at Benediction and the custom of Corpus Christi processions became a substitute for receiving communion during this period? 


The feast we celebrate today didn’t come till the 13th century. This is how it came about. 


In 1263 a German priest, Fr. Peter of Prague, made a pilgrimage to Rome. He stopped in Bolsena, Italy, to celebrate Mass at the Church of St. Christina. At the time he was having doubts about Jesus being truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. He was affected by the growing debate among certain theologians who, for the first time in the history of the Church, began introducing doubts about the Body and Blood of Christ being actually present in the consecrated bread and wine. In response to his doubt, according to tradition, when he recited the prayer of consecration as he celebrated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, blood started seeping from the consecrated host and onto the altar and corporal.


Fr. Peter reported this miracle to Pope Urban IV, who at the time was nearby in Orvieto. The pope sent delegates to investigate and ordered that host and blood-stained corporal be brought to Orvieto. These were then placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto, where they remain today.


This Eucharistic miracle confirmed the visions given to St. Juliana of Belgium just a few years before. St. Juliana was a nun and mystic who had a series of visions in which she said she was instructed   to work to establish a liturgical feast for the Holy Eucharist, to which she had a great devotion.


After many years of trying, she finally convinced the bishop, the future Pope Urban IV, to create this special feast in honor of the Blessed Sacrament, where none had existed before. Soon after her death, Pope Urban instituted Corpus Christi for the Universal Church and celebrated it for the first time in Orvieto in 1264, a year after the Eucharistic miracle in Bolsena.


Inspired by the miracle, Pope Urban IV commissioned a Dominican friar, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose the Mass and Office for the feast of Corpus Christi. Saint Thomas Aquinas' hymns in honor of the Holy Eucharist, Pange Lingua, Tantum Ergo, Panis Angelicus, and O Salutaris Hostia are the beloved hymns the Church sings on the feast of Corpus Christi as well as throughout the year during Exposition, Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament and in Corpus Christi Processions when the Blessed Sacrament is carried through the streets. 


Some of you older folks, my age and older, might remember the Corpus Christi Processions of the past. The Holy Name Society of Holy Name Church, out Third Street near U of L, under the direction of Monsignor Timoney its pastor, sponsored the local Corpus Christi Procession. It was held originally where Bellarmine University is now, but he had it moved to Churchill Downs. An account from 1952, says that 50,000 Catholics from the area around Louisville attended on a Sunday afternoon. There were other processions out in the country in places like Flaherty. I can remember marching with my Dad, uncles, brothers and men from neighboring parishes in Flaherty. Of the 50,000 attendees here in Louisville, 15,000 men and boys marched around the track at Churchill Downs, while 35,000 women and girls sat in the grandstand and clubhouse. Devotional music was sung and the rosary was prayed. When all the men were on the track in position, the Blessed Sacrament was carried from altar to altar, until Benediction was celebrated with the newly ordained priests serving as assistants to the main celebrant, usually the bishop or archbishop. Those processions gradually died out in intensity after Vatican Council II and are only a memory except in a few places like Saint Martin of Tours here in Louisville.


The Eucharist has undergone many changes in its form, but its essence is still the same. Baptized believers have gathered around bread and wine, having become the body and blood of Christ, to be nourished, energized, transformed and strengthened for over 2,000 years. It’s a family reunion. It’s bread for the journey and strength for the trip. It’s an intimate meeting between a loving God and his adopted children. It’s at the heart of what being a Catholic is all about. That is why we are here today – to celebrate what has been handed on to us from the Lord Jesus himself! 











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