Years from now I will perhaps look back in my notes at this homily and will need to remind myself what was unique and different about this Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, popularly known as Corpus Christi Sunday. Notes to self: 94 days ago, the World Health Organization declared pandemic status for the covid-19 virus. 87 days ago, the churches of the diocese of St. Petersburg were closed to the public. 79 days ago, a safer-at-home order was declared for the City of Tampa.
Notes to self: during all that, we as parish, adapted as best we could. One of the things we learned to do in a matter of days was to live stream Mass. Our first live stream was 83 days ago. The first weekend we had one camera and marginal sound. Now we use three cameras, switch scenes, have vastly improved the quality of the sound – and we continue to celebrate Mass. 14 days ago we cautiously and tentatively opened the churches for Sunday mass with the caveat that the numbers in attendance would be limited in order to maintain social distancing – and that masks would be required. Where normally we would have as many as 400 people in attendance at a mass, now there only 60-70 present.
The live stream mass is well “attended” with hundreds watching live and even more later watching a recording of the Mass. That first weekend, after Mass, one of the folks present in the church said, “You know Father, we are so grateful for all that you and the staff did to keep us connected in so many ways. The live stream mass was great, seeing the friars, reading the comment stream, and knowing that we were still a community. But I have to tell you. Burns is a great restaurant – so much history, great food, wine, and the commitment to excellence in dining. But a Burns steak delivered via Grub Hub isn’t the same thing. It’s good, but not the same thing.”
As we continued to chat what came across was a deep, burning desire for the Eucharist. He mentioned that a silver lining to the pandemic and church closures was that it helped him to realize how much the parish, the people and the Eucharist meant to him. Listening to him the words of the morning prayer of the Church came to mind: Psalm 63: O God, you are my God – for you I long! For you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.” The safer-at-home isolation, the reduced social contact, the sterile world of Zoom – and more made him thirst for you, his community of friends and believers, for Mass, and for the Eucharist.
His were the words of longing, passion, desire. Those words reflected the desire of a soul.
These days I am likely to awaken at 3:30 or 4:00 am. No alarm; just awake. That is when I will arise and in the still quiet of the friary and church celebrate Mass. The first time I celebrated in the church at the main altar. It was strange to see a darkened and empty church. I already knew I missed you all, but it became very real in that moment. The words, “The Lord be with you” echoed with only a memory to fill in the void. It was unsettling and it all seemed “off.”
Since then I celebrate before a work of art, like a station of the cross, depicting the Crucifixion. Across the top are the words in Latin, “Consummatum est” – it is finished. As I celebrate and offer intentions, I sense my own passion for the One who held back nothing from us, giving up his very life, that we may be saved. I imagine the words of Psalm 63 on the lips of Jesus as he looks down from the cross, gazing at each one of us: For you my soul is thirsting. My body pines for you like a dry, weary land without water.
His are the words of longing, passion, desire. Those words reflect the desire of a soul. A desire that all be saved – and so He holds nothing back.
It strikes me that is what we celebrate on Corpus Christi – the deep abiding desire of souls for each other. Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.
The people, the saints of God gathered becoming the body of Christ – a longing for each other
The Eucharist celebrated, the bread broken and offered as the Body of Christ – a longing for Christ’s real presence in our bodies and lives.
The Eucharist received – the longing of Christ for us finding home, finding sanctuary in us.
One day the “all clear” will be given, the dispensation from the Sunday obligation lifted, and I pray on that day that all will bring with them to that celebration, the burning desire for Christ in the Eucharist. I pray that they will bring the expectant joy of coming together to be the Body of Christ assembled. On that day I pray we hold nothing back.
Jesus gave us his very life that we might have eternal life. He gives us his Most Precious Body and Blood in this Eucharist – not only food for the journey, but food for that which our soul thirsts. St Francis of Assisi would give these words of advice to us here on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ: Hold back nothing of yourself for yourselves, that He Who gives Himself totally to you may receive you totally.
This is at the heart of Corpus Christi.