On June 10, Catholics in the United States and around the world will celebrate the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ — often known by its Latin name, Corpus Christi. It is the only feast on the Catholic calendar dedicated solely to the Eucharist, and when it was instituted 750 years ago by Pope Urban IV, it was the first devotional feast to be declared by a pope for the entire Latin Church.
Through all the trimmings and prunings of the Roman liturgical calendar across the centuries, the feast of Corpus Christi has remained as a day for Catholics to recall in a particular way Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist. For good reason: As the Second Vatican Council forcefully states, the Eucharist is “the source and summit of the Christian life.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church even calls the Eucharist “the sum and summary of our faith.”
The Catholic Church calls the Eucharist the ‘source and summit’ of Christian life. So why do so few Catholic Americans avail themselves of it?
That perspective ought to guide preparations for the Year of Faith, which the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics will begin celebrating this fall. In fact, Pope Benedict XVI identified more fervent celebration of the Eucharist as one of the goals of the year, and the Vatican’s guide for the celebration notes: “In the Eucharist, mystery of faith and source of the new evangelization, the faith of the Church is proclaimed, celebrated and strengthened. All of the faithful are invited to participate in the Eucharist actively, fruitfully and with awareness.”
For Catholic Americans, these words represent a particular challenge. Studies by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University consistently show in recent years that only 23 percent of Catholics in the United States go to Mass every Sunday — meaning that more than three-quarters of the U.S. Catholic population does not.
A preparation document for the Year of Faith by the U.S. bishops also laments “an unsettling ignorance” among Catholics about what the Eucharist is all about, and the erosion — due in large part to cultural influences — of Sunday as the Lord’s day dedicated to prayer and rest.
Such troubling data point to the urgency for Catholics who do go to Mass each week to become better evangelists of the Eucharist, inviting not just non-Catholics to “come and see” but also and — perhaps especially — estranged Catholics in their families, work environments and neighborhoods.
“The reasons that Catholics cite for missing Mass,” the U.S. bishops say, “can be met and overcome by parishes that foster a welcoming environment for adolescents, young adults, singles, married couples, parents, families, the sick or disabled and anyone who is no longer active in the faith. ... The New Evangelization places a special emphasis on welcoming back to the Lord’s table all those who are absent, because they are greatly missed and needed to build up the body of Christ.”
The Corpus Christi Sunday also ought to prompt weekly Massgoers to consider spending more time in quiet prayer before the tabernacle — what Pope Benedict has called a way to “prolong and intensify” what takes place in the Eucharistic celebration. “In a world where there is so much noise, so much bewilderment,” he said in May 2006, “there is a need for silent adoration of Jesus concealed in the Host. ... It is a source of comfort and light.”
For Catholics, the Eucharist is the “heart” of the Church’s life. May this Sunday’s feast prompt many Catholics to deepen their own devotion, and inspire them to welcome more people to share it.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.