by Donal Anthony Foley –
Understanding Corpus Christi
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the “Body of Christ” is, in essence, a commemoration of the sublime moment when Christ, with His disciples at the Last Supper, transformed the Jewish Passover ceremony for all time.
Knowing that He was to suffer grievously in His Passion the next day, in the words of St. Luke (22:19-20), He took bread, “and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.’”
In saying these words and performing these actions, Christ was anticipating His death on the cross, when all His blood would be poured out, as St. John tells us in his Gospel (19:35). There we read that water and blood flowed out when the soldier pierced the side of Christ, already dead, signifying His giving all to us in the Eucharist and baptism.
Whenever we participate in the Holy Mass and particularly when we receive Holy Communion, we are remembering Christ’s sacrificial death on Calvary and the Last Supper, when He transformed the bread and wine into His Body and Blood.
The focus of this feast day, then, which is officially commemorated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday – or on the Sunday immediately following – is the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist.
The impetus for the Solemnity into the Church’s liturgical year came from St. Juliana of Liège. She lived in Belgium during the first half of the thirteenth century and had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. She had a vision of Christ, which indicated the necessity of a feast devoted to His Body and Blood. Eventually the idea was taken up by Pope Urban IV, who, in September 1264, instituted Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
The Fatima Children’s Love for Jesus in the Eucharist
The feast of Corpus Christi has always been associated with Eucharistic processions, and in Sr. Lucia’s memoirs, she recounts how Jacinta became involved with a Corpus Christi procession at their parish. Some of the younger children were to play the part of angels walking beside the canopy covering the Blessed Sacrament, with the job of scattering flowers on the ground. Jacinta was thus told that she would be strewing flowers before the Child Jesus. She asked if she would see Him, and was told by Lucia’s sister, “Yes, the parish priest will be carrying him.” At this news, Jacinta jumped for joy.
Lucia tells us, “The longed-for day arrived at last, and Jacinta was beside herself with excitement.” But when it came to the point where the children were to scatter the flowers, “in spite of all the signs I made to Jacinta, I couldn’t get her to strew a single one. She kept her eyes fixed on the priest, and that was all. When the ceremony was over, my sister took us outside the church and asked:
‘Jacinta, why didn’t you strew your flowers before Jesus?’
‘Because I didn’t see Him.’
Jacinta then asked me: ‘But did you see the Child Jesus?’
‘Of course not. Don’t you know that the Child Jesus in the Host can’t be seen? He’s hidden! He’s the one we receive in Communion!’”
An Angel Taught Them to Love and Adore the Hidden Jesus
This touching event shows us the great love Jacinta had for Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and this love was greatly augmented by the experience the children had during the third angelic visitation in the fall of 1916.
They were in the hollow among the rocks near the Loco do Cabeco repeating the prayer that the Angel had previously taught them, when he once again appeared before them in the midst of an extraordinary light.
As Lucia recounts, “He was holding a chalice in his left hand, with the Host suspended above it, from which some drops of blood fell into the chalice.” Leaving the chalice suspended in the air, the Angel knelt down beside them and made them repeat three times a beautiful prayer of reparation.
The Angel then gave the children Holy Communion, saying as he did so, “Take and drink the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, horribly outraged by ungrateful men! Make reparation for their crimes and console your God.”
Lucia recounts how a few days later, Francisco asked this question: “The Angel gave you Holy Communion, but what was it that he gave to Jacinta and me?”
“It was Holy Communion, too” replied Jacinta, with inexpressible joy. “Didn’t you see that it was the Blood that fell from the Host?”
Francisco then announced: “I felt that God was within me, but I did not know how!”
Imitating the Fatima Children
When later on the children became aware of Our Lady’s request for the Communion of Reparation on the First Saturdays, Jacinta said, “I am so grieved to be unable to receive Communion in reparation for the sins committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary!”
She was too young to receive Holy Communion in church, but when Lucia would visit her after having been to Mass, Jacinta would ask, “Did you receive Holy Communion?” If the answer was yes, she would say, “Come over here close to me, for you have the Hidden Jesus in your heart.”
Francisco was equally devoted to the Eucharist, and Lucia tells us that at times on their way to school, as soon as they reached Fatima, he would say to her: “Listen! You go to school, and I’ll stay here in the church, close to the Hidden Jesus. It’s not worth my while learning to read, as I’ll be going to Heaven very soon. On your way home, come here and call me.”
We know that Francisco spent entire days in adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the parish church, and we know that before his death he was able to receive Holy Communion. After receiving, he said to Jacinta, “I am happier than you are, because I have the Hidden Jesus within my heart. I’m going to Heaven, but I’m going to pray very much to Our Lord and Our Lady for them to bring you both there soon.”
Lucia tells that after she had started to go to school, Jacinta loved to make a visit to the Blessed Sacrament at playtime. But she lamented, “They seem to guess. We are no sooner inside the church than a crowd of people come asking us questions! I wanted so much to be alone for a long time with the Hidden Jesus and talk to Him, but they never let us.”
On this feast of Corpus Christi, we can remember the wonderful devotion of the Fatima children towards the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, and earnestly pray to them that we too will have such a living and faithful devotion. It is a great gift to be invited to the Lamb’s Supper at Mass and our gratitude and adoration should overflow from our hearts to His.
Donal Anthony Foley is the author of a number of books on Marian Apparitions, and maintains a related web site at www.theotokos.org.uk. He has also written a series of three time-travel/adventure books for young people, The Glaston Chronicles, available at www.shopfatima.com/blue-army-press