HOMILY FOR MASS OF THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST/ CORPUS CHRISTI + WALK WITH CHRIST - St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP,
3 Jun 2018

HOMILY FOR MASS OF
THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Corpus Christi 3 June 2018, 6 pm

When Pope Urban IV decided to extend the feast of Corpus Christi to the universal Church, he wisely chose the great Dominican theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose the Mass and Liturgy of the Hours for this great feast. Thus he bequeathed to us the Sacris Solemniis with its Panis Angelicus, the Verbum Supernum, the Lauda Sion, the Adoro te Devote, and most popular of all eucharistic hymns, the Pange Lingua (Sing, my tongue, the Saviour's glory) with its last two verses, the Tantum ergo, which was our entrance hymn tonight.

What was Aquinas' bright idea about the Eucharist that made Sing, my tongue the most popular Eucharistic hymn ever since? Well, in one short hymn St Thomas suggests that the central mysteries of our faith are all contained in the words "Body of Christ" that the priest says to us as we receive Holy Communion. Let me explain…

First, the Body of Christ is God, the only-begotten Son of the Father, true God from true God, who came down from heaven. As we sang in our hymn, He was "Destined, for the world's redemption,
From a noble womb to spring" and "Of a pure and spotless virgin, Born for us on earth below." The Blessed Sacrament is the Word-made-flesh, God-made-baby, first worshipped in Bethlehem by angels and men, by high kings and lowly shepherds. So when the priest says 'Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ'and you say 'Amen', you are assenting to the mystery of the Incarnation as Mary did, you are saying, yes Lord, I believe, I love you, I need you!

Secondly, the Body of Christ is Jesus. The Word spoken by the Father from all eternity is now preached in time to all humanity, the story of God in sermon and parable, signs and wonders. And so following St Thomas we sing of Him: "He, as Man, with man conversing, Stayed, the seeds of truth to sow; Then He closed in solemn order, Wondrously His life of woe." Truth, indeed, Jesus sewed in the soil of our minds and hearts and imaginations. So when the priest says 'Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ' and you say 'Amen', you assent to the mystery of Christ's Teachings as the apostles did, you say, yes Lord, I believe, I love you, I need you!

Thirdly, the Body of Christ is our Salvation. As we sing, it is of "the Saviour's glory", for He is "the Paschal victim", "destined, for the world's redemption". For our sake and for our salvation He was crucified under Pontius Pilate, suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day. When the priest says 'Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ' and you say 'Amen', you are assenting to the mystery of the Redemption as every sinner must, you are saying, yes Lord, I believe, I love you, I need you!

Eucharist-last-supper

Fourthly, the Body of Christ is Communion. As we sing: "On the night of that Last Supper Seated with His chosen band… Then as Food to all His brethren Gives Himself with His own Hand" and "Word made flesh, the bread of nature, By His word to flesh He turns; Wine into His blood He changes: What though sense no change discerns?" So when the priest says 'Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ' and you say 'Amen', you assent to the mystery of the Eucharist as every communicant does, you say, yes Lord, I believe, I love you, I need you!

Fifthly, the Body of Christ is the Church. the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic church... the communion of saints is the mystical body of Christ. In her "Lo! O'er ancient forms departing, Newer rites of grace prevail; Faith, for all defects supplying" and in her worship and song "Be salvation, honour, blessing, Might and endless majesty" to the Eternal Trinity. When the priest says 'Corpus Christi - the Body of Christ' and you say 'Amen', you are assenting the mystery of the Church as every member does, you are saying, yes Lord, I believe, I love you, I need you!

So the Feast of Corpus Christi is not just an excuse to chant some great gothic poetry and or to sing some nearly-as-good neo-gothic hymnody: it is, rather, the close of those ancient rites described in our first reading (Ex 24:3-8); the advent of the new covenant, told in our Gospel (Mk 14:12-16,22-26), and the bridge between them related in our epistle (Heb 9:11-15). The Holy Eucharist is many things: offering, blessing, remembrance, thanksgiving, intercession, communion, pledge, anticipation, mission. But to say it is "the source and summit of the Christian life" as the Second Vatican Council famously did (LG 11; CCC 1324), is to say it somehow reprises all the central mysteries of our faith. In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and the summary of our faith (CCC 1327), or as St Irenaeus put it, "Our way of thinking is attuned to the Eucharist, and the Eucharist in turn confirms our way of thinking." (Adv. Haeres. 4, 18, 5)

Chad Pecknold: Real Presence

A few months ago Pope Francis reminded us that over the past two millennia many Christians have been persecuted and even died defending the Eucharist.1 Two centuries ago Australian Catholics were persecuted for their Eucharistic faith and denied both priests and Mass. Indeed, as a pre-condition to assuming office, the first several Governors of New South Wales were required to swear that there was "no transubstantiation in the Sacrament of the holy table". Still today, in some parts of the world, people risk their lives in order to participate in Sunday Mass. The Holy Father recalled that "In the year 304, during the Diocletian Persecution, a group of Christians from North Africa was surprised as they were celebrating Mass in a house, and were arrested. In the interrogation, the Roman Proconsul asked them why they had done so, knowing that it was absolutely prohibited. They responded: 'Without Sunday we cannot live' - which meant: without the Eucharist our Christian life would die." Those fourth century North Africans challenge us still, Pope Francis suggests: What does it mean for each of us to partake in the Sacrifice of the Mass and approach the Lord's Table?

Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ, is the Incarnation and Redemption, the Sacrifice and Sacrament, the Teaching and Action of the Church, all rolled into one moment, when Christ gives us all He is and we say 'Amen' to receiving Him. Yes Lord, I believe, I love you, I need you!

INTRODUCTION TO MASS OF
THE SOLEMNITY OF THE MOST HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF CHRIST
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Corpus Christi 3 June 2018, 6 pm

Welcome to this Mass for the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi as it's more commonly known. I acknowledge today concelebrating with me brother priests including Very Rev. Danny Meagher, Rector of the Seminary of the Good Shepherd, with his staff. I also acknowledge the beloved seminarians of the Archdiocese serving and singing for us this evening.

I especially welcome those who joined me on the Walk With Christ this afternoon; your presence both then and now is a great sign of awe and gratitude for the Sacred Body and precious Blood given us 2,000 years ago and first reserved in this land 200 years ago this month passed.

To all others present today, both regulars and visitors, a very warm welcome!

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FERVERINO FOR BENEDICTION AFTER "WALK WITH CHRIST"
St. Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, Corpus Christi 3 June 2018

Thank you all for joining us on this annual Walk With Christ procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi, especially in the 200th anniversary year of the Reservation of the Blessed Sacrament here in Sydney. I acknowledge today the presence of the auxiliary bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful who helped organise or assisted in today's procession.

In May 1818 the only priest in the colony of New South Wales, Fr Jeremiah O'Flynn, was arrested and taken back to England. Though credentialed by Rome he was not recognized by the colonial government and had for some months been conducting a clandestine ministry of baptisms, confessions, marriages and Masses in Catholic homes. One of those was William Davis' home on the site of St Patrick's Church Hill; another that of James Dempsey in nearby Kent Street. O'Flynn left a consecrated host behind in a pyx at either the Davis or Dempsey home, or both.

In a colonial Church with no priest or Mass that reserved Sacrament became the focus of Catholic life. It fell to the laity to keep daily vigil before the Sacrament and to recite the Rosary, teach catechism and pray Sunday Vespers before it. There is a stained glass window of this event on the West wall of our cathedral below the window of the Empty Tomb...

What these lay people knew was that the most precious thing in the world is the Blessed Sacrament, the most precious activity the celebration of the Mass, the most precious encounter that with Christ in Holy Communion. For "God so loved world He gave His only Son" (Jn 3:16). What an awesome thing to consider: that so concerned was God to be close to us, to commune with us, to save us for an eternity of union with Him, that He took human flesh. The Creator of the world become a creature in that world, a most fragile creature at that, a babe-in-arms, God-with-us. And this we commemorate, not just at Christmas but every time we open our lips to receive Holy Communion, for yet again God is placed in a manger - the crib of our mouths.

Were this not enough, Jesus said "The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, before rising on the third day." (Lk 24:7; cf. Mt 26:45) What a doubly awesome thing to ponder: that the God who gave Himself into our loving arms at Christmas also surrendered Himself to our hateful hands in holy week. This we commemorate, not just at Easter but every time we put out our hands to receive the Host, for yet again Jesus is placed on a cross - the cross we make with our two hands.

Reprising every token of God's saving love for us, even unto death, told in person-to-person, flesh-to-flesh contact, He is ours for the taking in Holy Communion! The ancients thought that none could look upon the face of God and live; but our God is so close, so intimate, that we not only look upon Him in the monstrance and adore, not only touch Him with our hands: we actually receive His substance into our substance, His Sacred Body into our bodies, His Precious Blood into our hearts, His divine life into our lives. No wonder those colonial Catholics cried out to God, to the civil authorities and to the Church to give them priests and Mass. And for these we cry out to God again in our day!

Those pioneering Catholics who kept vigil, when priestless and persecuted, could never have imagined that the Catholic community in Sydney would one day have the freedom and resources to sport one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world as its Basilica of St Mary and prime tabernacle for Our Lord. Or that by 2018 there would be 5.2 million Catholics in this land, gathered in 1400 parishes. Or that they would offer our community 10,000 hospital beds, 20,000 aged care places, 45,000 tertiary education places, 700,000 school desks, and innumerable acts of service and care every day. When we think times are hard in the Church let us not forget the struggles of our ancestors and what they have bequeathed us.

Of course, our struggles are real too. Many of us face them in our families, workplaces, community. Now, as two centuries ago, there are those who would marginalize believers and suppress belief if they could. But as we carry with us that triply awesome gift of God-in-our-hands, we do so in awe and gratitude, knowing He will never abandon us, and that this Blessed Sacrament is but a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come!