When Corpus Christi rolls around I always think of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his great eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium written by Saint Thomas at the command of Pope Urban IV to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi instituted by the Pope in 1263. It says something vastly significant about the Church that perhaps the greatest intellect of all time, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was not only a Doctor of the Church, but also capable of writing this magnificent hymn.
The last portion of the hymn, Tantum Ergo, has vast significance for my family. My wife, who is a far better Catholic in my estimation than I am, is a convert. A Methodist when we married, she converted to the Church a few years later. She had questions regarding the real presence, and this line from Tantum Ergo resolved them: Faith tells us that Christ is present, When our human senses fail. When our kids came along she would whisper at the Consecration to them: First it’s bread, now it’s Jesus. First it’s wine, now it’s Jesus.
This year Corpus Christi falls on Memorial Day and that strikes me as appropriate when we recall these words of Christ:
Greater love hath no one than this: to lay down his life for his friends.
John 15: 13
Christ took on our flesh, our blood and our mortality. He sacrificed His flesh and His blood to save us. He gave us the great Sacrament so that just as He took on our flesh and blood, we might consume His flesh and His blood and draw close to Him through His grace.
On Memorial Day we honor our war dead. They lost their flesh and blood in our service and to protect us. Just as we owe Christ a debt that can never be repaid, so too do we owe a debt to those men who have died for us and that debt can never be repaid to them. Christ gives us His body and blood to give us grace and His teachings to allow us to lead lives that attempt, oh so imperfectly, to follow in His footsteps. Our war dead allow us to do this in more freedom and security than most of our ancestors possessed.
In the Old Testament blood sacrifice was a necessary component of the worship of God. In the New Testament we have God sacrificing Himself for us out of redeeming love that passes the understanding of we poor mortals. The words of Christ help remind us that it is love that is at the core of our faith and our life. Without love we perish, and that is a good subject for meditation both on Corpus Christi and on Memorial Day.