O Sacrament Most Holy, O Sacrament Divine, All praise and all thanksgiving be every moment Thine.
It is indeed a great pleasure for me to be here in Cork this afternoon to take part in this historic Corpus Christi procession. In a special way, I want to thank Bishop John Buckley for having invited me to be with you today. And what a joy it is to carry the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of this beautiful city. Throughout the Catholic world today on this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, there are processions of the Blessed Sacrament. These processions, some of which date back hundreds of years, are an expression of our Catholic faith in Christ’s Real Presence in the Eucharist. It is not an exaggeration to say that everything the Church does is in some way directed to the Eucharist. Indeed, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us: “The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life’ (Lumen gentium, 11). ‘The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the Blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch’ (Presbyterorum ordinis, 5)” (CCC, 1324). For us as Catholics, the Eucharist is everything, because the Eucharist is Jesus, God made man, the Word made flesh, truly in our midst in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. And so, today’s Solemnity exists to focus our minds and hearts on this most important reality – the real, bodily presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.
Today’s Feast of Corpus Christi teaches us about the Church on many different levels. On a theological or doctrinal level, we can say that Eucharist truly makes the Church. Where the Eucharist is, there is the Church. The celebration of the Eucharist in Holy Mass reveals the Church; those baptized persons who receive the Body and Blood of Christ, and who, in so doing, become the Body of Christ.
Very interestingly, the history of the Feast of Corpus Christi helps us to understand something else about the Church. Today’s Feast day was established almost eight hundred years ago by Pope Urban IV in 1264. But what the Pope did in 1264 was simply to universalise a devotion to Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament that had already arisen from the grassroots of the Church more than fifty years earlier. The Feast of Corpus Christi can be traced back to a single person, a holy and indeed prophetic young Catholic woman, Juliana of Liege. Juliana had a deep personal love for Christ in the Eucharist and she was faithful to prayer. In one of her visions, she had a revelation of the Church, in the form of an image which Pope Francis has also recently used to describe the Church. In a speech he gave before the Conclave in which he was elected Pope, the then Cardinal Bergolio made reference to the ancient idea of the Church as similar to the moon; like the moon, the Church shines; however, she shines not with her own light, but with the reflected light of Jesus Christ, her Bridegroom. She radiates and reflects his light. At the beginning of the thirteenth century, this courageous young woman, Juliana of Liege, only sixteen years old at the time, had a vision in which she saw the Church symbolized by the moon, but with a dark area obscuring part of it – a kind of partial eclipse which darkened the Church’s beauty. Juliana was given to understand that this obscuring was caused by absence in the Church of her time of any Feast in the liturgical calendar dedicated to the Holy Eucharist. It was this revelation to Juliana that was at the beginning of a renewed love for Jesus in the Eucharist, and the fire of this love led to the establishment of a special Feast day for the Eucharist: the Solemnity of Body of Christ, in Latin, Corpus Christi, first in Belgium and then later, through Pope Urban’s approval, in the entire Roman Catholic Church.
And what does this history show us about the Church? It shows us that the persons who have the greatest influence in the Church’s life are the saints. Juliana of Liege was a saint. She was filled with the love of God. To the eyes of someone without faith, the Church might look like a corporation, with only men who are the corporate officers; to the eyes of faith, however, to the eyes of love, the Church appears instead as a family, a harmonious symphony of different people with different gifts and different roles, in which a sixteen year old girl, filled with faith and love, can exercise an influence which the Pope himself simply recognizes and confirms. The Church in Ireland today needs women like Juliana of Liege. In our contemporary world in which the Catholic Church is at times criticized and even marginalized, we might wonder: where are the Julianas of Liege of our own time? To that question, I would answer: They are here. They are not absent. I am certain of that. In my year and a half in Ireland, I have met so many courageous Catholic women, who love their faith and love their Church. I met them at the Eucharistic Congress last year. I have seen them working hard to safeguard the lives of mothers and unborn children at this time. I have encountered them among religious sisters serving the poorest of the poor. I have met them teaching in schools. The Church needs their witness and their example.
But it is not just women whom the Church in Ireland needs today. We need young men too, especially young men who will have the courage to say ‘yes’ to the call of Christ, and follow him as priests. In the mystery of God’s plan, the Eucharistic presence of Jesus Christ is only possible when there is a priest, that is, when there is a man who has been conformed to Christ by ordination, a man whose life has been taken up by Christ, a man who has become – with all his weaknesses – an icon of Christ.
Today’s Procession here in Cork is important for yet another reason. For fifty-one Sundays a year, we celebrate the Eucharist inside our Churches. Every Sunday, we receive the Bread of Life at Holy Mass in our own parish Church. Here in Cork and elsewhere, on one Sunday in the year, we celebrate our love for Christ in the Eucharist by coming out of Church and walking prayerfully through the streets of this beautiful city. A public procession like this one today is a very important image. What does it teach us? It teaches us that our lives of faith as Catholics are not something which can be confined or limited to the inside of Churches. Our faith also needs to affect the way in which we live and interact in the public square as citizens.
We must never be afraid to allow our faith to influence and shape our political choices, especially on questions which involve the most basic human values, such as the right to life itself.
We are in the middle of the Year of Faith which will conclude on 24 November 2013. In calling for this Year of Faith, our Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI, wrote about the necessity of witnessing to our faith in a public way: “…faith implies public testimony and commitment. A Christian may never think of belief as a private act. Faith is choosing to stand with the Lord so as to live with him” (Porta fidei, 10). Our Eucharistic procession today helps to remind us of the public dimension of our Catholic faith. Let us stand with the Lord of life and promote His Gospel of life in our society.
This year’s Feast of Corpus Christi is unique because Pope Francis has called for simultaneous adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament throughout the entire world. Today at five o’clock in Rome the Holy Father will begin this worldwide hour of simultaneous adoration; it will be four o’clock here in Cork; eleven o’clock in the morning in my own City of New York. Across the entire globe from East to West, Catholic people will be praying at the same time in front of the Blessed Sacrament. Each of us has our own petitions which we bring to the Lord in prayer. But allow me to ask you to pray to the Lord for a special intention today, that He will keep Ireland a pro-life country, where mothers and their unborn children are safe and protected.
Let us pray also for Pope Francis himself as he begins his ministry as the Successor of Peter, and as he leads the Church into a future filled with hope and great promise. The Lord does not abandon His Church; He has assured us: “I am with you always, even until the end of time” (Mt 28:20). That promise is fulfilled by His presence with us in the Eucharist. Come, let us adore Him!
For media contact: Catholic Communications Office Maynooth: Martin Long 00353 (0) 86 172 7678