In my curiosity about the origins of this celebration, I began to do a bit of research online. What I found was that the Feast of Corpus Christi was not celebrated throughout the entire Catholic Church until the year 1264. But the history goes even deeper than that.
In 1208, St. Juliana of Liege experienced several visions, including one of Christ instructing her to plead for the institution of a feast to honor the Eucharist. She experienced these visions for 20 years, but kept them a secret. She finally told a priest about the visions, who in turn told the local bishop about them. She repeatedly petitioned the bishop to institute the feast, and in 1246, the feast was celebrated throughout the Diocese of Liege for the first time.
In 1264, Pope Urban IV issued a Papal bull, Transiturus de hoc mundo
, in which the feast of Corpus Christi was made a feast throughout the entire Catholic Church. This came after Pope Urban IV had investigated claims of a Eucharistic Miracle in Bolsena, Italy, in 1263, in which it was reported that a Consecrated Host began to bleed. Whether or not this miracle had anything to do with the Pope's decision to institute the feast remains unknown, but it does bring me to my next point perfectly.
Jesus, in giving us the Eucharist, makes several different statements about the Eucharist being His Body and Blood. Perhaps the most well known of these passages comes from the Gospel of John, chapter 6, verses 32-59. This passage is often referred to as the Bread of Life discourse, in which Jesus proclaims "I am the Bread of Life. You who come to me shall not hunger, and you who believe in me shall not thirst." This passage is one of the most beautiful passages pertaining to the Eucharist, because in it, Jesus lays out for us exactly what we must do to have life in Him. Let's look for a moment at verses 48-58 of John chapter 6.
"I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us (his) flesh to eat?" Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever."
There is a lot to digest in this passage. First off, we have the double sacrifice of Jesus giving his flesh both in the Eucharist, and on the Cross at Calvary. We also see in this passage that Jesus refers to his body as "true food" and his blood as "true drink." This is not to indicate that these should be our only forms of nourishment, but rather that the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus are to be our spiritual food and drink for "Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him." And the life that we will have is life eternal. So, the Eucharist is not nourishment for our bodies, but rather for our souls.
But of course, in order for the Eucharist to have any meaning, we must believe that Jesus Christ is truly present in the bread and wine we offer at Mass, and that the mere bread and wine, by the miracle of Transubstantiation, cease to be bread and wine, and become the Body and Blood, soul and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Of course many have doubted this revelation, but throughout history, Jesus has given us many signs of His true presence in the Eucharist.
highlights some of the most well known, and widely venerated Eucharistic Miracles that have occurred throughout the History of the Catholic Church. Many of these miracles have to do with Blood appearing on a host, or Hosts being preserved after a fire has occurred, but there is one miracle that I would like to highlight in particular, which is one of the first, and possibly one of the greatest Eucharistic Miracles that has ever occurred.
In Lanciano, Italy, in the 8th Century, there was a priest who was having doubts about Jesus' real presence in the Eucharist. One day, he was celebrating Mass, and after he had spoken the words of the Consecration, the Host was changed into live Flesh retaining the exact same dimensions as the Host, and the wine was changed into live Blood, which coagulated in the chalice, forming five globules, irregular in shape and size. (The number is significant, because that is the number of wounds that Christ endured while he was on the cross: two in his hands, two in his feet, and the one to his side.) The flesh and blood can still be observed today, and have not deteriorated or decayed, despite the fact that they have not been preserved by "scientific" means.
In the 1970's and 80's, an extensive analysis was done on the relics from the Lanciano miracle. Here are the results: the Flesh is real Flesh. The Blood is real Blood.
- The Flesh and the Blood belong to the human species.
- The Flesh consists of the muscular tissue of the heart.
- In the Flesh we see present in section: the myocardium, the endocardium, the vagus nerve and also the left ventricle of the heart for the large thickness of the myocardium.
- The Flesh is a "HEART" complete in its essential structure.
- The Flesh and the Blood have the same blood-type: AB (Blood-type identical to that which Prof. Baima Bollone uncovered in the Holy Shroud of Turin).
- In the Blood there were found proteins in the same normal proportions (percentage-wise) as are found in the sero-proteic make-up of the fresh normal blood.
- In the Blood there were also found these minerals: chlorides, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium.
- The preservation of the Flesh and of the Blood, which were left in their natural state for twelve centuries and exposed to the action of atmospheric and biological agents, remains an extraordinary phenomenon.
Science cannot explain what we hold as true: That Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, is alive, and is truly present in the Holy Sacrament of the Altar. Through his priests, he gives us His Body and Blood, so that we may come to know Eternal life through Him. And so, on this Feast of Corpus Christi, let us pray that the faithful around the world may seek to come to a deeper understanding of this great mystery of the Eucharist, and may come to exhibit a greater sense of reverence, awe, and wonder as they receive this most Holy and Blessed Sacrament. And may the Most Holy Body and Blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ, bring Eternal Life to all who receive it faithfully. Amen.