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Corpus Christi

The Holy Feast of the Honor of the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ
Corpus Christi
(Celebrated the second Thursday of the Apostles)

Basilica Hymn
Your Throne, O Lord, is forever and ever
I will magnify him and honor him
The cherubim surround the awesome throne of your Greatness, O Lord, and, in fear and trembling hide their faces with their wings, lest their eyes dare observe and see the Fire of your Divinity. Yet you, who are thus so glorious, dwell among men – not to burn but to enlighten. Great is your mercy, O Lord, and the grace that you have sent to our race. Glory to you!
Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
O Church, Betrothed of Christ, whom he saved from error by his Blood, and to whom he gave his Body as living Food (which the wicked sacrificed on Golgotha), and to whose hands he delivered the Cup of Salvation (his precious Blood, which flowed from his side by the strike of the spear): attend and hear the voice of the Bridegroom, desist from the vain wandering of error, and call out to your Savior, with songs full of thanksgiving: glory to you!

Exaggeration

Hyperbole takes cleverness; exaggerating to make a point is a creative endeavor. If not, if the exaggeration becomes cliché or faded with use, it no longer serves its purpose, and the point is no longer made. For example, when a woman is called “beautiful,” and the same word is applied to a sunset or a painting, a new effort must be made if her beauty is to be complimented above these other things – she must be called “gorgeous” or “stunning” or some such thing, if the idea is to be expressed in an intense way.

But there is no way to exaggerate when talking about God. Every effort can and must be made, the mind must be exhausted of all its power, to tell even a fraction of his Goodness, and even then our language fails completely. The Third Anaphora of the Church of the East, attributed to Mar Nestorious, says it thus: “Who indeed is capable of telling the wonders of your Power, and of making all your glories heard? For even if all creatures became one mouth and one tongue, they would not suffice, O Lord, to relate your Greatness.”

The Throne of God

The Bible stands up to this challenge superbly, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, and much of our language relating to God is derived from the Scriptures. For example, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews quotes Psalm 104 in addressing Jesus Christ, the Son of God: “You make the winds your messengers, and flashing fire your servants.” This is a brilliant way to express the Greatness of God: by describing those below him as themselves great, the author is able to imply how much greater is God than they. Even his servants are so great that they are beyond the bonds of the bodily world. The angels are sometimes thus described as beings of fire, and the Chaldean tradition makes good use of this image. The first Anaphora, of Addai and Mari, calls them “ministers of fire and spirit.”

Another image used in the Scriptures to “boost” our language of God is that of the throne. Psalm 47 connects the Throne image to the idea that God rules over all the earth: “God rules over the nations; God sits upon his holy throne.” By describing this spiritual image as great and glorious, we are saying that even the thing upon which God is “sitting” is beyond our description in its greatness, and therefore so much more so is God. Imagining a great banquet, it is one thing to say that it was so splendid that the President was there; it is another thing entirely to say that the President was one of the waiters.

Fear and Trembling

The Basilica Hymn chosen for the Feast of the Body of the Lord, or Corpus Christi, is as ancient as any other in our tradition, though the Feast for us is relatively new, as it was begun in conjunction with the process of re-union with the Catholic Church a few centuries ago. But it brings together the extremities of reality and attempts to give some impression of the awe we should feel at the reality of the Eucharist:

The cherubim surround the awesome throne of your Greatness, O Lord, and, in fear and trembling hide their faces with their wings, lest their eyes dare observe and see the Fire of your Divinity. Yet you, who are thus so glorious, dwell among men – not to burn but to enlighten. Great is your mercy, O Lord, and the grace that you have sent to our race. Glory to you!

The second half, beginning, “Yet you, who are so glorious, dwell among men – not to burn, but to enlighten,” is precisely the point. God, in his overwhelming Greatness, has loved us enough to dwell among us in the Holy Eucharist.

The Bride

The Eucharist is given by Christ in a very precise manner; it is not like the Manna of the Hebrews, which simply fell from the sky. The Body of Christ comes to earth through the power of the Holy Spirit, by the words of the priest who prays the liturgy of the Church. Thus the Bridegroom goes through a great deal to present his Bride with the greatest Gift he can give: himself. The Eucharist, then, is not an isolated reality. It exists and is given only for the sake of the Church, for her benefit, her sanctification, for her union with her Bridegroom. The second hymn used for this Feast is therefore addressed to the Church:

O Church, Betrothed of Christ, whom he saved from error by his Blood, and to whom he gave his Body as living Food (which the wicked sacrificed on Golgotha), and to whose hands he delivered the Cup of Salvation (his precious Blood, which flowed from his side by the strike of the spear): attend and hear the voice of the Bridegroom, desist from the vain wandering of error, and call out to your Savior, with songs full of thanksgiving: glory to you!

The response of the Church to such a great Gift given by Christ is a clear one, and one which should become our own the closer we become to our Lord: listen to the voice of the Bridegroom, avoid sin, and cry out to Christ in praise and thanksgiving.