So this past weekend the Church celebrated Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) Sunday. The solemnity dates back to the Middle Ages when adoration of the Blessed Sacrament became widespread, but it’s presence today raises certain questions for the faithful. One such question might be the rather pedestrian, “isn’t every celebration of the Eucharist a celebration of Corpus Christi?” And the answer, to some degree, is yes. However, as I expressed in my homily over the weekend, like so many things we do routinely and often in our lives, the celebration of the Eucharist can become rote and we might miss a lot of what we should be noting. The “Body of Christ” is a perfect example of something that a lot of people miss, at least miss in its entirety.
Most folks, I’m willing to bet, arrived at Mass this Sunday, heard “Corpus Christi Sunday” and thought of the Eucharistic elements of bread and wine and Christ’s Sacramental presence in these elements. But that is only one mode or way that Christ is made present in the Celebration of the Eucharist each time we gather together.
The Church teaches that there are three modes or ways that Christ is made present at the Eucharist, and therefore three ways we can come to recognize the Body of Christ each time we gather for Mass and beyond. These modes are (1) the People of God (the assembly and presider), (2) the Word of God, and (3) the Eucharistic Elements themselves. That third mode is the most recognized, but the other two are incredibly important and equally manifestations of Christ’s presence in the Church. Don’t believe me, check out the Second Vatican Council’s first document, Sacrosanctum Concilium, very early on in the text to be exact (no. 7).
Instead of rehearsing the importance and meaning of each of these modes of Christ’s presence, I want to take the opportunity to direct you to an excellent book that addresses this particular subject. Fr. Bruce Morrill, SJ’s new book, Encountering Christ in the Eucharist: The Paschal Mystery in People, Word and Sacrament (Paulist Press, 2012), is without a doubt one of the best books I’ve ever read on this subject.
As the subtitle indicates, this short and accessible book (it weighs in at only 134 pages), takes the Second Vatican Council’s teaching on the Eucharist and Christ’s presence as the starting point and structure of the text. Morrill skillfully presents the Church’s teaching in a way that is insightful, historical and practical, not just for Roman Catholics — although that is the theological and liturgical location from which he writes — but he also presents the teaching of the Eucharist in such a way as to hopefully reach an ecumenical audience.
Morrill is the Edward A. Mallow Professor of Catholic Studies at Vanderbilt University and a renowned scholar in the field of sacramental theology and liturgy. This is his seventh book he has published as author or editor. While always grounded in sound theological and scholarly sources,Encountering Christ in the Eucharist is well-written and approachable enough that it can be read by a wide audience, broadening the readership of Morrill’s work from the academy to a more popular audience as well. One of the book’s promotional blurbs, by Msgr. Kevin Irwin, former dean of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at Catholic University, echoes this point well:
The author’s rare combination of writing with theological insight and pastoral experience makes this book highly accessible to a wide audience. It deserves to be used in the college classroom as well as in ongoing formation programs for adult Christians.
I couldn’t agree more. After reading this text my first thought was, “I would love to lead a reading or discussion group with with book!” Furthermore, to reiterate Irwin’s point, I have no doubt that I will be returning to this book as my academic career continues to unfold and I eventually return to the classroom. I only wish this was out during the 2010-2011 academic year when I was teaching theology at Siena College, I would have used it for sure.
In addition to more studious uses of the text — adult faith formation in parochial settings or classroom reading for university courses — this book is a great resource for liturgical ministers and preachers. This is precisely why I mention it within the context of Corpus Christi Sunday. Far too often presiders come to this solemnity in June and subject their congregations to some pietistical and superficial reflection on the Eucharist that does not inform, edify or challenge the congregation. Reading Morrill’s latest book will likely enliven the admiration for and excitement about what it is we celebrate when the assembly gathers together each Sunday at the Table of the Lord.
Of particular interest to these same ministers is Morrill’s final chapter, titled “Leadership for Christ’s Body: Liturgy and Ministry.” Here he outlines the immediate and implicit relevance of the Church’s teaching on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist for the work of the Church’s ministers and for the entire People of God.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough — get your copy today!