Corpus Christi’s public displays show world that Jesus is Lord, present and king

Father Timothy Hepner

Living the Word / By Father Tim Hepner

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi)/June 19

Genesis 14:18-20; Psalm 110:1,2,3,4; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; Luke 9:11b-17

This morning we began our usual weekly adoration as a newly ordained deacon took the host out of the tabernacle with a reverence and affection that inspired me. He placed Jesus in the monstrance, sitting on top of the altar which has an image of a pelican piercing her own breast. Europeans in the Middle Ages believed that a mother pelican would feed her children with her own blood, and saw in this an image of Jesus’ own self-immolation in the Eucharist. Three devout women knelt and adored him, bringing their own prayers and sacrifices to Jesus’ altar in exchange for the gift of his silent, abiding presence.

Catholicism is made for the whole person, inside and out. Worship of the Eucharist, the “source and summit” of our Catholic lives, takes up our interior and our exterior — our heart and our actions. When we kneel, cross ourselves, sing, or simply sit and look at Jesus on the altar, we are giving him our exterior actions. These exterior actions not only reflect the interior devotion of our heart, but they actually form our hearts and increase our love.

The Church proscribes specific actions, others are pious customs handed down to us. The requirements for receiving Communion include prayerful preparation, examining our conscience for mortal sin, and fasting an hour beforehand. St. Paul warned that a person who receives the Eucharist without examining himself for grave sin “eats and drinks judgment on himself” (1 Corinthians 11:29).

So the Church teaches that those who “persist in manifest grave sin” are not to be permitted to Communion (Code of Canon Law 915). Pastors have the right and authority, out of love for the person’s soul and the greater community, to withhold Communion from a person whose public actions are gravely and objectively sinful if dialogue with them does not lead to conversion. The Church also teaches that those who are conscious of grave sin should withhold from receiving Communion if they haven’t confessed it (Canon 916).


It would be easy to say that these proscriptions keep us from focusing on the real, interior love that we are called to have for Jesus in the Eucharist. But nothing could be further from the truth. The coldness and lack of love toward the Body and Blood of Christ that we often find in the Church result from a lack of knowledge regarding his awesome gift. By gift, of course, I mean something that we could never earn or claim to deserve. Jesus is the pierced one who nourishes us with his very body and blood, his life substance. True awareness of this gift makes us want to go above and beyond the basic requirements. If we’re honest, the basic requirements are very minimal. Jesus’ total gift of love is the opposite of minimalism.

On Corpus Christi, many parishes will have what I like to call “public displays of affection for Jesus,” that is, Eucharistic processions. This is a proclamation that we believe Jesus, our Lord and God, is fully present in the Blessed Sacrament and we desire to lavish our loving praise on him and show the whole world that he is king. These exterior displays form the interior of our heart.

And thank God for the many, many faithful Catholics who have spent a lifetime showing their love to our Eucharistic Lord and forming their hearts through simple actions, like the newly ordained deacon and his quiet affection for the consecrated host, or the devout laity who kneel before him in silence and pour out their prayers and praises in the interior of their heart.

Father Timothy Hepner is pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish, Monmouth, and St. Patrick Parish, Raritan. He also serves as chaplain for the St. Augustine Newman Club at Monmouth College.

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