This past Sunday, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, I participated in an outdoor procession of the Holy Eucharist through the streets of downtown Louisville. Some readers may be old enough to remember when the archdiocese held such processions annually at Churchill Downs, with the participation of many parishes. That tradition ceased before my time, but I’ve seen the pictures.
In fact, when I consider the title of this column, “Between Amens,” the Corpus Christi procession is one of the images that immediately springs to mind. “Between Amens” is about the work of the Church and the working of the Spirit in our lives that happens after Mass and outside the walls of the Church.
As Christian pilgrims, we are always “in between” heaven and earth, seeking to bring Christ to the world but also to bring the world to faith in Christ.
Our usual context for the sacred host — the Body of Christ — is in the church, surrounded by ornate golden vessels, immaculate linens and stained glass. To take the Eucharist to the streets changes our perception.
Here we see the Blessed Sacrament set against concrete, traffic lights and post-pandemic urban decay. This shift in context reminds us that Christ is for the world, and so is Christ’s Church. We are called to be the Body of Christ in the world.
Catholic theology of the Body of Christ affirms two interconnected realities: first, that Christ is truly present to us in the Sacred Host and the Precious Blood; and second, by partaking of this sacrament we are transformed into the Body of Christ, varied in gifts and functions, sent to bring Christ to the world.
A rich and full eucharistic theology embraces both of these aspects of the Body of Christ. They are interdependent. It is Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist that convenes the communal Body of Christ — our community of love for one another.
To paraphrase St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and so many other brilliant theologians, you are what you eat. The Corpus Christi procession is a vivid example of this multivalent eucharistic theology: we, the Body of Christ, fed by the Body of Christ, bringing the Body of Christ to a broken world. This is living between Amens.
The Corpus Christi procession is a grand and ornate occasion, as indeed it should be. But its central reality — the real presence of Jesus Christ in our lives — reminds me of other, simpler gestures with the same purpose.
For example, whenever a minister of the church brings Holy Communion to one who is homebound, or sick in the hospital, or in prison, that is a Corpus Christi procession in miniature. Whenever we share our faith with our children or grandchildren, or whenever we act in kindness to a neighbor, we bring Christ to another, and that is a sort of Corpus Christi procession, too.
If you struggle to explain transubstantiation or you cannot articulate the Church’s doctrine of the Real Presence, take heart. The Body of Christ is invoked not through dense terminology or assent to doctrine. It comes from an encounter of the heart — a recognition of the beauty of the Body of Christ — whether in a solemn procession or in a simple act of love.