Pope Benedict XVI joins his hands during the Corpus Domini procession in Rome, Thursday, June 11, 2009. (Daylife-AP & Reuters Photos)
Ratzinger on the Feast of Corpus Christi and the New Tree of Life:
Joseph Ratzinger, in his reflection on the Feast of Corpus Christi in Images of Hope: Meditations on Major Feasts (Ignatius Press, 2006), uses the great apse mosaic of San Clemente Basilica in Rome as a focal point for his thoughts on the feast and the sacrament of the Eucharist. After noting that the Cross is depicted as a tree from which four sources of water originate (a visual reference to the four rivers of Paradise), he writes:Further analysis, via Catholic Culture, regarding Corpus Christi Sunday:
"The tree that comes from living waters is fertile. We now notice that the rich network of branches that fills the entire breadth of the picture is not simply an ornament. It is a great vine whose branches grow forth from the roots and limbs of the tree of the Cross. They extend over the whole world in great circling motions, drawing it into itself. The world itself becomes a single large vineyard. Between its shoots and amid its coils, the fullness of historical life stirs. The work of shepherds, of peasants and monks, of animals and men of all kinds, the whole colorful diversity of existence, we find depicted in images full of fantasy and joie de vivre. But there is still something else."
"The Cross not only grows in breadth. It has its height and its depth. We have already seen that it reaches below into the earth, waters it, and brings it to bloom. Now we must still regard its height. From above, out of the mystery of God, the hand of the Father reaches down. Thereby movement comes into the image. On the one hand, the divine hand appears to lower the Cross from the height of the eternal in order to bring the world life and reconciliation. But it draws upward at the same time. The descent of God's goodness brings the whole tree, with all of its branches, into the ascent of the Son, into the upward to the freedom and expanse of the promises of God."
"The Cross creates a new dynamic: the eternal, futile circling around what is always the same, the vain circular motion of endless repetition, is broken open. The descending Cross is, at the same time, the fishhook of God, with which he reels up the entire world to his height. No longer circling but ascent is now the direction of history and human life. Life has received a destination; it goes with Christ to the hands of God. …When the apse mosaic of San Clemente was created, there was as yet no feast of Corpus Christi."
"The sense of that day is, however, wonderfully represented here. For it shows, indeed, how the Eucharist spans the world and transforms it. The Eucharist belongs not only in the Church and to a closed community. The world should become Eucharistic, should live in the vine of God. But that is Corpus Christi: to celebrate the Eucharist cosmically; to carry it even to our streets and squares so that the world, from the fruit of the new vine, may receive healing and reconciliation through the tree of life of Jesus Christ."
"While they were eating, he took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, 'Take it; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, 'This is my blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.'"
Where the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is not observed as a holy day, it is assigned to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday, which is then considered its proper day in the calendar.
Corpus Christi (Body and Blood of Christ) is a Eucharistic solemnity, or better, the solemn commemoration of the institution of that sacrament. It is, moreover, the Church's official act of homage and gratitude to Christ, who by instituting the Holy Eucharist gave to the Church her greatest treasure. Holy Thursday, assuredly, marks the anniversary of the institution, but the commemoration of the Lord's passion that very night suppresses the rejoicing proper to the occasion. Today's observance, therefore, accents the joyous aspect of Holy Thursday.
The Mass and the Office for the feast was edited or composed by St. Thomas Aquinas upon the request of Pope Urban IV in the year 1264. It is unquestionably a classic piece of liturgical work, wholly in accord with the best liturgical traditions. . . It is a perfect work of art.