Today, being the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, is celebrated in the Western church as the Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for “the body of Christ”). This feast specifically celebrates the institution of the Lord’s Supper and invites the faithful to contemplate the mystery of Christ’s presence in this Supper. Now, if you are liturgically savvy, you might say, “Wait, don’t we already commemorate this on the Thursday in Holy Week as part of the Maundy Thursday activities?” And yes, in fact, we do. Maundy Thursday walks through those events in Christ’s life on the day before his crucifixion. We zoom in on that upper room where Christ washed his disciples’ feet and commanded his disciples to observe the celebration of the Eucharist.
The trouble is that Holy Week is such a somber season! Our Lord’s betrayal, passion, and death are right before our eyes; we have just been through the penitential season of Lent; we are very much focused on our own wretchedness; and thus we are hardly in the celebratory mood that a feast calls for. Now clearly there are penitential tones to the Eucharist, clearly we are called to contemplate our sin, Christ’s suffering and his death. But, there are also celebratory tones in the Eucharist: Christ is with us; Christ feeds us, Christ takes care of us; Christ animates us with his power. These are wonderful and deep themes of the Eucharist that perhaps get overlooked when we commemorate its institution on Maundy Thursday. Thus, the feast of Corpus Christi, a non-penitential, non-somber, non-downer commemoration of the Sacrament of Christ’s presence with us.
I am all for it. I think the Eucharist is a multifaceted (even infinitely faceted) aspect of Christian worship, and I think it is great that we can hone in on the celebratory tones of this mystery.
The trouble is that this feast has largely been the domain of the Roman Catholic Church and has therefore more often been a feast of propaganda for the doctrine of transubstantiation (which of course Anglicans find officially untenable).
So what is an Anglican with a love for the Eucharist to do? Well, let’s just appropriate the feast using our own Eucharistic theology; thus leaving behind the doctrine of transubstantiation and anything that follows from it (perhaps things like processions, monstrances, or benedictions). In fact, the Church of England even has lectionary texts for services on this day (more Anglicanly called the “Day of Thanksgiving for Holy Communion”).
I will end with this lovely prayer “Of the Holy Eucharist” from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (pg. 252):
God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.