The Rector Writes...
This Sunday sees the return of the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament through London’s West End which had become something of a tradition until curtailed by last year’s lockdown. Later than usual (normally it would take place close to the feast of Corpus Christi in the early summer) we hope nonetheless that many people will come to show their love for Jesus in his Eucharist in this practical way. This Sunday’s procession is the culmination of a Eucharistic Octave at Corpus Christi church, Maiden Lane which was our diocese’s chosen way of marking the international Eucharistic Congress which has been meeting in Budapest. When Pope Francis spoke at the Congress’s closing Mass he set the tone for our own local celebration: “let us allow our encounter with Jesus in the Eucharist to transform us. We do well to spend time in adoration before the Eucharist in order to contemplate God’s weakness. Let us make time for adoration”. These words echo those of Saint John Paul II who realised: “the Church and the world have a great need for Eucharistic worship. Jesus awaits us in this sacrament of love. Let us not refuse the time to go to meet him in adoration, in contemplation full of faith”.
The purpose of this Sunday’s Procession is twofold. It is an act of witness. We are used to the streets of central London being overtaken at weekends by demonstrations of all kinds – people feeling strongly enough about issues to want others to know the depth of their commitment to a cause (even if at times by employing questionable methods). Here is our opportunity as Catholics to stand up, joyfully and peaceably, to be counted for what we believe. By its nature, a procession is visible: ours is full of colour and accompanied by chants and hymns, and, hopefully, will attract much attention and give passers-by cause for reflection. In past years the general level of respect we have encountered has been remarkable, and there have been instances of Catholics returning to the practice of their faith, and non-Catholics seeking instruction, as a direct result of seeing others’ palpable devotion to the Blessed Eucharist. Just as there was a magnetism about Jesus as he moved along the streets of Galilee and Jerusalem, we should be praying that that same magnetism will be experienced by many as we make Sunday’s journey from Warwick Street, traversing both Regents and Oxford Streets on the way here to Spanish Place for Benediction.
If a procession has an external purpose, it also has an interior one and that is to deepen our own Eucharistic faith. No one has ever said that the Eucharistic Mystery is easy to comprehend. From the start, Jesus met disbelief when he spoke of himself as the Bread of Life (“’this is intolerable language. How could anyone accept it?’ After this many of his disciples left him and stopped going with him”: John 6:60) but it is the apostolic faith that Jesus has to be taken literally at his word. Saint Ambrose voices the Church’s consistent teaching: “could not Christ’s word, which can make from nothing what did not exist, change existing things into what they were not before? It is no less a feat to give things their original nature than to change their nature”. When we receive the Eucharist we receive Christ whole and entire – we share in both his divinity and his glorified humanity. When we look up at the Host at Mass or during times of exposition it is the living Christ we recognise and adore: the mode of presence may be different but the Lord is as really present with us as ever he was with his first disciples. “The Eucharist is here to remind us who God is. It does not do so just in words, but in a concrete way, showing us God as bread broken, as love crucified and bestowed” (Pope Francis).
In a confused world it is this “concrete” presence of its Saviour which is the greatest gift the Church has to extend. “The mystery is Christ among you, your hope of glory: this is the Christ we proclaim, this is the wisdom in which we thoroughly train everyone” (Colossian 1:27). Unless we believe that the whole Christ is present in the Blessed Sacrament our worship of the Eucharist is nothing less than a form of idolatry, but if we do share this most precious belief of the Church then we can do nothing less than proclaim and celebrate it wherever and whenever we have opportunity. As in so much else, it is Father Faber who says it, so simply and beautifully, just as it is: “Out beyond the shining of the furthest star, Thou art ever stretching, infinitely far. Yet the hearts of children hold what worlds cannot, and the God of wonders loves the lowly spot”.