Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon for Corpus Christi 2021: "God’s table is plentiful. God gives Himself as a food. God lives in us, and we live in God. "


Sermon of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
Fontgombault, June 3, 2021

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

On Maundy Thursday evening, the Church commemorated the institution of the Eucharist, within the broader framework of the Paschal triduum events: institution, death and resurrection of the Lord.

Today, in the wake of the particular revelations made to St. Juliana, an Augustine sister of the convent and leper house of Mont-Cornillon, during the 13th century, the Church invites us more specially to consider this mystery as the place of communion with the Lord and adoration of Him. When she was an adolescent, Juliana used to be strongly drawn by the Eucharistic devotion. She was frequently favored with mystical visions. For instance, she saw the moon blazing with light, but incomplete, crossed diametrically by a dark stripe separating it into two equal parts. 

Benedict XVI commented, during the general audience of November 17th, 2010:

The Lord made her understand the meaning of what had appeared to her. The moon symbolized the life of the Church on earth, the opaque line, on the other hand, represented the absence of a liturgical feast for whose institution Juliana was asked to plead effectively: namely, a feast in which believers would be able to adore the Eucharist so as to increase in faith,  to advance in the practice of the virtues, and to make reparation for offenses to the Most Holy Sacrament.

Juliana accepted this mission, and was helped by Blessed Eva of Liege, a recluse.

The feast of Corpus Christi was first celebrated in 1246, in the diocese of Liege. After Juliana’s death, Blessed Eva obtained from Urban IV the institution of this feast for the universal Church, in 1264. The Eucharist is a mystery, namely, a truth of faith so deep as to exceed the intelligence, which cannot grasp all of its elements, and yet, this same intelligence is not faced with an object, of which the intelligence could affirm it is in contradiction with the first principles allowing a man to think.

Let us remark St. Paul’s first words in today’s epistle: “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you.” (1 Cor 11:23) This mystery comes from the Lord. It cannot mislead us. Let us also emphasize that these words, although concerning the sacrament of the Eucharist, have a much broader scope. The true shepherd receives from the Lord and hands on. He blesses that which is blessed by God. On the contrary, the hireling follows his own intuitions. He is either in his own service, or makes himself a slave to worldly opinions.

The Apostle then continues with the narrative of the institution of the sacrament, and concludes:

For as often as you shall eat this bread and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until He come. Therefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, or drink the chalice of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and of the blood of the Lord. But let a man prove himself: and so let him eat of that bread and drink of the chalice. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord. (vv. 26-27)

Obviously, the Apostle wanted to remind the Corinthians the respect they should show to the body of the Lord. Further on, he says more explicitly: 

Wherefore, my brethren, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. If any man be hungry, let him eat at home; that you come not together unto judgment. (vv. 33-34)

Indeed, this meal is a meal similar to no other one. He who takes part in it “proclaims the death of the Lord.” He keeps memory of this death. Lumen gentium, the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, teaches: As often as the sacrifice of the cross in which Christ our Passover was sacrificed (1 Cor 5:7), is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried on, and, in the sacrament of the eucharistic bread, the unity of all believers who form one body in Christ (cf. 1 Cor 10:17) is both expressed and brought about. (Lumen gentium, n. 3)

What this work of our redemption is, points to the discourse on the Bread of Life St. John reported (ch. 6), and which is the source of today’s Gospel.

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever. […] For My flesh is meat indeed: and My blood is drink indeed. As the living Father hath sent Me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth Me, the same also shall live by Me. (Jn 6:51.56-57)

The promise made by the Lord is not a paltry, second-rate promise: it is eternal life. Even though it won’t give rise to a keen interest in many of those listening to Him, who will wonder both on the person who is promising, and on what is promised. Many therefore of His disciples, hearing it, said: 

This saying is hard; and who can hear it? […] After this, many of His disciples went back and walked no more with Him. Then Jesus said to the Twelve: “Will you also go away?” And Simon Peter answered Him: Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life. (Jn 6:60.66-68)

The question asked of the disciples is also asked of us. Going back from the Lord, means considering the sacrament of the Eucharist as something commonplace. It is so tempting to find other masters… The Eucharist is a mystery because this sacrament makes present the sacrifice of the cross, and applies its fruit. 

God’s table is plentiful. God gives Himself as a food. Every crumb coming from this table sates the heart of man, and man can never exhaust it. God lives in us, and we live in God. Let us tirelessly give thanks for such a gift. No man may content himself to be a mere consumer of such a mystery, such a great sacrament. He has to radiate it. He who takes part in Christ’s life will not rest until this life be communicated. “I am come to cast fire on the earth. And what will I, but that it be kindled?” (Lk 12:49)

Let us work in our rightful place, through adoration, prayer, the witness of our lives, and evangelization, so that the “bread of the angels” shall become the bread of men, of all men and women.

As a conclusion, let us quote these few verses taken from the sequence:

Good Shepherd, true Bread,
Jesus, take Thou pity on our need.
Feed Thou us, keep Thou us safe.
Show Thou us the true goods,
In the land of the living.

Amen, Alleluia