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Thursday, June 18th, 2020

Of Kingship Restored: a Sermon for the Octave Day of Corpus Christi

As a result of the calendrical reforms of 1962, the Octave of Corpus Christi was suppressed.[1] And yet, we may still study the eight days after Corpus Christi to see whether or not there are Eucharistic themes to be discerned in the liturgical texts as they currently stand. When we do this, one example emerges.

On the Thursday after Corpus Christi—what would have formerly been the octave day—the Church reads 1 Kings 8, 4-14 at the Night Office. The episode is at once decisive and tragic. The prophet Samuel is faced with having to preside over the rebellion of Israel:

Then all the ancients of Israel being assembled, came to Samuel to Ramatha. And they said to him: Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: make us a king, to judge us, as all nations have. And the word was displeasing in the eyes of Samuel.[2]

The prophet has recourse to prayer, in the course of which God makes faithful reply: ‘Hearken to the voice of the people . . . For they have not rejected thee, but me.’[3]

And so it happens. After very explicit warnings about what this demanded kingship will entail for the people, Samuel acquiesces at God’s command. A king is given to them, Saul.

But what has this to do with Corpus Christi? A great deal, it turns out.—In giving the Most Holy Eucharist to the Church, God has reestablished his kingship over his people. The Eucharistic kingship of Christ heals and undoes this long-ago rebellion of the chosen people. On the octave day of Corpus Christi—unofficial as it may now be—the Church is given a picture of her restoration, brought about by the sacramental economy. At the center of this economy, is the Most Blessed Eucharist.

God’s warning is contained in verses 11-18. It would be interesting to note how each of these warnings is undone or restored by the Church’s Eucharistic worship. One example will do for now.

This will be the right of the king, that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to run before his chariots. . . . and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn . . .[4]

It is easy to see here an image of the clerical state. Sons are taken from among the people, to become the soldiers and heralds of the king. Indeed, the image was quite literally fulfilled by the Apostle St Philip, who ran before the chariot of the Ethiopian eunuch.[5] And the image of the Apostles as planters and reapers is employed by our Lord himself.[6] The great difference, however, is that the Blessed Eucharist turns this kingship into one of love, not coercion.

In the end, the Holy Eucharist is about a kingship restored. This is precisely why the Eucharistic worship of the Church is of paramount—never peripheral—importance. Here is not the place to note and lament the largely ruined state of Eucharistic piety in most places. (But of course, we see why Satan, that ancient revolutionary, does all he can to sabotage the Church’s Eucharistic life.) Instead, for ourselves, we do better to be grateful to God for having provided so sweet and wonderful a means to heal our rebellion.

 


[1] Though the feast is still observed by a number of traditional, especially monastic, communities.

[2] 1 Kings 8, 4-6.

[3] Ibid, v 7.

[4] Ibid, vv 11-12.

[5] Cf Acts 8, 26-40.

[6] Mt 9, 37ff and Lk 10, 2ff.

{Art Credit: detail, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), The Great Last Judgment, 1617.}

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