The Festival of Corpus Christi

by Stan Lemon

The word Corpus is Latin for “body” and Christi if you couldn’t tell is “of Christ”. Today, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday is the Festival of the Body of Christ. You may not have heard of it before and you probably won’t find it in your hymnal either, but I assure you today is the Festival of the Body of Christ.

What’s this festival all about? Back in the heyday, you know like 1264, the Pope instituted this festival for the whole Catholic church. The festival itself actually dates much further back than that, but it was in 1264 that Thomas Aquinas (a guy whom Luther could care less for) penned out, by decree of the Pope, a liturgy to be used on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday for the Festival of the Body of Christ.

The Festival of the Body of Christ was first celebrated to refocus on Maundy Thursday. You know how it goes, Palm Sunday rolls around, the Catechumens are confirmed we do the thing with the Palms and next thing you know we’re at the Good Friday Tenebrae service waiting for the Easter Bunny to show up. Somewhere in there we quickly skimmed by Maundy Thursday, and so it was when the Festival of the Body of Christ was instituted. Maundy Thursday was getting lost in the hustle and bustle of Passion week, so the Church, not wanting to lose sight of the glorious gifts of the Lord, set aside another festival to commemorate the Lord’s Supper, His Body and Blood. After all, the way of the Gospel is more!

Your church may or may not celebrate The Festival of Corpus Christi today, and if they don’t that’s alright (mine doesn’t either). As Lutherans we know that each Sunday when we gather together to receive the Lord’s gifts we celebrate the festival of the Body of Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar. There in His words, we look back with all Christians of all times to the night in which our Lord was betrayed. On that night and in this supper He took bread and wine and gave it to His disciples, and then in them gives the Corpus Christi and Sanguis Christi (that one means blood of Christ) given and shed for us!

Your Pastor stands before you to deliver these Words and this Corpus Christi. He delivers them into your mouth, where the Lord bodily comes. In His body and His blood Jesus brings forgiveness and life, and salvation touches your tongue and buries your sin in His tomb. In Jesus, in His Body, we are one, united together as the Church. So as much as the Festival of Corpus Christi is about our Lord delivering forgiveness to us at the Altar, it is also about Him cleansing His bride of her sin. His bride, the Church washed in the font of Holy Baptism and wedded to Him in flesh, the Corpus Christi. We literally become what we eat. Father Adam has no gifts for us in His meal of death, but in this meal of Life the second Adam gives all that we could ask for and even more still!

In this way, then let us sing with Thomas Aquinas (yeah that guy) of the Corpus Christi:

That last night at supper lying
Mid the Twelve, His chosen band,
Jesus with the Law complying,
Keeps the feast its rite demand;
Then more precious food supplying,
Gives Himself with His own hand.

Word made flesh, the bread He taketh,
By His word His flesh to be;
Wine His sacred blood He maketh,
Thought the senses fail to see;
Faith alone the true heart waketh
To behold the mystery.

"Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling" by Thomas Aquinas. Lutheran Service Book 630.


Stan Lemon lives in Pittsburgh, PA with his wife Sara and his dog Ivan and serves as the Higher Things Webmaster. When he grows up, he wants to be just like Pastor Borghardt! (a Texan)

Created: May 22nd, 2008