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On the Octave of Corpus Christi

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As I was traveling on Corpus Christi itself, I didn’t have a chance to post something useful or interesting. I offer this for the Octave: a selected translation from the De institutione clericorum of Rabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda and Archbishop of Mainz (d. 856). This work was one of those handbooks of ‘basic’ doctrine made in the Carolingian era and frequently used for the instruction of the clergy and laity.

In this particular section of his thirty-first chapter, Rabanus is answering the question, “Why is the body and blood of the Lord received through bread and wine and not through something else?” I think his answer possesses that mixture of explanation and mystery fitting for today.

The Lord preferred that the sacraments of his body and blood be received by the mouth of the faithful and reduced into food, so that the invisible work might be shown to be effected through the visible. For as material food nourishes the exterior body, so also the word of God nourishes and strengthens the interior soul. Now since “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4), and since “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14), therefore, Truth himself said, “For my flesh is truly food, and my blood is truly drink” (Jn 6:55). The flesh of Christ is truly food because it truly feeds and it nourishes humanity to eternal life. His blood is truly drink because it truly satisfies for all ages the soul that hungers and thirsts for justice.

Humans can have temporal life without such food and drink, but they are completely incapable of having eternal life without it because this food and drink signifies the eternal connection between the head and the members. He says, “The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I remain in him” (Jn 6:56), which is why we have to take up his body and blood, so that we might remain in him and become members of his body, “since no one ascended into heaven, except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man, who is in heaven” (Jn 3:13).

Moreover, this is the reason that he wished to make these sacraments out of the fruits of the earth: because he, the Son of God, was made human among humans upon the earth and from earthly parents, as the one brought forth from the root of Adam: “Truth sprang up from the earth” (Ps 85:11). So that he could make heaven dwellers from the earthborn, the celestial man made celestial food from earthly fruits. And just as he, the invisible God in visible flesh, for the sake of saving mortals appeared as a mortal, so also he showed forth from visible material an invisible thing congruent to the same.

This was done so that, in the same thing and at the same time, humans could commit to heart two things: that God became like us for our sake and that we are about to become like him through him. For the Apostle John said: “Beloved, we are now the sons of God, and what we will be has not yet appeared. We know that when he appears, we will become like him” (1 Jn 3:2).

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