June 18, 2017
Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ
Corpus Christi (the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ) is a liturgical solemnity in the Roman Rite. This actually means that one Sunday every year is designated “Corpus Christi Sunday” and dedicated to reflection on the Catholic teaching that the bread and wine presented during the mass literally become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. This idea that Jesus Christ is literally present in the Eucharist (known as “transubstantiation”) is one of the biggest sticking points between Catholics and Protestants.
I have my issues with the way that we Catholics usually talk about the Eucharist. It’s not that I take issue with transubstantiation, persay, though there are certainly pros and cons to our unusually solemn approach to the Eucharist (non-Catholics – and Catholics who aren’t in the Church’s good graces – are not permitted to receive the sacrament, but that’s a different argument). My qualms are a little more basic: I think it’s messed up that only men are permitted to administer the sacrament. Only priests are permitted to act in persona Christi or “in the person of Christ,” and since Jesus was male, well…
But! Women are valid!, the sexists whine. Women are endowed with the fullness of human dignity, just as men are! We’re not sexists! We believe that women are just as important as men. Women and men are simply prescribed distinct roles. A woman’s role is no better or worse than a man’s, but it is different. Women are mothers, childbearers, wives, etc, with all the traditional connotations assigned to those roles. And this – this is beautiful. (Insert some Pope Francis quote about woman’s beautiful feminine contributions to the church.) Men are the heads of household – and they are priests (never mind the dissonance of homoerotic bride of Christ stuff)! These feminine and masculine roles complement each other. If men and women fulfill their roles, a beautiful harmony will reign over the family, the church, and society!
Make no mistake: This is definitionally sexist. To say that one’s social role is determined by one’s biology is the definition of sexism. You cannot be a feminist and profess complementarianism (the idea about separate but equally important roles for men and women). It boggles the mind that there are women out there trying to redefine feminism as a movement that makes room for this sexist nonsense.
(You want to be a stay-at-home mom? It makes you feel – dare I say it – empowered? That’s fine! Go right ahead! The problem lies in claiming that personal feelings of “empowerment”=liberation for women. They don’t. Feminism is a movement advocating that women can take on any social roles without restriction on the basis of our femaleness. It’s a movement for the liberation of women.)
I digress. The Church is sexist. “Feminism” is mainstream now, so people co-opt it. What else is new?
Back to Corpus Christi Sunday. At every mass, the priest lifts the host and says those words that every Catholic child learns by heart but never says:
Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body, which will be given up for you.
At that moment, Catholics believe that Jesus literally enters our midst.
Corpus Christi Sunday is a celebration of this miraculous moment. It’s a celebration of the tenet that Christ is literally and truly here with us, in body and in blood. I mean this in a gross, fleshy, sweaty, bloody, literal, human way. Jesus in our midst. Jesus in this room. That’s a beautiful thing.
But God, I ask, what the hell do men know about giving up their bodies? Every time I set in a room and watch a white man raise the host to the ceiling, I think about Jesus, a man who was brutally murdered by the Roman Empire. Jesus was the lowest of the low. Jesus was on death row. Jesus knew what it means to literally give up one’s body – unwillingly.
And what do most men know about giving up their bodies?
Women, we who are bruised and beaten and raped and subjugated and given up, we know.
In our bodies, Jesus is physically present in this room. Christ is present in our femaleness, in our gray hairs, saggy breasts, hairy vulvas, stretched skin, scarred wrists, calloused feet, wide hips, tanned skin, clipped nails, forced smiles. We are the least of God’s people. We know what it is to suffer. And Christ is in us. We know too much about acting in the person of Christ.
So Corpus Christi Sunday rings false for me. Yeah, yeah, I know that Christ is here with us. I see her everyday. And I know that a woman could be up on that altar acting officially in persona Christi, bringing Christ literally into our midst. I know that a woman should be up on that altar. I’m waiting.