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What is the meaning of Corpus Christi?

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The words Corpus Christi literally mean “body of Christ” in Latin. Corpus Christi, also called the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is a religious festival celebrated by many Roman Catholics on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Pentecost. In some countries it is celebrated on the next Sunday after Trinity Sunday. This means that Corpus Christi is celebrated roughly two months after Easter. For those who believe in transubstantiation, the feast is to celebrate the real presence of the body of Christ (the corpus Christi) in the bread and wine of the Eucharist. In some countries with a predominantly Catholic population, the Feast of Corpus Christi is also celebrated outside the church with parades, where the Host is carried through the streets.

The feast or festival called Corpus Christi originated in 1246 and was first celebrated in the diocese of Robert de Torote, bishop of Liège, Belgium. Jacques Pantaléon, who had been archdeacon of Liège, became Pope Urban IV, and in 1264 he ordered the whole church to observe the feast. By the mid-14th century, the festival was generally accepted, and in the 15th century, it became one of the principal feasts of the Roman Catholic Church.

Of course, such veneration of the bread and wine of the Eucharist is rejected by evangelicals. Jesus said, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:24). However, Jesus was not speaking literally, as He explains a little later: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:34). Eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood are not done literally, but by “coming” and “believing.”

Chapter 29 of the Westminster Confession clearly states the evangelical perspective:

“Section II. In this sacrament, Christ is not offered up to His Father; nor any real sacrifice made at all, for remission of sins of the quick or dead; but only a commemoration of that one offering up of Himself, by Himself, upon the cross, once for all: and a spiritual oblation of all possible praise unto God, for the same: so that the popish sacrifice of the mass (as they call it) is most abominably injurious to Christ’s one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of His elect. . . .

“Section V. The outward elements in this sacrament, duly set apart to the uses ordained by Christ, have such relation to Him crucified, as that, truly, yet sacramentally only, they are sometimes called by the name of the things they represent, to wit, the body and blood of Christ; albeit, in substance and nature, they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.

“Section VI. That doctrine which maintains a change of the substance of bread and wine, into the substance of Christ’s body and blood (commonly called transubstantiation) by consecration of a priest, or by any other way, is repugnant, not to Scripture alone, but even to common sense, and reason; overthrows the nature of the sacrament, and has been, and is, the cause of manifold superstitions; yes, of gross idolatries.”

Corpus Christi, Texas, was founded in an area that had been previously named by a Spanish explorer who discovered and named the bay on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1519. The actual city of Corpus Christi was founded over 300 years later.

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What is the meaning of Corpus Christi?
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This page last updated: January 4, 2022