Q&A: What is the meaning of Corpus Christi?

What is the meaning of Corpus Christi?

Question

What does Corpus Christi mean biblically?

Answer

In Latin, Corpus Christi [1] means the “body of Christ.” Corpus Christi is also a festival that originated in 1246 AD and is celebrated by many Romans Catholics on the first Thursday after Trinity Sunday which is the first Sunday after Pentecost. This festival is also called the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. Since the Roman Catholic Church believes in a doctrine called “transubstantiation,” the feast is meant to celebrate the literal, real presence of the body of Christ (thus the name corpus Christi) in the bread and wine of the Eucharist (also called communion or the Lord’s Supper in other denominations). So, the Holy Eucharist refers to Christ's body and blood being literally present in the consecrated host on the altar. Catholics assert that the consecrated bread and wine are actually the body and blood, soul and divinity of Christ. [2] (Please see “Transubstantiation vs. Consubstantiation vs. Memorialism vs Reformed?” below.)

Transubstantiation misteaches John 6:54 which says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” Added to this are the phases, "this is my body" and "this is my blood" (cf. Matt 26:26-29; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23; 1 Cor 11:23-25). They assert that all these phrases are to be interpreted literally, not metaphorically. However, this is incorrect for a number of reasons:

(1) Moses wrote, "But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood" (Gen. 9:4-6; cf. Acts 15:20, 29). Therefore, Jesus would have violated his own Word, if the literal interpretation is to be taken.

(2) In Matthew 26:29, after the institution of the Meal, Jesus still considered the "fruit of the vine" to be the "fruit of the vine" and not his literal blood.

(3) At the institution of the Meal, Jesus was not yet dead. Therefore, if the words are taken literally this would have been a form of cannibalism. It would be cannibalism each and every time the Meal is partaken by Catholics.

(4) The Catholic Church takes the words too literally. After all, Jesus is not literally light (John 8:12), a door (John 10:9), a vine (John 15:5), or a Lamb (John 1:29, 36). But even if he could be literally wine and bread, how could he be those at the same time? (Pantheism).

(5) The Bible says that Jesus gave himself as a once and for all sacrifice (Heb. 10:10, 12, 14). Catholic Mass crucifies Jesus over and over again.

(6) If the word "cup" is used by Jesus figuratively of the wine, then why within the same pericope would we interpret the wine and bread in a different sense?

(7) Jesus had used the word “bread” metaphorically before in Matthew 16:8-12 (cf. Gen. 41:26, 27; 1 Cor. 10:16-17).

(8) Catholics agree that the Lord’s Supper replaces Passover. Exodus 12:11-14 speaks of the lamb that was slain and eaten in the feast. Moses said, "It is the Lord's Passover." But was this literal? No, the literal Passover was God's act of passing over the firstborn of the Israelites and not slaying them when he slew the firstborn of the Egyptians. The eating of the lamb was an annual feast to remember – and not to reenact – God's act of passing over the firstborn.

The Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter XXIX entitled, “Of the Lord’s Supper” biblically counters transubstantiation as follows:

I. Our Lord Jesus, in the night wherein He was betrayed, instituted the sacrament of His body and blood, called the Lord’s Supper, to be observed in His Church, unto the end of the world, for the perpetual remembrance of the sacrifice of Himself in His death; the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.(a)

(a) 1 Cor. 11:23, 24, 25, 26; 1 Cor. 10:16, 17, 21; 1 Cor. 12:13.

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;(b) 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:(c) 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.(d)

(b) Heb. 9:22, 25, 26, 28.
(c) 1 Cor. 11:24, 25, 26; Matt. 26:26, 27.
(d) Heb. 7:23, 24, 27; Heb. 10:11, 12, 14, 18.

III. The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed His ministers to declare His word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to a holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants;(e) but to none who are not then present in the congregation.(f)

(e) Matt. 26:26, 27, 28 & Mark 14:22, 23, 24 and Luke 22:19, 20 with 1 Cor. 11:23, 24, 25, 26.
(f) Acts. 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20.

IV. Private masses, or receiving this sacrament by a priest or any other alone;(g) as likewise, the denial of the cup to the people,(h) worshipping the elements, the lifting them up or carrying them about for adoration, and the reserving them for any pretended religious use; are all contrary to the nature of this sacrament, and to the institution of Christ.(i)

(g) 1 Cor. 10:16.
(h) Mark 14:23; 1 Cor. 11:25, 26, 27, 28, 29.
(i) Matt. 15:9.

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;(k) albeit in substance and nature they still remain truly and only bread and wine, as they were before.(l)

(k) Matt. 26:26, 27, 28.
(l) 1 Cor. 11:26, 27, 28; Matt. 26:29.

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; overthroweth the nature of the sacrament, and hath been, and is the cause of manifold superstitions; yea, of gross idolatries.(m)

(m) Acts 3:21 with 1 Cor. 11:24, 25, 26; Luke 24:6, 39.

VII. Worthy receivers outwardly partaking of the visible elements in this sacrament,(n) do then also, inwardly by faith, really and indeed, yet not carnally and corporally, but spiritually, receive and feed upon Christ crucified, and all benefits of His death: the body and blood of Christ being then, not corporally or carnally, in, with, or under the bread and wine; yet, as really, but spiritually, present to the faith of believers in that ordinance, as the elements themselves are to their outward senses.(o)

(n) 1 Cor. 11:28.
(o) 1 Cor. 10:16.

VIII. Although ignorant and wicked men receive the outward elements in this sacrament: yet they receive not the thing signified thereby, but by their unworthy coming thereunto are guilty of the body and blood of the Lord to their own damnation. Wherefore, all ignorant and ungodly persons, as they are unfit to enjoy communion with Him, so are they unworthy of the Lord’s table; and cannot, without great sin against Christ while they remain such, partake of these holy mysteries,(p) or be admitted thereunto.(q)

(p) 1 Cor. 11:27, 28, 29; 2 Cor. 6:14, 15, 16.
(q) 1 Cor. 5:6, 7, 13; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15; Matt. 7:6.

Reference

[1] As to the city of Corpus Christi, “legend has it that in 1519, on the Roman Catholic Feast Day of Corpus Christi, Spanish explorer Alonzo Alvarez de Pineda discovered a lush semi-tropical bay on what is now the southern coast of Texas. The bay, and the City that later sprung up there, took the name of the feast day celebrating the "Body of Christ." The spot Pineda discovered is now home to the largest City on the Texas Coast and is the sixth largest port in the nation.” History of Corpus Christi. (https://www.cctexas.com/departments/city-secretary/history-corpus-christi). Last Accessed 24 February 2020.

[2] The Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence is the belief that Jesus Christ is literally, not symbolically, present in the Holy Eucharist—body, blood, soul and divinity. Catholics believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because Jesus tells us this is true in the Bible [in John 6:48-56]. Furthermore, the early Church Fathers either imply or directly state that the bread and wine offered in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is really the body and blood of Jesus Christ. In other words, the doctrine of the Real Presence that Catholics believe today was believed by the earliest Christians 2,000 years ago! This miracle of God’s physical presence to us at every Mass is the truest testament to Christ’s love for us and His desire for each of us to have a personal relationship with Him. Catholics Come Home. “The Eucharist and the Mass.” (https://www.catholicscomehome.org/your-questions/church-teachings/the-eucharist/). Last Accessed 24 January 2020.

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Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).