A teacher friend of mine recently said, when talking to one of his students about the Reformation, “What do you know already?” He was expecting answers about Henry VIII wanting to get divorced, or the Catholic Church being so wealthy at the expense of the faithful. But he was greeted with an in-depth explanation of how indulgences and transubstantiation work. The student, unprompted, commented: “Transubstantiation, for Catholics, means that God is always in the same room as them.”
You may think that this was a child from a devoutly Catholic family, receiving a Catholic education. But this boy is at a secular school and comes from a Muslim household. Yet here, in one sentence, was an observation of an important reality: God comes down from heaven to be with us truly and really.
How many of us consider this reality when we go to church? To some extent, going to Mass can become like brushing our teeth: we do it every day and it becomes part of our routine, but we don’t necessarily consciously think about it each time. The same can be true of the Blessed Sacrament: Our Blessed Saviour is there in every tabernacle, and we see that small white Host being elevated during Mass. But do we always recognise that this truly is Christ, body and blood, soul and divinity, coming down from heaven and being fully present in our midst? Do we realise that Jesus is with us?
We have had cause to think about this more deeply, working on the restoration of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, in Covent Garden. This is a church that was beginning to show the wear of time and looking tired and distressed. It was a far cry from the bright lights of the theatres surrounding it.
A parishioner commented that, in stripping away the grubby whitewash, she first realised how bad it had become. For the first time in many years, people began to discover London’s hidden gem that has the Blessed Sacrament as its focus and heart. The eyes are immediately drawn to the great tabernacle, adorned by three thurible-bearing angels. The sanctuary walls have been lovingly gilded so that the entire Sanctuary appears to be the heart of a tabernacle, and the dark blue of the ceiling is adorned with stars, reminding us that our worship at Mass unites with the worship of the cosmos as our hearts are lifted to heaven.
The restoration of the building was only one part of the revival of Corpus Christi. The entire project would be meaningless without a spiritual anchor; for us, this most naturally is a confraternity dedicated to worshipping and honouring this greatest of sacraments and helping to catechise the faithful more about our Eucharistic Lord. Thus, in October 2016 the Sodality of the Blessed Sacrament was founded as a means to bring Catholics together in a particular way around a common focus.
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