(The argument is that in rural and under-staffed parishes, a major feast day requires a coordination of many part-time workers, which is just too hard to pull off during the week. Theoretically, I think it’s a shame to lose the sense that yes, the liturgy can and should interrupt our work week! But practically, we should always be willing to give our pastors the benefit of the doubt, just as we want the benefit of the doubt for the challenges of our own vocations. If they say they can’t make Corpus Christi happen on Thursday, we should be merciful with them.)
Now, this “Thursday after Holy Trinity – which is the Sunday after Pentecost . . . which is the seventh Sunday after Easter” is such an odd way to schedule things that it deserves our attention.
Corpus Christi is on Thursday because Thursday is the day of the Last Supper – way back during Holy Week. In our weekly rhythms, where Friday we remember the Cross, Saturday Mary’s waiting, and Sunday the Resurrection, Thursday too can be marked by a remembrance of the Last Supper, one of the key moments in the history of salvation.
Corpus Christi relives Holy Thursday, but under a particular aspect. So much is going on that night: we are anticipating the Lord’s death, entering the Triduum, recalling the institution of the priesthood, washing feet. But of course we are also recalling the institution of the Eucharist. And that particular aspect is worthy of a second run of Holy Thursday, another Thursday where we specifically recall the giving of Christ’s Body.
That’s why we celebrate it (or, in theory, would celebrate it) on Thursday.
But why now? Why this particular Thursday?
The simplest answer is that now it’s Ordinary Time, and there’s nothing else to compete with. This gets close to the answer – though let us note that strictly speaking, that’s really wrong. In fact, in Ordinary Time what it competes with is the orderly reading of the Bible. That’s what will get wiped out by moving it to Sunday. That was, in fact, a key point in the liturgical reform of Vatican II: we should try to live Ordinary Time well, not run it over with other feasts and exceptions. In one sense, the Thursdays in Easter are more “open” to getting bumped by Corpus Christi than is Ordinary Time.
Yet the real reason this reliving of Holy Thursday comes so long after Holy Week is precisely so that we can live out each part of the paschal mystery. Easter deserves its fifty days. And more to the point, Corpus Christi is not part of Easter.
In one sense, Corpus Christi is part of Holy Week – and in another sense, it is part of the time after Pentecost, the time of the Church, Ordinary Time. Corpus Christi, in fact, celebrates Holy Week radiating out into Our Time: Holy Thursday, and the whole Paschal Triduum, made present to us today.
Pentecost is the fulfillment of Easter, the radiating out of the heart of Christ into his Church. At the end of his forty days, Christ goes up to heaven – and then launches us on our way, with Pentecost.
Holy Trinity is the completion of Pentecost. In fact, Pentecost used to have an octave, an eight-day celebration, so that Holy Trinity is simply the last day of Pentecost. (Vatican II simplified some of these things: let’s just emphasize the fifty days of Easter, not fifty days, then seven more, etc. The same thing happened before Lent: the old season of Septuagesima, the pre-Lent preparation for Lent, was lovely . . . but let’s just focus on the forty days.)
Holy Trinity, for all its mysteriousness, is simply a celebration of the Father and the Son being one – and the Spirit they send us being part of that unity, so that Pentecost comes from the Father and the Son, and unites us back to them.
Corpus Christi is only four days later, the Thursday after Holy Trinity. After we have completed the Easter mystery with Pentecost-Holy Trinity, we take the very next Thursday, the first Thursday back into the ordinary year, to return to Holy Thursday, and find in it the source of our union. We find in Corpus Christi, in fact, the primary place where we receive the Holy Spirit, our entrance into the unity of Father and Son.
How could we better meditate on the unity between Easter, Pentecost, and the Mass?