The Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ), which falls this year on the 30th of May, is really a celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion. In mediaeval times there used to be wonderful processions in which the consecrated elements were taken out of the church on this day and processed on the streets, showing that the Word made flesh was not just in a box labelled ‘church’ but in our midst, just as He was on the streets of Nazareth and Jerusalem. Rebecca Merry‘s lovely art work ( above) has the feel of those mediaeval ‘showings’ on Corpus Christi.
For my contribution to Corpus Christi I am offering here a trio of sonnets about the experience of receiving Holy Communion, each from a slightly different angle. The first two sonnets were published in Sounding the Seasons, my cycle of seventy sonnets for the Church Year.The book is now back in stock on both Amazon UK and USA and physical copies are shortly to be available in Canada via Steve Bell. It is now also out on Kindle. Please feel free to make use of this, and my other sonnets in church services and to copy and share them. If you can mention the book from which they are taken that would be great. The third sonnet, which is about the 16th Century Oak communion Table in my church St. Edward King and Martyr, will be published in my next collection The Singing Bowl, due out in November with Canterbury Press.
Margot Krebs Neale has reflected on my phrases ‘He does not come in unimagined light ‘ and ‘to dye himself into experience’ with an image not simply of a stained glass window but of that dyed and refracted light itself reflected in water. I am grateful both to Rebecca and Margot for the way their work reflects on and develops mine. As always you can hear me read the poetry by clicking on the play button above each sonnet, if it appears, or on the title of the poem itself.
This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how He comes. Through wine and bread
Love chooses to be emptied into me.
He does not come in unimagined light
Too bright to be denied, too absolute
For consciousness, too strong for sight,
Leaving the seer blind, the poet mute;
Chooses instead to seep into each sense,
To dye himself into experience.
Ready or not, you tell me, here I come!
And so I know I’m hiding, and I know
My hiding-place is useless. You will come
And find me. You are searching high and low.
Today I’m hiding low, down here, below,
Below the sunlit surface others see.
Oh find me quickly, quickly come to me.
And here you come and here I come to you.
I come to you because you come to me.
You know my hiding places. I know you,
I reach you through your hiding-places too;
Touching the slender thread, but now I see –
Even in darkness I can see you shine,
Risen in bread, and revelling in wine.
3 This Table
The centuries have settled on this table
Deepened the grain beneath a clean white cloth
Which bears afresh our changing elements.
Year after year of prayer, in hope and trouble,
Were poured out here and blessed and broken, both
In aching absence and in absent presence.
This table too the earth herself has given
And human hands have made. Where candle-flame
At corners burns and turns the air to light
The oak once held its branches up to heaven,
Blessing the elements which it became,
Rooting the dew and rain, branching the light.
Because another tree can bear, unbearable,
For us, the weight of Love, so can this table
4 responses to “A Trio of Sonnets for Corpus Christi”
Thank you for this beautiful poem, Malcolm. You mentioned that in medieval times there was a procession. At St. James Cathedral we still do this procession, but instead of walking through the city, as I saw once years ago in Tournai, we walk around the outside of the cathedral. We have musicians, trumpeters, tambourines, singers, children with flowers and ribbons. In ‘unchurched’ northwest this is a moving and joyous witnessing. To me it is an expression of loyalty, endurance and deep faith. Elizabeth email@example.com
Thanks Elizabeth it’s good to know that is happening.
“…processions in which the consecrated elements were taken out of the church on this day and processed on the streets, showing that the Word made flesh was not just in a box labelled ‘church’ but in our midst, just as He was on the streets of Nazareth and Jerusalem” That was a wonderful demonstration of the real presence: and how inspiring at a time of endless wars, terrible plagues etc. The Church would be wise to use all these wonderful symbols to bring a careless public to a greater awareness of what faith means.. Thank you most especially for your beautiful sonnets; the first one I find especially moving; the imagery reached me like an arrow of recognition.
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