In addition to elaborate or even simple processions, one way in which many Catholics have expressed their devotion toward the feast of Corpus Christi is through works of art. If one were to look at Christian art throughout the centuries, they would find countless paintings, sculptures, stained glass windows, as well as many other art forms, that depict Corpus Christi processions and the important role the Eucharist plays in the Catholic faith.
Often, these pieces are very elaborate, depicting the glory of God shining down upon various saints and sinners who are waiting for salvation, and who are completely astonished by what they are witnessing.
A painting about the Eucharist by Italian artist Paolo da San Leocadio (1447–1520) is actually very simple. This painting is fittingly called Christ with the Host, and as such, depicts Jesus holding up his body and blood, the gifts he would leave the world. Surrounding him is the traditional goldleaf background that is often found in Italian renaissance art. This was done in this period often to depict heaven and show the subject’s proximity to God, but also to serve the more practical purpose of lighting up dark churches.
Visible around Christ’s head is a golden halo, painted in the same shade of gold, but still visible to the eye in order to demonstrate Jesus’ holiness.
What is truly remarkable about San Leocadio’s painting, however, is the look on Jesus’ face. The artist depicts him looking calmly forward, almost as if he is meant to be making direct eye contact with whomever is looking at the painting and offering them the gifts of his body and blood.
One can almost imagine him saying to us, “Take and eat; this is my body,” and, “Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant” (Matthew 26:26, 27–28) during the Last Supper to his disciples. Just as Jesus spoke directly to his disciples about his body and blood, so he directly speaks to us.
During his homily on the feast of Corpus Christi in 2017, Pope Francis said:
The Eucharist also reminds us that we are not isolated individuals, but one body. As the people in the desert gathered the manna that fell from heaven and shared it in their families (see Exodus 16), so Jesus, the bread come down from heaven, calls us together to receive him and to share him with one another. The Eucharist is not a sacrament “for me;” it is the sacrament of the many, who form one body, God’s holy and faithful people. (Homily of His Holiness Pope Francis, June 18, 2017)
Indeed, when I look at this painting, I feel as if I am not alone and that Jesus is directly calling all of us to share in the gifts he left us. Thus, to celebrate Corpus Christi, we don’t necessarily need to put on an elaborate display of our devotion. Nevertheless, we should be mindful of, and be thankful for, the fact that Jesus speaks to us directly through the Eucharist.