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There”€™s no place more holy than the tabernacle

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There”€™s no place more holy than the tabernacle

The festive air surrounding
, the sumptuous decorations adorning churches and lining the
streets, and everything else that goes along with the popular devotion
expressed on this special solemnity, can distract us from its objective core:
the Eucharist, the Body of our Lord, the papal bull
Transiturus of Urban IV, the corporal venerated in the cathedral
at Orvieto “€“ all these have been scrutinized from a historical point of view,
but in recent years there has been insufficient attention to a more rigorous
theological discussion and analysis of these themes. A recently published
volume attempts to fill this lacuna:
“€œCorpus Domini”€: Teologia, antropologia e politica,
edited by Laura
Andreani and Agostino Paravicini Bagliani (Florence: Edizioni Sismel, 2015,
380 pages, 62.00 Euro)

A simple glance at the book”€™s contents
gives us an idea of the enormous range of research that went into a virtually
exhaustive project. Beginning with the extreme care given to the Eucharist,
the liturgy, and papal ceremonies in the thirteenth century, the book goes on
to examine four general areas of research: a theology rooted in experience,
the liturgy, connections with domains outside the area of worship, and
various social groups involved in outward expressions of the Eucharistic

Sixteen scholars gathered to discuss
these areas from the viewpoint of their respective specialties, including
theology, anthropology, and politics. Although there is an obvious interest
in looking at the Eucharistic liturgical cult itself throughout the year and
especially on this feast day, less evident is an interest in the influence
the Eucharist has on mysticism, social life, popular belief, historiography,
general mindsets, and how all these relate to heretical positions and magical

Insofar as this Eucharistic event
extends to the life of the whole city, it naturally provokes interest among
government officials and those responsible for the
civitas. “€œCivic”€ religion, in fact, never loses sight of the
importance of
Corpus Christi, even
if only for the fact that the celebration of
Corpus Christi involves large civic processions. Princes and bishops,
cardinals and artists, confraternities and associations have all left their
mark on the origins of this feast as well as on its image in the public mind.

Reading the sixteen chapters of this
book, it may come as a surprise “€“ especially given its medieval roots “€“ that
it was primarily women who made the jump from Eucharistic piety to the
mystical life, beginning from Brabante and extending to Renania and all the
way to Umbria “€“ or to the “€œBrabantine Umbria”€ “€“ and from there to Bolsena and
the miracle of the corporal in Orvieto, thus paving the way for the great age
of mysticism we find in figues like Angela da Foligno, Margherita da Cortona,
and Chiara da Montefalco between the years of 1247 and 1309.

Women, “€œwho stood on the margins of
the “€˜religion of the book”€™, placed adoration of the Body of Christ at the
center of their own faith”€. Biographies of the time acknowledge that women
were excluded from priestly ministry and from physical contact with sacred
things, but that they were nonetheless elevated to “€œbecome”€ the altar, the
incense, and the sacrificial victim. Angela da Foligno, who experienced both
Trinitarian and Eucharistic ecstasies, put it in this way: “€œHaving my heart
enthralled with joy and being inside the Trinity “€“ inside that little compartment
where the Body of Christ is reserved “€“ I understood that he was in all
places, filling every thing with his presence”€.

Even today, those who study popular
piety, while highlighting various aspects of pilgrimages to famous
sanctuaries where miracles and apparitions took place, remind us today that
there is no holier place on earth than the tabernacle. Indeed, they teach us
that “€œthere are Eucharistic miracles occurring all the time in the modern
world, which history will soon or later have to start paying attention to”€.

by Fortunato Frezza 


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