Given at the inauguration and blessing of the Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament, at Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, 3rd June 2018.
Today is one of the great Feasts of the Church, full of resonance. Its readings take us to the heart of our faith; its celebrations and processions enrich our memories. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ in the year 2018 will be remembered not only here in this Church of Corpus Christi but also across the diocese and, I pray, more widely.
In the first reading we were taken into one of the earliest realities of the covenant between God and his people. We heard how this covenant, consisting in the gift of God's law being embraced by the people, was sealed in the shedding of the blood of a sacrificial victim. This blood was cast both onto the altar and onto the people, thereby binding them into the agreement, the covenant, which sprang from the gracious action of God.
Then we listened to the passage from the Gospel of St Mark. As we heard its words, so familiar and beloved, surely we understood again why the word 'Gospel' means the 'good news of God'. Here the New Covenant is established, not in the blood of an animal, but in the precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, given for us not only on the Cross but also in the Most Blessed Sacrament of his abiding presence.
There are two things always to remember about this Sacrament. Flowing from the celebration of the Mass, which brings into every present moment the one, unique saving death of Jesus, this Sacrament becomes the holding forth of his self-giving for all time. And what is more, this Sacrament opens before us a glimpse of heaven, the return of Jesus who has entered the day of 'the new wine of heaven' and is longing to lead us too into its joys. In this Sacrament we are constantly being given the greatest gift on earth, the gift of Jesus himself, and our hearts are constantly being opened to the promise of future glory. This is the cause of our great joy today!
On 9th July 1847, Cardinal Manning visited Malines. He was on his way to Italy, after recovering from a long period of illness and still an Anglican. In that city, he attended Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction in the cathedral. Reflecting on it later he wrote: 'The procession gave me a strong feeling of the reality of the Incarnation and of their (Catholic) way of witnessing to it.' Indeed, devotion was to play a great part in his journey into the Catholic Church for he saw in such devotion not only a manifestation of true doctrine but an expression of a profound life of faith.
Much later in life, in 1891, in his old age, he wrote that there was so much more to becoming a Catholic than accepting the decrees of the Council of Trent. I quote: 'That is only a very small part of it. Becoming a Catholic really means becoming again as a little child and having a new heart.'
These memories and convictions must surely have been in his mind when, on 20th October 1874 he came here to a newly-opened church and proclaimed it to be 'a sanctuary to be specifically devoted to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament'. Here, he knew, disciples of the Lord could come to meet him, in that most simple and direct manner: being before him in the Blessed Sacrament in an intimacy of gaze and heart that both refreshes the soul and stirs it into action.
It is my privilege to be here today to declare this newly and beautifully renovated church to be our Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament. In doing so I pray that so many, young and old, will come here to raise their voices 'in songs of love and heartfelt praise', find again a 'home for every heart where restless yearns cease', a 'shelter blessed' and discover a true glimpse of our 'Godhead's majesty', to borrow the words of a previous parish priest!
In our response to the gift of this Sacrament, it is surely right that we lavish all that is best of our skill and endeavour, for one reason only: in order to express our love for the Lord. The extravagant beauty of this shrine is an outpouring of that love. In ways beyond words, that beauty will call people into this sanctuary, into this glimpse of heaven, and speak to their hearts with its message of eternal comfort and calm, in a world so often lacking in both.
In the reading for today from the Letter to the Hebrews, we crossed the bridge from the First to the New Covenant. We are reminded that Jesus is forever our intercessor, for 'he has entered the sanctuary once and for all, taking with him not the blood of goats and bull calves, but his own blood, having won an eternal redemption for us' (Heb 9.12). He is forever our mediator, our high priest, in whose actions we trust and in which we are called to share.
Indeed, in this way the Blessed Sacrament is the source of our mission. From this holy shrine, we are sent out. We are not to linger too long in its embrace, but rather, strengthened here, we leave in order to fulfil our share in this great mission. This was the hope of Cardinal Manning, too. He lamented the fact that he never gained wide support from English Catholics for his social work and their bland indifference left him exasperated. He wrote, sharply, 'What are our people doing? Oh, I forgot; they have no time. They are examining their consciences or praying for success in finding a really satisfactory maid' (cf 'Cardinal Manning', by Robert Gray, p 272). May this shrine become a powerhouse for our social outreach, so that moved by the mercy and grace of God which is received here, we may all, without exception, contribute to that work of mercy, of 'caritas', towards the most needy, in a true expression of our faith.
On 8th September 2010, in our own cathedral, and commenting on this same text, Pope Benedict said this: 'Let us pray that the Catholics of this land will become ever more conscious of their dignity as a priestly people, called to consecrate the world to God through lives of faith and holiness.' He continued: 'I invite you once more to look to Christ, who leads us in our faith and brings it to perfection. I invite you to unite yourselves ever more fully to the Lord, sharing in his spiritual sacrifice on the Cross and offering him that 'spiritual worship' (Rom 12.1) which embraces every aspect of our lives and finds expression in our efforts to contribute to the coming of his kingdom, building a society truly worthy of man, worthy of your nation’s highest traditions.'
May this Shrine to the Most Blessed Sacrament, not least through its Sodality, enrich the life of faith in our time and bring to many the joy and consolation of the Lord's presence, so that we may all come to know and praise his beauty, with all our brothers and sisters, in the life to come. Amen