By S.L. Hansen
(SNR) - Catholics around the world will celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi during the first week of June. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared that Sunday, June 7 will be the celebration in the U.S., while other nations will celebrate June 4.
The full name of this feast is Corpus et Sanguis Christi or The Body and Blood of Christ. This is a movable feast that depends on the date of Easter Sunday. It is generally celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, which is set for one week after Pentecost Sunday.
This is an occasion for Catholics to honor Christ in the Real Presence of the Holy Eucharist. It is also an important witness to the whole world, as the feast is typically observed with outdoor Eucharistic processions. The sight of finely dressed people singing hymns as they parade with the Holy Eucharist held aloft in a monstrous under a decorative canopy is difficult to ignore and can stir an onlooker’s heart to conversion.
The Feast of Corpus Christi originated in the 13th century with a vision received by a Belgian nun, St. Juliana of Liège. Because it was during a time when bishops were free to initiate feasts in their own dioceses, St. Juliana went to see her archbishop, Jacques Pantaléon.
The feast was first celebrated locally in 1246. When Archbishop Pantaléon became Pope Urban IV in 1261, he decided to promote the Feast of Corpus Christi worldwide as a way of combatting complacency among the faithful and various heresies that had crept into the culture.
Pope Urban IV commissioned two great theologians of the day to compose music for the Feast of Corpus Christi: St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure. As the legend goes, the three met to review the submissions. St. Thomas Aquinas was invited to present his first, and his work was so beautiful, St. Bonaventure quietly tore his own composition to shreds without anyone hearing one word.
The Corpus Christi procession always includes four different outdoor altars, representing the four corners of the earth. Each is decorated with seasonal flowers and candles. The people process from a church singing hymns. As they reach each altar, there are readings, prayers and benediction.
There are other customs associated with the feast as well. For example, in central Europe, Corpus Christi is known as “the Day of Wreaths.” Large floral wreaths, garlands and bouquets are attached to poles and set along the route of a Corpus Christi procession. People also use blessed wreathes to decorate their homes, while farmers set them up in their fledgling croplands with prayers for protection and blessings on their growing harvests.
Consult your parish bulletin to find a procession near to you.
How to celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi:
1. Pray that the Lord will renew your love for His Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist.
2. Go to Mass. Pay particular attention to the beautiful hymns of the feast day liturgy.
3. Go to a Eucharistic Procession in your area. It’s traditional for the people in the procession to carry flowers and sing (the parish hosting the procession usually provides printed hymns). Some parishes also invite children who have received the sacraments of First Holy Communion or Confirmation to dress up in their sacramental outfits again and follow the leaders of the procession. If you attend a parish’s Corpus Christi procession, those who walk in the procession follow the Eucharist in a spirit of prayer. If you watch the procession, it is customary to kneel as the Eucharist passes by.
4. Hang a floral wreath on your front door.
5. Enjoy a special meal and/or dessert with your family and friends.