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The Significance of Corpus Christi

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The Church's celebration of the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, known as Corpus Christi, holds great significance due to the centrality of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. Described by the Catechism of the Catholic Church as the "sum and summary of our faith," the Eucharist is considered the source and summit of the Christian life according to the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen Gentium, No. 11). It is these truths about the Eucharist that inspired Saint Juliana of Liège, a medieval saint, to advocate for the establishment of this yearly solemnity.

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By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
6/7/2023 (3 months ago)

Published in Living Faith

Keywords: feast, Corpus Christi, Jesus, body, blood, Eucharist

Saint Juliana, a Norbertine canoness from modern-day Belgium, dedicated her life to promoting a feast that would honor and celebrate Christ's real presence in the Eucharist and its profound significance for the Church. Her devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, coupled with private revelations she received, led her to advocate for the establishment of a liturgical feast to commemorate the sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood. Initially, she felt powerless to bring about this feast due to the cultural limitations of the early 13th century. However, with the support of her confessor, John of Lausanne, and her confidante, Blessed Eva of Liège, the feast was eventually approved by their diocesan bishop in 1246.

Blessed Eva played a crucial role in expanding the celebration of Corpus Christi beyond its local origins after Saint Juliana's death. She reached out to Pope Urban IV, who had prior knowledge of Saint Juliana's visions and their significance. In a providential turn of events, Pope Urban IV declared Corpus Christi as a universal feast in 1264, making it the first obligatory feast imposed by a pope. He assigned the renowned theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas to compose new liturgical texts for the feast. During a time when scholars debated the nature of Christ's presence in the Eucharist, Saint Thomas defended the doctrine of transubstantiation, providing a philosophical foundation for the Church's understanding of the Eucharist.

Many of the texts composed by Saint Thomas Aquinas for Corpus Christi, such as "Adoro te Devote" and "Pange Lingua," remain integral to the Church's sacred hymnography. "Pange Lingua" is often sung during the Eucharistic procession following the Evening Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday, with the final two stanzas, known separately as "Tantum ergo," sung during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

A significant aspect of Corpus Christi is the Eucharistic procession, which holds biblical, liturgical, and pietistic importance. Processions involving sacred elements have a long history, such as the processions with the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday in the New Testament. Eucharistic processions, which emerged shortly after the establishment of Corpus Christi, serve to reaffirm the Church's belief in the real presence of the Blessed Sacrament. In medieval times, these processions were grand events involving entire towns and cities. They were particularly splendid in European Catholic monarchies, with sovereigns, nobility, civic officials, and military guards participating. The faithful would kneel in adoration as the procession passed by, a tradition still observed in certain Catholic monarchies like the Principality of Monaco.

In recent years, the Pope has led a Corpus Christi procession through the streets of Rome, concluding at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. This custom was restored by Pope St. John Paul II, who had previously clashed with Communist leaders in Poland over his efforts to revive the full Corpus Christi processions of his youth. Both Pope St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI emphasized the importance of Eucharistic processions, as they allow the faithful to publicly proclaim their faith and express gratitude for the gift of the Eucharist.

Today, many parishes continue the tradition of Eucharistic processions, adapting them to their local customs and culture. Altars adorned with flowers and candles may be set up in front of homes along the procession route for the faithful to stop and adore the Eucharistic Lord. Processions can span several blocks or even miles, culminating in a different church. The Ceremonial of Bishops provides guidelines for the organization of the procession, including the order of ministers. Various groups and associations within the parish, such as the choir or fraternal organizations, often participate, showcasing the diverse gifts within the mystical Body of Christ. Hymns, chants, litanies, and prayers accompany the procession, and it typically concludes with Benediction before reposing the Blessed Sacrament.

The celebration of Corpus Christi and its Eucharistic procession provide a joyful opportunity to honor and praise God's gift of the Eucharist. By proclaiming their faith and expressing gratitude for being nourished by Christ's love, the faithful can bear witness to the profound mystery of the Eucharist in their daily lives.

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