Why are we taking Jesus outdoors?

I love the Feast of Corpus Christi. The parish where I am employed is named “Most Blessed Sacrament” and Corpus Christi (the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ) is our feast day.

This year we are doing the “holy festival” in a big way, with three days of prayer, adoration, speakers, Masses, processions and, of course, food … lots and lots of food. It is a day to celebrate Jesus who comes to us as the Eucharist. Then we become what we eat, we become the body and blood of Christ.

You may still find parishes that have a Corpus Christi procession. The Blessed Sacrament, exposed in a monstrance, is carried outdoors. If you are lucky enough to be in Rome for this feast, the large procession begins after Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran and moves through Rome to conclude with benediction at St. Mary Major, a few miles away. In a city where Catholic churches are relatively close to one another, the procession may move from church to church. At my parish, we move around the boundaries of our property.

Our parish still has a preserved and restored baldacchino. Four people are needed to carry this heavily embroidered, fabric canopy. Walking beneath the canopy is the priest holding the Blessed Sacrament. Four to six candle-bearers accompany him. A cross-bearer and thurifer, carrying burning incense, precedes him. You might also see recent first communicants, dressed in their first Communion outfits, Knights of Columbus in uniform and various religious organizations, each carrying their special banner. Following behind the Blessed Sacrament are the remainder of the laity.

Typically, there are four stations with a temporary altar set up, where the procession stops to listen to the proclamation of a Gospel, a prayer and a blessing.

One may wonder how this type of procession, which is bound to have some disorganization no matter how well organized, fosters devotion to the Eucharist? Why are we taking Jesus outdoors? In the “Ceremonial for Bishops,” it notes that when the Eucharist is carried solemnly “the Christian people give public witness to their belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist and to their devotion” (n. 386).

The eucharistic procession challenges us to openly proclaim who we follow and whose we are. Procession planners make every attempt to choose a route that will foster decorum and be without any loss of reverence toward this sacrament. However, it is likely that, in the era we live, a group of people moving down a public sidewalk with the Blessed Sacrament is going to be met by incredulous expressions and, in some instances, even with taunts or jeers. Not unlike Jesus on his walk to Calvary.
As you gather on this holy feast, keep in mind that —whether your parish has a eucharistic procession or not — all of us who are united by the Eucharist, proceed together as the body of Christ on our journey of faith each and every day.

Zahorik is pastoral associate at Most Blessed Sacrament Parish, Oshkosh.