Honoring Christ in the Eucharist

By | June 21, 2011

These days immediately after Pentecost provide us with three major liturgical events. Last week we honored the Most Holy Trinity, today we have Corpus Christi and on Friday we will celebrate the solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The primary feast honoring the Holy Eucharist is Holy Thursday evening, the first day of the paschal triduum. Because the triduum tends to be a solemn time which focuses on all the aspects of the death and resurrection of Jesus, the church also has another day on which we especially honor Christ’s abiding presence in the Eucharist — today’s solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

The origins of this feast go back to the thirteenth century, to a Belgian Augustinian nun. St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon was born near Liège, Belgium in 1193. Even as a child she had great devotion to the Eucharist. When she was superior of her convent, she asked Robert de Thorète, the Bishop of Liège, to establish a special feast to honor the Holy Eucharist. (In those days, bishops had the ability to create liturgical feasts for their dioceses.) The bishop established the feast of Corpus Christi for his diocese in 1246. He also asked a local monk to write an office (prayers for the Liturgy of the Hours) for the day.

Juliana had also spoken with the archdeacon of Liège, Jacques Pantaléon, who later became Pope Urban IV. He extended the feast of Corpus Christi to the universal church on Sept. 8, 1264, assigning it to the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. He also asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the prayers and hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours for the day. 

Pope Urban died only a month after his decree was published, which prevented a widespread response. However, many places in Belgium and Germany began to celebrate the feast. Later Pope Clement V issued another decree establishing the feast of Corpus Christi for the universal Church beginning in 1312.

Neither decree made reference to a eucharistic procession, but the solemnity has often been celebrated with a procession either around the church building, or even more extensively through the town or sections of the city. The procession begins immediately after Mass and the priest carries the consecrated host in the monstrance as people walk with him and sing and pray. At the close of the procession, the benediction (blessing with the Blessed Sacrament) is given to the people.

This year at the cathedral in Green Bay, Bishop David Ricken will conclude the Mass for Corpus Christi with a procession with the Blessed Sacrament.

In many parts of the world, the solemnity of Corpus Christi is a “holy days of obligation.” Where it is not commemorated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (as is the case in the United States), it is celebrated on the following Sunday.

Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization and Worship.


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