A special day to honor the Eurcharist

By | June 6, 2012

Shortly after Pentecost, we celebrate three solemnities or major feasts. Last week we honored the Most Holy Trinity, today we celebrate the Body and Blood of the Lord, and this Friday we will commemorate the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus. In many parts of the world, Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday after Pentecost. However, in the United States, the bishops designated the second Sunday after Pentecost for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Every Sunday we celebrate the paschal mystery. Whenever we gather for Mass, we have the ability to receive his body and blood. So why set aside one special day to honor the Eucharist?

The feast dates back to the 13th century and to the devotion of an Augustinian nun, Juliana of Liège. In 1208, she had a vision in which Christ asked her to petition for a special feast to honor the Eucharist. That vision was repeated for 20 years until finally Juliana told her confessor and the local bishop. (She also mentioned it to Jacques Pantaléon, who later became Pope Urban IV).

Since a bishop could declare a special feast day for his own diocese, in 1249 Bishop Robert de Thorete ordered a yearly feast to honor the Body and Blood of Christ. In 1265, Pope Urban IV extended the feast to the whole Latin rite and asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the prayer texts for the feast. These are still used today whenever we celebrate a votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament. St. Thomas also wrote two hymns for the feast. We still use the Pange Lingua during the procession on Holy Thursday night. And whenever we celebrate Benediction, we use the last two verses of the Pange Lingua (Tantum Ergo), and the last two verses of his other hymn, O Salutaris, before the actual benediction or blessing of the people.

On this feast, it has been a tradition in some places to process with the Blessed Sacrament after Mass. When the Blessed Sacrament is carried in procession, it is covered by a canopy and accompanied by lighted candles. In some places, the procession may move throughout the town stopping for prayer, song, incensing the Blessed Sacrament and blessing the people. In our diocese, Bishop Ricken has this type of procession in a six block radius around the Cathedral, St. Willebrord and St. John the Evangelist churches.

Whether we celebrate in English, Latin, or Spanish, with processions or other customs, using traditional or contemporary music, we gather to honor the great gift of Christ’s true and abiding presence in the Eucharist — the source and summit of the church’s activity, and the center of our spiritual lives.

Sr. Rehrauer is the diocesan director of Evangelization, Living Justice and Worship.

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