What We Are Celebrating
On the Thursday or Sunday after Trinity Sunday, the Church celebrates The Feast of Corpus Christi, also known as The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. This Feast commemorates the immense gift of the Eucharist in our lives and in the Church.
In Latin, Corpus Christi means Body of Christ. On Holy Thursday, we remember the institution of the priesthood and the Eucharist, the Last Supper, the Agony in the Garden, the betrayal of Judas and the beginning of the Passion of Christ. It is easy to become lost in so many beautiful things to remember. Corpus Christi Sunday allows us to focus solely on celebrating the real presence of Christ – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – in the bread and wine.
A Feast Begins
The origins of the Feast of Corpus Christi date back to the Middle Ages!
During the thirteenth century, a Belgian nun named Sister Juliana, had a great devotion to the Eucharist. Through visions, Our Lord told her to establish a Feast dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. Through the influence of Sister Juliana, the importance of spreading devotion to the Blessed Sacrament reached the future Pope Urban IV. Sister Juliana died in 1258 and is now recognized as a Saint.
In 1263, a German priest by the name of Father Peter, stopped to celebrate Mass in Bolsena, Italy while he was on his way to Rome for a pilgrimage. Father Peter was having doubts at the time as to whether the Eucharist was truly the Body and Blood of Christ. However, as he celebrated Mass, when he prayed the prayer of Consecration, blood emerged from the consecrated host, spilling onto the altar.
Father Peter reported the miracle to Pope Urban IV, who sent delegates to investigate the miracle. Today, the Cathedral of Orvieto, Italy, is the resting place of the relics from this Eucharistic miracle.
The message of Sister Juliana and the Eucharistic Miracle in Bolsena, greatly affected Pope Urban IV. In 1264, through a papal bull called Transiturus de hoc mundo, Pope Urban IV instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost. Under Pope Clement V, Corpus Christi became a universal Feast. However, under Pope John XXII, devotion to the Holy Eucharist spread widely.
Ways to Celebrate Corpus Christi
A beautiful way to celebrate is participating in a Eucharistic Procession! Children who have just received their First Holy Communion can walk in front of the procession scattering flower petals in honor of Our Lord. If there is no procession at a nearby parish, going to Mass and Adoration are excellent ways to celebrate on this day!
In some countries, Corpus Christi is a public holiday (if it does not fall on a Sunday).
Josephine Nobisso’s book – The Weight of the Mass: A Tale of Faith, can help children understand the importance of the Mass. There is a read-aloud/animated video of this book as well. The Feast of Corpus Christi is definitely about understanding the importance of the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ. However, the bread and wine can only be transformed into Christ, through the Mass. Understanding the value and importance of the Mass is important, especially since it is so often taken for granted.
There are many beautiful hymns about the Eucharist: Miracle of Grace by Curtis Stephen; Pange Lingua (the words were written by Saint Thomas Aquinas); Ave Verum Corpus (the words to this hymn can be found here); and Panis Angelicus (here are the Latin words and English translation to this beautiful hymn).
The Source and Summit of Our Faith
Saint John Vianney was right when he said:
If we truly understood the Mass, we would die of joy.
The Eucharist is such a fundamental aspect of our faith but unfortunately, one that we can easily take for granted. It is said that if Angels could envy humans, they would envy our ability to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. When we receive Communion, Christ is closer to us than ever! We should never take this precious gift for granted.
“How many of you say: I should like to see His face, His garments, His shoes. You do see Him. You touch Him. You eat Him. He gives Himself to you that you may see Him, but also to be your food and nourishment.” Saint John Chrysostom