Thursday, June 19, 2014

Taking the Eucharist to the Streets

Corpus Christi Procession Through the Streets of Rome
On June 15, 2014, Pope Francis invited Romans and visitors to join the upcoming Corpus Christi Mass and procession on Thursday June 19, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi[1] . The observance of the Feast begins with a Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the Cathedral where the pope officiates as Bishop of Rome. A procession then follows the Mass with the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a gold and jewel-studded monstrance that is carried under a canopy. The procession wends its way a mile and a half to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where it ends with a final Benediction.  The Mass in honor of the feast and the procession through the streets of Rome between these two very impressive major basilicas take place in the evening, and those who have been fortunate enough to participate say the Mass is beautiful, and the candlelight procession is stunning.

Timing Is Almost Everything

In most countries, the Feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated on the traditional date of the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Pentecost. In the United States, Canada, and parts of Spain, the bishops have transferred the Solemnity of the Feast of Corpus Christi to the following Sunday.

The official title of this feast is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Sollemnitas Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi), but the feast is commonly referred to as Corpus Christi. Where it is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi is a holyday of obligation and it is also a public holiday in many predominantly Catholic countries, including “Austria, Brazil, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, East Timor, parts of Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Panama, Peru, Poland, San Marino, parts of Spain and Switzerland, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago”[2].

At individual churches and oratories where the pre-Vatican II (pre-Councilar) rites are observed the Solemnity is often celebrated on the traditional date on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but it also may be celebrated on the following Sunday by these groups, because of pastoral considerations. At a growing number of locations, Corpus Christi processions are being made after the Mass of the feast, whether the Mass is in the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form, and whether the feast is observed on the traditional Thursday or transferred to the following Sunday.

Just in the San Francisco Bay Area alone, the following randomly selected examples illustrate some of the very different ways that the feast may be observed.
•    The Mass for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi is being celebrated as a sung High Mass in the Extraordinary Form without a procession at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland on Thursday the 19th. On following Sunday, the 22nd, the Solemnity will be celebrated with two Masses  at the same church, one in the Ordinary Form and one in the Extraordinary Form and both will be followed by Eucharistic processions.
•    Across the Bay, Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco had advertised a Solemn High Mass to be offered on Thursday the 19th, followed by a Eucharistic Procession on the “Streets of San Francisco.”
•    In Palo Alto on the San Francisco peninsula, the St. Ann choir will sing Josquin Des Prez’s polyphonic Mass setting, Missa Pange lingua, at an Ordinary Form Mass in Latin on Sunday, June 22, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, followed by a procession of the Blessed Sacrament.

Why Does the Church take the Eucharist to the Streets?

Corpus Christi processions bring the Blessed Sacrament out from the church buildings into the world, because the Church wants to share this immense gift of God with everyone.  St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis’ namesake, had this to say about the Eucharist, “For one in such a lofty position to stoop so low is a marvel that is staggering. What sublime humility and humble sublimity, that the Lord of the Universe, the Divine Son of God, should so humble Himself as to hide under the appearance of bread for our Salvation!”

"The feast of Corpus Christi is one time when our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is exposed not just to faithful Catholics but to all the world. This is a time when Catholics can show their love for Christ in the Real Presence by honoring Him in a very public way. It is also a wonderful way in which we can show our love for our neighbors by bringing Our Lord and Savior closer to them. So many conversions are a result of Eucharistic Adoration experienced from inside the Church. How many more there would be if we could reach those who only drive by the church in worldly pursuits."--Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association

When in Rome Do As the Polish Do

In many countries elaborate Corpus Christi processions have been held for centuries and still being held today in cities and in towns. But for about a hundred years, in Rome, Italy, the center of Roman Catholicism, these processions were only held within the confines of St. Peter’s Square, which is within the boundaries of the autonomous Vatican state, not technically part of Italy at all.

In 1982, Pope St. John Paul II, remembering the elaborate processions through the streets of his native Poland, brought the Corpus Christi procession out of St. Peter’s Square and back to the streets and the people of Rome. His successors, Benedict XVI and now Francis continue the Roman Corpus Christi processions to this day. “Pope John Paul wanted the Blessed Sacrament carried into the city, where the people lived, as they did in Poland.”
Remembering Corpus Christi with Pope John Paul II--Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, "Today's Catholic News," posted May 28, 2013.

Polish Corpus Christi Procession with Infant of Prague Statue
Vatican II Did Not Downplay Eucharistic Adoration, Said Pope Benedict XVI

In a 2012 CNS article titled, "Vatican II did not downplay eucharistic adoration, pope says," Pope Benedict XVI clarified a mistaken impression held by many that "eucharistic adoration and Corpus Christi processions are pietistic practices that pale in importance to the celebration of Mass."

Celebration and adoration are not in competition, the pope said. "Worshipping the Blessed Sacrament constitutes something like the spiritual environment in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. ...

"It is true that Christ inaugurated a new form of worship, one tied less to a place and a ritual and more to his person, but people still need 'signs and rites,' the pope said. In fact, without its annual Corpus Christi procession, "the spiritual profile of Rome" would change.

St. Thomas Aquinas and the Liturgies of Corpus Christi

When Pope Urban IV added the feast of Corpus Christi to the Church's liturgical calendar in 1264, he asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the liturgy. St. Thomas wrote the famous Sequence (a poem that precedes the Gospel) for the Mass of day, the Lauda Sion Salvatorem (Sion, Lift Up thy Voice and Sing).  St. Thomas is widely fcknown for his brilliance, but he is perhaps less known for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He was even seen levitating before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer.

Lauda Sion Salvatorum

Sion, lift thy voice and sing:
Praise thy Savior and thy King;
Praise with hymns thy Shepherd true:
Dare thy most to praise Him well;
For He doth all praise excel;
None can ever reach His due.

Special theme of praise is Thine,
That true living Bread divine,
That life-giving flesh adored,
Which the brethren twelve received,
As most faithfully believed,
At the Supper of the Lord.

Let the chant be loud and high;
Sweet and tranquil be the joy
Felt to-day in every breast;
On this festival divine
Which recounts the origin
Of the glorious Eucharist.

As described in Corpus Christi: Our Debt to St. Thomas Aquinas by Stephanie A. Mann, which was posted at Catholic Exchange on June 7, 2012: "St. Thomas also wrote a hymn for Vespers: Pange Lingua (Sing, tongue, the mystery of the glorious Body), from which we have the Tantum Ergo (Down in Adoration Falling) verses sung at Benediction. … His hymn for Matins, Sacris Solemniis (Sacred Solemnity), includes the great Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) meditation … From the third hymn, for Lauds, Verbum Supernum Prodiens (Word Descending from Above), we take the other Benediction hymn, O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim).

"Finally, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a hymn of Eucharistic thanksgiving, Adore Te Devote (Devoutly I Adore Thee)."

Adoro Te Devote

Godhead here in hiding
Whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows,
Shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service
Low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder
At the God Thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting
Are in Thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing?
That shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me,
Take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly
Or there’s nothing true.

On the cross Thy Godhead
Made no sign to men;
Here Thy very manhood
Steals from human ken:
Both are my confession,
Both are my belief;
And I pray the prayer
Of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas,
Wounds I cannot see,
But I plainly call Thee
Lord and God as he;
This faith each day deeper
Be my holding of,
Daily make me harder
Hope and dearer love.

In his 2003 encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope St. John Paul II praised St. Thomas Aquinas as "an impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist," and rightly so.

[1] EWTN has currently scheduled broadcasts of the three hour Holy Mass at St. John Lateran and the Eucharistic Procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major for Thursday 06/19/2014, 1:00 PM ET and Friday 06/20/2014, 12:00 AM ET. Click here for local times.
[2] Corpus Christi (feast), from Wikipedia

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