The Feast of Corpus Christi
What is it?
Corpus Christi is Latin for the Body of Christ. It is a special day of celebration when the Church honours and worships our Lord Jesus Christ present in the Holy Eucharist. Maundy Thursday, the day Jesus gave us the Holy Eucharist, would seem the appropriate time to give special devotion to the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. However, Jesus’ coming, suffering and death on the cross on the following Good Friday is the predominant focus that night. Another time in the Church Year was needed to uniquely give special thanks and celebration for the gift of the Eucharist.
How Did Corpus Christi Start?
Corpus Christi evolved during the Medieval Ages when people wanted to have greater involvement in their worship. People sought a personal connection to God and wanted to actively show this love toward him both in private devotions and outward celebrations. During this period outdoor processions, pilgrimages, carol singing, religious plays, and other private and lay communal celebrations became very popular. In particular, private and community devotions to Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar were especially popular. This devotion eventually inspired the Church to make a special day in the Church calendar to celebrate Christ’s gift of the Eucharist in the year 1264. Corpus Christi celebrations ceased in the Church of England at the time of the Reformation of the 16th century. The Feast of Corpus Christi was later revived in the 19th century in the Anglican Communion by the efforts of the Oxford Movement, a movement which sought to reconnect Anglicanism with its catholic roots.
Corpus Christi is celebrated by a festive procession of the Body of Christ out from the church into the streets. The Host (Latin for “sacrifice” – the consecrated bread of the Eucharist) is taken from the Tabernacle (where the reserved Sacrament is kept) and placed in a monstrance. A monstrance is a cross and sunburst-shaped vessel.
We take the Body of Christ out in procession to symbolize several things. Firstly, all processions are a symbolic pilgrimage. Processions symbolize the Church’s journey of faith as we seek God. This journey of faith is not made alone. Jesus is always with us. He is there in the Sacrament and in the hearts of our brothers and sisters as we walk with them in our pilgrimage of faith together. As we make our journey and work to build the kingdom of God we are strengthened and nourished to do that work by Jesus, the Bread of Life, through the Holy Eucharist. One of the ancient words for the Eucharist is “Viaticum”, a Latin word which means “food for the journey”.
We bring the Sacramental Christ out of our churches and into the streets to bless our community and the whole world in need of Christ’s healing presence.
We bring our Sacramental Lord into our neighbourhoods as a reminder that we must bring Jesus to others. Often the only way people will encounter Jesus is through us. By taking the Jesus Presence into us as we receive Holy Communion we take on the challenge to become the Real Presence of Jesus to others. Like a monstrance, our Church, our parish and our hearts can carry Christ within us and actively share his love with our community and the world.
We also take the Sacramental Presence of Jesus out into the streets as a reminder to us that it is there in the streets that we can also know Jesus’ presence by participating in the broken lives of the lonely, the poor, and the neglected. The Jesus who is present in our Eucharists is the same Jesus who is found in the “least of my brothers and sisters” (Matthew 25:35-40.) As Bishop Frank Weston said in an address to the Anglo-Catholic Congress in 1933, "…if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in His Blessed Sacrament, then, when you come out from your tabernacles, you must walk with Christ, mystically present in you, through the streets of this country, and find the same Christ in the peoples of your cities and villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum. …You have your Mass. Now go out into the highways and hedges, and look for Jesus in the ragged and the naked, in the oppressed, and in those who have lost hope, and those struggling to make good.”
Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament
The Feast of Corpus Christi ends with Benediction (Latin for “blessing”). Here we take a little extra time to honour and worship Christ in the Eucharist. At the end of the liturgy the priest blesses the congregation with the Host. This replaces the usual blessing at the end of Mass. This unique blessing by the Host reminds us that the greatest blessing that Christ has given his people is nothing less than the gift of himself. We leave the church with this blessing and bear this gift to share with others.
Lord, I come to you present in the Sacrament of the Altar as I am with all my weakness and sins.
I come to you to be renewed in my faith, to be strengthened in your service and to be filled with your love that I may fully love others.
I come to you Lord Jesus in this Blessed Sacrament that you may dwell in me and I in you. Amen.
Hallowed, praised and adored be thou, O Christ, in the Holy Sacrament of this Altar.
Hallowed, praised and adored be thou, O Christ, on thy Throne in Heaven.
Hallowed, praised and adored be thou, O Christ, in the hearts of thy people.
Heart of Jesus, think of me.
Eyes of Jesus, watch over me.
Face of Jesus, shine on me.
Hands of Jesus, bless me.
Feet of Jesus, guide me
Arms of Jesus, hold me
Body of Jesus, feed me.
Blood of Jesus, wash me.
Jesus make me thus thine own here and in the world to come. Amen
Article by Dean Rose.
Permission is granted to use and replicate this or parts of this article with the following ascription;
From an article by Dean Rose, St. Peter’s Church, Oshawa, Diocese of Toronto.