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The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

June 21, 2019


The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated every year on the Second Sunday after Pentecost. The traditional name for the feast is Corpus Christi. It is one of the three doctrinal feasts celebrated during Ordinary Time, in addition to the Most Holy Trinity celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost and Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe, celebrated on the last Sunday of Ordinary Time. It emerged not only to give honor to Jesus present in the Eucharist but also to correct false teaching.

Corpus ChristiOver the centuries many nonbelievers have been skeptical of the Catholic doctrine of the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, while others have belittled the belief or rejected it altogether. A surprising number of Catholics even question the Real Presence. These divergent understandings have led to much debate over the centuries. While the Real Presence of Christ has always been a core Catholic doctrine, it was defined as an essential element of the Catholic faith by the Council of Trent in 1551.

Various devotions and practices emerged to strengthen the faith of the people regarding the importance of the Eucharist. In the Eleventh Century people began to spend time in adoration kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament.

The featured event of the old Corpus Christi celebrations was an elaborate ceremonial procession, a practice that began in Cologne, Germany between 1274 and 1279 and spread rapidly to other countries. It was a religious parade. The people went to great expense to decorate the streets with draperies and banners in advance. Then on the festival day a large host, the consecrated bread, the Body of Christ or the Blessed Sacrament, was placed in a monstrance, a highly decorative receptacle, and it was carried under a canopy. The processions usually were quite long and arranged carefully according to a strict order of etiquette. The clergy and religious were positioned in front of the canopy, while civic officials, the lay faithful, other groups, residents, and visitors followed behind the canopy. The procession proceeded up and down the streets of the city or village with deep reverence. The participants sang hymns both while they were walking, and also at various places where the procession would stop. People lined up along the streets to witness the spectacle and adore the Blessed Sacrament, and the usual practice was to kneel as the Eucharist passed by. Also, at various points where the procession stopped, the minister used the monstrance and the Eucharist to bless the people.

Over time the crowds along the route grew increasingly diverse, and many nonbelievers were mixed in with devout Christians. Some were indifferent, but a few were downright hostile, heckling believers, hurling insults, and acting irreverently. In order to safeguard the Eucharist, the processions were restricted to the area in the immediate vicinity of the church or moved inside entirely.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is a special opportunity to worship the Lord Jesus, the true and eternal priest, really present in the sacrament of his Body and Blood. The Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life, and the grace and divine life that Jesus gives leads to ever greater holiness and joy in this life and eternal salvation in the next.

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