A Time to Speak — Corpus Christi, a most beautiful ceremony

Father Matthew Hardesty

On Sunday, June 11, many Catholics of the Archdiocese of Louisville experienced something historic: a Corpus Christi procession (“Corpus Christi” being Latin for “The Body of Christ”).

The Catholic Church in the United States is, through a National Eucharistic Revival, extending Jesus Christ’s invitation to return to the source and summit of our faith, the Eucharist, and to restore our understanding of and devotion to this great mystery. 

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” (John 6:35).

The Corpus Christi processions that took place in Bardstown, Springfield, Lebanon, Elizabethtown, Louisville, and other places were part of the current phase of this revival movement called the “Year of Parish Revival.” 

This phase fosters eucharistic devotion at the parish level, strengthening our liturgical life through faithful celebration of the Mass, eucharistic adoration, missions, resources, preaching and organic movements of the Holy Spirit. To learn more, check out eucharisticrevival.org.

I was blessed to be able to join many of the faithful and clergy from throughout the Kentucky Holy Land for the Corpus Christi procession that took place in Bardstown. It has been decades since this was last done. More than 300 people, young and old, participated and many for the first time. Everyone was overjoyed at how beautiful and rewarding it was.

The Corpus Christi procession is the highest form of procession and summarizes all the others, big and small, that happen in the life of the Church. It is also one of our most beautiful ceremonies.

First, a consecrated Host is placed in a gold structure called a monstrance. This has a circular foot, a tall, narrow stem and a circular “fan” that resembles the rays of the sun. In the center of this is a round glass container that holds the Host.

The monstrance is then carried by a priest with his hands reverently covered by an ornate garment called a humeral veil. He is also traditionally vested in cassock, surplice and stole, with a long, ornate cape called a cope. 

Servers carrying the processional cross and incense go before him and other clergy, while choir members and laypeople process after him. Eucharistic hymns are often sung along the way through the community. This gives a beautiful, public testimony of our faith in the Eucharist and the real presence of God in our midst.

One history of this procession tells of St. Juliana of Liège in Belgium. Born in 1193, she was orphaned at a young age and was raised by Augustinian nuns. Eventually, she herself became a nun and ultimately the mother superior. Throughout her religious life, St. Juliana had a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and longed for it to have its own special feast day. She had a vision of a full moon with a dark spot which symbolized the absence of this feast in the liturgical year.

St. Juliana was unwavering in her desire. She made her request first to the Bishop of Liège, then to the Cardinal of Netherlands, then to the Patriarch of Jerusalem, then finally to Pope Urban IV. Her prayers were answered. 

The solemnity of Corpus Christi began as a local feast day in Belgium in 1246, then was extended worldwide in 1264. The prayers and hymns for it were written by the great Doctor of the Church St. Thomas Aquinas.

Our Corpus Christi processions add solemnity to the festival day, give witness to our faith in the presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament and encourage the Lord’s brethren throughout the community. May they spring up everywhere, more and more!

Father Matthew Hardesty is pastor of St. Catherine Church in New Haven, Ky.; Immaculate Conception Church in Culvertown, Ky.; and St. Vincent de Paul Church in New Hope, Ky.

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