Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. — John 6:53, 54

Corpus Christi Sunday is normally celebrated one week after Trinity Sunday in the Catholic Church (although, traditionally, it is commemorated the preceding Thursday).  Some Anglican and Lutheran churches also celebrate this important feast day.

Corpus Christi means ‘Body of Christ’ in Latin. The feast dates back to the Middle Ages and became a mandatory feast in 1312.  It parallels the Last Supper on Maundy (Holy) Thursday, but is a more joyous celebration and one of thanksgiving, as Christ’s prophecies of His death, resurrection and ascension into Heaven have been fulfilled.  He also sent the Holy Spirit to His disciples and the Holy Trinity was revealed to mankind — all as He promised.  

In the 13th century, a young Augustinian nun in France, Juliana, had a profound devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and thought the Church should set aside a special feast day in its honour.  She petitioned three senior clergymen.  One of them, the Bishop of Liege, was the first to declare that this feast day be celebrated in his diocese annually.  After Sister Juliana — later St Juliana — and the Bishop of Liege died, the feast of Corpus Christi became more widespread in Europe.  In 1264, Pope Urban IV formally instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi to be celebrated the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.  That same year, he commissioned St Thomas Aquinas to compose a Mass and Office especially for this feast.        

A procession with the Holy Eucharist often takes place, even in Anglo-Catholic services.  The Host is placed in a monstrance (pictured at right, courtesy of St Isadore, Yuba City). The priest, facing the congregation, elevates the monstrance; the congregation may then follow it in a procession outside and around the church.  This is how the Anglican/Episcopal Church of the Atonement in Chicago conducts theirs:

At the end of Mass, an outside procession forms, led by bagpipers. The Blessed Sacrament is placed in a smaller Monstrance for the outside procession, and is carried around the block by the Priest or Bishop beneath a canopy that is held up by Parishioners.

The Monstrance, as seen on the front cover of this invitation, is used by Roman Catholic, Old Catholic, and Episcopal Anglo-Catholic Churches to display the consecrated Eucharistic Host, during Eucharistic Adoration or Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The word monstrance comes from the Latin word monstrare, meaning “to show.” It is closely related to the English word demonstrate, meaning “to show clearly.” Both words share a common root. In Latin, a monstrance is known as an ostensorium, from ostendere, “to show,” and monstre/monstral (England).

Once the outside procession has gone around … and back … the assembly returns to the Church for Benediction.

In the Service of Benediction, the Priest blesses the people with the Eucharist displayed in the Monstrance. This Blessing differs from the Priest’s Blessing, as it is seen as the Blessing of Christ, rather than that of the individual Priest.

The chalice with a Host rising from it, as shown at the top of this post, is also an important symbol of the Feast of Corpus Christi. The reason rays of light are often shown proceeding from this and similar depictions is to symbolise the Real Presence of Christ’s Body and Blood therein.  

With regard to chalices, I have included pictures of two to illustrate the six-pointed and six-scalloped edge types.  Why six?  Because the points and scallops represent the Six Attributes of the Deity: power, wisdom, majesty, mercy, justice and love. 

Many people today baulk at the seeming extravagance of monstrances, chalices and clerical vestments.  It is important to remember that these items are created with such elegance so as to honour God and His Son Jesus Christ.  That may not wash with everyone’s interpretation of Christianity, but for those who hold to Catholic and traditional Anglican or Lutheran teachings, only the most precious metals and finest fabrics may be used. 

For further reading:

Corpus Christi (feast)

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

Corpus Christi

Celebrating Corpus Christi

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