Corpus Christi is not just a coastal city in southern Texas. The Latin words translate to “Body of Christ.” This Sunday we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ—also known as Corpus Christi. Where the solemnity is not observed as a holy day, it is assigned to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.
A unique feast
This day honors the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It is one of the few celebrations that do not commemorate an event in the life of Jesus or Mary. Instead, it is dedicated to a fundamental tenet of Catholicism — Jesus’ sacramental presence in the consecrated bread and wine.
This is also one of the few feasts that were promoted by laypeople and only later adopted by the Universal Church. Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Norbertine canoness, longed for a feast day outside of Lent to honor the Eucharist. After receiving several visions of Christ, she petitioned her bishop to institute the day which eventually propagated to nearby cities and towns.
On August 11, 1264, Pope Urban IV issued the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. It declared Corpus Chrisit as a feast day throughout the entire Latin Rite. This was the very first papally sanctioned universal feast in the history of the Latin Rite. Curiously, the successors of Urban IV did not uphold the decree and the feast was suspended until 1311 when it was reinstated by Clement IV at the Council of Vienne.
The Solemnity is an act of thanksgiving to Christ who, by instituting the Eucharist, gave the Church her greatest treasure:
“The Eucharist is ‘the source and summit of the Christian life.’ The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch.” Catechism of the Catholic Church #1324
On Holy Thursday the Church properly commemorates the institution of the Eucharist. But the joy of that day is curtailed since the Lord’s Passion takes place in the evening. In addition, several other key event’s occurred on Holy Thursday namely the washing of the disciples’ feet and the institution of the priesthood. The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ focus entirely on the Eucharist.
The Collect (formerly “Opening Prayer”) announces the theme of the celebration:
“O God, who in this wonderful Sacrament have left us a memorial of your Passion, grant us, we pray, so to revere the sacred mysteries of your Body and Blood that we may always experience in ourselves the fruits of your redemption. Who live and reign with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever.”
The Gospel reading tells of Jesus proclaiming to the crowds:
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.”
Everyone Loves a Parade!
This Sunday’s observance underscores the joyous aspect of Holy Thursday. Eucharistic Exposition and Benediction are common devotional practices as are Eucharistic processions along city streets. GrassRoots films—an independent film studio—produced this moving video highlighting a Eucharistic procession through the streets of New York City: How does your parish celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ? Eucharistic Exposition? Benediction? Procession? Share and let’s learn together!