The feast of Corpus Christi was first celebrated in Liege, Belgium in 1246. Pope Urban IV extended the feast to the entire Church in 1264. Today, in many countries throughout the world, Corpus Christi is a public holiday with special Masses, processions with the Blessed Sacrament through city streets or country roads and festivals.
Though Corpus Christi celebrations and processions are not held in every area of our country, many churches continue the tradition of processing with the Blessed Sacrament on city streets. A few years ago, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI shared a short reflection on the Corpus Christi procession as he remembered with fondness processions during his childhood growing up in Germany. In his reflection he shared why we process with the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of our cities. He wrote,
“We bring Christ, present under the sign of bread, onto the streets of our city. We entrust these streets, these homes, our daily life, to his goodness. May our streets be streets for Jesus! May our houses be homes for him and with him! May our life of every day be penetrated by his presence!
With this gesture, let us place under his eyes the sufferings of the sick, the solitude of young people and the elderly, temptations, fears…..our entire life. Corpus Christi represents an immense and public blessing for our city; Christ is, in person, the divine Blessing for the world. May the ray of his blessing extend to us all!
Just before coming to St. Peter's Church last year to become pastor, I was pastor at St. Anthony of Padua Church in St. Louis, MO for nine years. St. Anthony Church is also the location of the Provincial Offices for the Franciscan Province of the Sacred Heart. When the friars of Holy Cross Province in Germany were expelled from Germany, many of the friars came to Central Illinois to minister to the German speaking immigrants. The first place the friars began ministry was in Teutopolis, Illinois in 1858. They next begin ministry in Quincy, Illinois. The third place of ministry was begun in 1863, in St. Louis, Missouri.
In 1878 Franciscan Fr. Vincent Halbfas (pastor of St. Anthony Church in St. Louis) introduced the Corpus Christi procession to the parishioners. Many of the parishioners would have recalled with fondness the elaborate procession for Corpus Christi in their native Germany as they began this tradition on the Southside of St. Louis. For over 140 years the procession on the streets of the neighborhood continued around the church until restrictions due to the pandemic halted the procession last year.
When I was pastor of St. Francis Solanus Parish on the Lac Courte Oreilles Indian Reservation in northern Wisconsin, each year on the feast of Corpus Christi we celebrated with a procession from the church stopping for Benediction at three wigwam shrines and then returning to the church for the final blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.
If you wish to see some celebrations of Corpus Christi procession with the Blessed Sacrament you will find many examples from Manhattan, Omaha, London, Cologne and many other places throughout the world on You Tube.
As we celebrate this feast of Corpus Christi today, I offer you a few reflections from Pope Francis on the Eucharist…
I wish to reflect on how we live the Eucharist in our daily lives, as a Church and individual Christians. First, the Eucharist affects the way we see others. In his life, Christ manifested his love by being with people, and by sharing their desires and problems. So too the Eucharist brings us together with others – young and old, poor and affluent, neighbors and visitors. The Eucharist calls us to see all of them as our brothers and sisters, and to see in them the face of Christ.
Second, in the Eucharist we experience the forgiveness of God and the call to forgive. We celebrate the Eucharist not because we are worthy, but because we recognize our need for God’s mercy, incarnate in Jesus Christ. In the Eucharist, we renew the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ for the remission of sins, and our hearts are enlarged to receive and show mercy.
Third, in the Eucharistic celebration, we are nourished as the Christian community by Christ’s Word and Life. It is from the Eucharist that the Church receives continually her identity and mission. It is in our celebration that Christ fills us with his grace, so that our lives may be consonant with our worship of God in the Liturgy. Let us live the Eucharist in a spirit of faith and prayer, with the certainty that the Lord will bring to fulfillment all that he has promised.
On Friday, June 11 we celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began in the 11th century. In the 17th century, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque was a strong promotor of the Sacred Heart. However, the feast was not universally celebrated until Pope Pius IX in 1856 made the feast of the Sacred Heart a celebration for the entire Church. We Franciscans who have staffed St. Peter's Church since 1875 have a special devotion to the Sacred Heart for our Province is named after the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
While as a member of the Franciscan Order and Sacred Heart Province, I obviously have an interest in this feast we celebrate today… it is also a feast for the entire Franciscan Order and Church. St. Bonaventure (1218-1274) in his book Tree of Life says, “Take thought now, redeemed man, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you, he whose heart is pierced with a lance.” ….
He goes on further calling all the friars…. “Run with eager desire to this source of life and light….all you who are vowed to God’s service.” For we know by our own experience that with you is the source of life and in your light, we see light.”
So, as we prepare to celebrate the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart on Friday, perhaps we might ask ourselves (friars and laity alike) do we have our running shoes on? Are we rushing to this source of light and life that St. Bonaventure writes about? Or is this feast only a pious recognition of God? On Friday at Mass we will pray....."Grant, we pray, almighty God, that we, who glory in the Heart of your beloved Son and recall the wonders of his love for us, may be made worthy to receive an overflowing measure of grace from that fount of heavenly gifts." (Opening prayer for Mass of the Sacred Heart)
At the conclusion of the Mass of the Sacred Heart we will have an hour of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in church. We will conclude the Adoration with Benediction at 2:45 pm on Friday. I encourage you come and spend an hour in quiet adoration before the Lord in the Eucharist as we honor the Sacred Heart of Jesus.