THURSDAY, JUNE 3: Western Catholics will be honoring the Eucharist today, as part of the feast of Corpus Christi. According to Catholic tradition, within the Eucharist bread and wine become the real body and blood of Christ. Corpus Christi is often marked on a Thursday as a reminder of Maundy Thursday, the day Christians believe Jesus instituted the Eucharist at the Last Supper. (Some congregations—including Lutherans and Anglicans—may celebrate the feast on the following Sunday, the Sunday after Trinity Sunday. Get details at Wikipedia.) Often, devotees hold a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament after the Corpus Christi Mass, and this procession can be small and simple or large and elaborate. In some cities across the world, including many in Spain, where Corpus Christi has long been an occasion that included royalty, Corpus Christi processions occur through the streets as vibrant parades. Festivals can include related games and food, and citizens of Catholic countries sometimes decorate their homes with flowers and light candles. (Get the Catholic perspective at FishEaters.) Pope John Paul II himself led an annual Corpus Christi procession from St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican to the streets of Rome, when he served as Pope.
As was pointed out by the BBC, Catholics revere the Eucharist with as much joy as they would the human Jesus, since the Eucharist is, according to their tradition, the real body and blood of Jesus. When a procession takes to the street, it is supposed to symbolize the hierarchy of heaven, in that the host is carried in front, and church leaders, icons of patron saints and other members of the church follow behind in a ranked manner. Corpus Christi originated when a Belgian nun had a vision in the 13th century; this repeated vision was, she said, of a moon with a black spot, indicating the church calendar’s need for a day to venerate the Eucharist. The local bishop issued a decree in 1246, and the entirety of the Catholic Church saw its institution in 1264.
Tomorrow, thousands of Catholics will gather in Georgia for the 15th annual Eucharistic Congress. (Schedule details are at the Eucharistic Congress’ website.) Held at the Georgia International Convention Center, this free event will last two days and is open to the public; the 2010 theme, “To Sanctify the Christian People,” highlights priests in this, the declared Year for Priests. According to organizers, the past couple of years have seen a maxed-out number of 30,000 attendees; this year, they believe, will be no different.
(By ReadTheSpirit columnist Stephanie Fenton)
(NOTE: To see more short articles about upcoming holidays, festivals and anniversaries, click the “RTS Magazines” tab at the top of this page and select “Religious Holidays.”)