Corpus Christi

Countries put their unique spin on Corpus Christi

by Joe Bollig

KANSAS CITY, Kan. — In many places around the world, the celebration of the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is more than a religious celebration.

In countries with large Catholic populations, Corpus Christi is a civic celebration, a parade, a procession, a party and an exercise of piety — all rolled up into one.

In some countries, the feast day is a regional or national holiday, and the festivities can last a week.

In Peru, Corpus Christi is a weeklong celebration that includes not only a grand procession with the Eucharist through a richly adorned town plaza, but also dance performances and fiestas. Farmers make figures out of their produce on “Peasants’ Day.”

In France, Brazil, Poland and other countries in Central Europe, Corpus Christi is also known as the Day of Wreaths.

Clerics and men in some processions wear small wreaths of flowers as armbands, while girls and women wear wreaths on their heads. Wreaths and bouquets are attached to homes and banners, and arches of greenery span the streets. The monstrance that contains the Blessed Sacrament, too, is wreathed in flowers.

In Brazil, the procession passes over streets that have been elaborately decorated with colored sawdust and sand. In Toledo, Spain, the streets are decorated with awnings, wreaths, lanterns, banners and tapestries.

In the Spanish city of Berga, Corpus Christi is part of a weeklong celebration called La Patum, named for the pounding of drums and crackling fireworks. In fact, so many fireworks are set off that experienced festival-goers prepare by wearing old clothes that can be ruined by stray sparks, a hat to keep sparks out of the hair, and a bandanna across the face.

In several countries, the monstrance is part of an elaborate framework weighing hundreds of pounds. In addition to the bishop and other clergy, representatives of various guilds and other organizations are part of the procession. Altars or stations are set up along the route for adoration and prayers.

Origins of the solemnity

The solemnity of corpus christi has its beginnings with St. juliana of mont cornillon, in what is now Belgium. She had, since her youth, a great love for the eucharist. She reportedly saw a vision that inspired her to seek a special feast in honor of the eucharist.

Eventually, St. Juliana persuaded Bishop Robert de Thorete of Liege to establish Corpus Christi as a diocesan feast. After he died, his successor asked Pope Urban IV to extend the feast to the whole church, which he did.

Corpus Christi is an “idea feast” because it doesn’t signify a historical moment in the life of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or one of the saints, but focuses on a particular mystery of the faith — in this case, the Eucha- rist.

Pope Urban IV turned to St. thomas aquinas to compile a liturgical sequence for the feast. today, however, it’s optional and, because of its demands, is seldom used.

Following the Second vatican council, many eucharistic devotions, such as Corpus Christi, became less popular, but in recent years there has been somewhat of a revival of Corpus Christi.

St. John Paul II reestablished the public procession of the Blessed Sacrament through the streets of Rome on the solemnity of Corpus Christi in 1979, after it had been set aside for 100 years.

He used to walk in the procession until 1994, when a broken leg and hip surgery made this impossible. From that time on, both St. John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI participated while kneeling in a truck.

In his first year as pontiff, Pope Francis — very familiar with the elaborate and large Corpus Christi celebrations of Latin America — returned to the practice of walking in the procession. the route was a mile, from the Basilica of St. John Lateran to the Basilica of St. Mary major.

About the author

Joe Bollig

Joe has been with The Leaven since 1993. He has a bachelor’s degree in communications and a master’s degree in journalism. Before entering print journalism he worked in commercial radio. He has worked for the St. Joseph (Mo.) News-Press and Sun Publications in Overland Park. During his journalistic career he has covered beats including police, fire, business, features, general assignment and religion. While at The Leaven he has been a writer, photographer and videographer. He has won or shared several Catholic Press Association awards, as well as Archbishop Edward T. O’Meara awards for mission coverage. He graduated with a certification in catechesis from a two-year distance learning program offered by the Maryvale Institute for Catechesis, Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education at Old Oscott, Great Barr, in Birmingham, England.

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