This week Catholics prepare for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. It is a feast day that first appeared on the liturgical calendar in 1264 when Pope Urban IV established its universal celebration on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. For over seven centuries, even as many dioceses transferred its celebration to the following Sunday, the faithful have found the Solemnity of Corpus Christi a time to express their reverence for the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ through public processions.
From the outside, a Corpus Christi procession looks simply like an orderly movement of people that may make motorists impatient as they wait for the “parade” to pass. A closer examination, however, shows faithful men and women of all ages clutching rosaries, holding banners, and tossing flower petals. Participants walk at a slow pace and with admirable peace. Smells of incense permeate the air as the people stop periodically to sing and pray. At the heart of the group stands a priest vested in white lifting high a gold vessel called a monstrance.
Who do these people follow? Equally important, why do they follow? The answers reveal that the multitude isn’t simply a parade of people. A Corpus Christi procession vividly illustrates earthly followers nourished by an unmistakable leader and marching united in the promises of a heavenly homeland.
The monstrance enthrones the Sacred Host – the Eucharist – who, by pure character, leads a Corpus Christi procession. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharist is “the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ” where “the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained” (CCC, 1374). The Eucharistic species provides “the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch” and constitutes the “sum and summary” of the Catholic faith (CCC, 1324, 1327). The summit of adoration during the entire procession is Christ presiding in the place of highest honor.
The Eucharist also charts the course of a Corpus Christi procession. It is the Sacred Host that “identifies us with his Heart, sustains our strength along the pilgrimage of this life, makes us long for eternal life, and unites us even now to the Church in heaven, the Blessed Virgin Mary, and all the saints” (CCC, 1419). Followers venerate the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ because it is Christ presently pledging future glory. His real presence maps the true hope of heaven.
During his 40 days of fasting in the desert, Christ proclaimed that “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4). A Corpus Christi procession personifies a deep appetite among the faithful for residence in the Kingdom of God. The Eucharist by its nature provides the only source that satisfies such spiritual hunger. For Catholics, the Eucharist is the real, undivided, and everlasting Love who died and rose again so that we could live forever sustained with spiritual strength.
In a Corpus Christi procession, with faith and hope, follow Love so you can learn how to lead with love.
Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas. You can find him on Facebook here.