On Nov. 17, Pope Benedict XVI told general audience attendees how a 13th-century Belgiun nun, St. Juliana of Cornillion, helped to inaugurate the widely-celebrated feast of Corpus Christi.
The Pope recalled St. Juliana's tragic loss of her parents at age five, after which she entered an Augustinian convent. She eventually became a nun in the same order, and later prioress of the convent, where the sisters recognized her intellectual gifts and her love of the Eucharist.
At 16 years-old, Juliana had experienced a vision that convinced her of the surpassing importance of the Eucharist. She envisioned a new liturgical feast, to deepen belief in Jesus' sacramental presence and compensate for insults and mistreatment against the Body of Christ. This vision persisted for 20 years, eventually prompting her to disclose it to two of her companions.
Together, they formed what the Pope called “a kind of 'spiritual alliance' with the intention of glorifying the Blessed Sacrament.” They eventually proposed the Feast of Corpus Christi to Bishop Robert Thourotte. He agreed to celebrate the solemnity in his diocese, with processions offering royal honor and Divine worship to Christ in his sacramental form.
Other bishops soon chose to celebrate the feast, which eventually gained a universal stature in the western Church. But, as Pope Benedict recalled, Juliana herself “had to suffer the harsh opposition to certain members of the clergy,” including her own religious superior. This prompted her to leave the Augustinian convent in 1248.
Juliana spent 10 further years among different groups of Trappist nuns, and “zealously continued to spread Eucharistic devotion” among them. She died in Fosses-La-Ville, Belgium in 1258, aged 65.
Only six years later, after investigating evidence of an Italian Eucharistic miracle, Pope Urban IV fulfilled Juliana's vision to honor Christ's body with a liturgical feast. He instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi as a universal feast for Western Christians and asked the renowned theologian St. Thomas Aquinas to compose its liturgy.
In his general audience address, Pope Benedict stressed that St. Juliana's spirit of love and awe for the Eucharist remained vividly alive among Catholics.
“Joyfully I wish to affirm that there is a 'Eucharistic springtime' in the Church today,” the Pope told the crowd at St. Peter's. “How many people remain in silence before the Tabernacle sustaining a dialogue of love with Jesus!”
It was “consoling,” he said, “to know that many groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament,” as it was encouraged by St. Juliana and her companions. The Pope expressed his prayerful hope that Eucharistic devotion would continue to grow in parishes, “especially in Belgium, homeland of St. Juliana.”