THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI – THEN AND NOW

The long-awaited encyclical of Pope Francis on the environment and ecology will be published Thursday, June 18, 2015. Next week further details about the encyclical will be made public in the daily bulletin of the Holy See Press Office. For reflections on the imminent encyclical and explanation of what an encyclical means, see my previous post today on “Joan’s Rome” and Facebook (facebook.com/joan.lewis.10420).

Several hours from now, for today’s feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Francis will preside at Mass at St. John Lateran Basilica and then process down Via Merulana to St. Mary Major Basilica in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament. Following is some background on this traditional celebration.

THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI – THEN AND NOW

Today, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, known in many countries as Corpus Christi or Corpus Domini, is a holiday in the Vatican and only one public event is usually on the papal schedule on this day – an evening Mass and procession to celebrate this feast which commemorates the Real Presence of Christ – Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – in the Eucharist.

CORPUS CHRISTI POPE FRANCIS

This annual celebration here in Rome starts with Mass at 7 p.m. in the square outside the Pope’s cathedral church of St. John Lateran, a procession with the Blessed Sacrament down Via Merulana to St. Mary Major Basilica and a blessing of the crowd gathered at this Marian basilica.

Via Merulana, originally called Via Gregoriana, was laid out by Pope Gregory XIII during the Holy Year 1575. There is a Via Gregoriana in Rome today but it is located near the famed Spanish Steps. Among Pope Gregory’s achievements: He reformed the calendar, founded the papal observatory, as well as several colleges and seminaries, including the Gregorian University, and built the Quirinale Palace, for years the summer residence of Popes and now home to the president of Italy.

The procession between the two Roman basilicas began in the 1400’s. Its current itinerary began in 1575 when Pope Gregory XIII built the street that links the two churches and was originally named Via Gregorian, now called Via Merulana. This route was followed for more than 300 years until the procession fell into disuse until 1979 when St. John Paul revived the custom, He processed the distance on foot every year except 1981, after the attack on his life in St. Peter’s Square, and 1994 following hip surgery. Starting in 1995 he rode in an open, canopy-covered vehicle, seated before a small altar bearing the monstrance and host.

The feast of Corpus Christi is due in part to the visions of a 13th century Augustinian nun, Julianna of Lièges, known for her devotion to the Eucharist. In one vision, Our Lord appeared to her, reminding her there was no solemnity honoring the Blessed Sacrament and she began to promote such a feast. Pope Urban IV, who also wished to honor the Eucharist, wrote a Bull in 1264 in which he spoke of the love of Our Lord and Savior as expressed in the Holy Eucharist, ordering Corpus Christi to be celebrated annually on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Indulgences could be gained, he wrote, by attendance at Mass and reciting the Office composed at Urban’s request by St. Thomas Aquinas, which many say is the most beautiful office of the breviary.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, about this same time in history – which was a period of infrequent communion – the elevation of the chalice and host came into being at Mass as well as placing the host in a monstrance for Eucharistic adoration. Corpus Christi is a moveable feast and in some countries is observed on the first Sunday following Trinity Sunday.

I am often asked: What is the difference between a solemnity and a feast day in the Church? Liturgy is, of course, the Church’s public worship and includes all rites and ceremonies by means of which the Church expresses her worship of God. The principal acts of liturgy that would immediately come to mind to all of us would be the seven sacraments, called sacramental liturgies.

There are also categories of liturgical days. The three technical categories are, in descending order: Solemnity, Feast and Memorial.

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, a feast is “technically, one category of liturgical day, a lesser rank than ‘solemnity’ and a higher rank than ‘memorial’. In popular usage, however, ‘feast’ is applied indiscriminately by the faithful to all liturgical days on which the Church commemorates a mystery of Our Lord or Our Lady, or keeps the memory of a saint.” Thus, these days mark an event in the life of Jesus or Mary or a saint. The Vatican is very careful to make the distinction between solemnity, feast or memorial: Corpus Christi is a solemnity.

Often the observance starts on the vigil, that is, the evening prior to the actual date. Many solemnities occur on fixed dates such as January 1 – Mother of God; January 6 – Epiphany; March 25 – the Annunciation; June 29 – Sts. Peter and Paul; August 15 – the Assumption; and December 8 – the Immaculate Conception. Others are movable dates: Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost and Corpus Christi.

A memorial refers to the so-called lowest type of feast found in the Church’s liturgical calendar. There is the obligatory memorial that must be celebrated and the optional memorial that is celebrated at Mass at the priest’s discretion. May 10th was, for example, an optional memorial of Saint Damien de Veuster of Molokai, the priest who treated lepers.

REFLECTIONS ON IMMINENT PAPAL ENCYCLICAL ON ENVIRONMENT

REFLECTIONS ON IMMINENT PAPAL ENCYCLICAL ON ENVIRONMENT

Fr. Tom Rosica, English language assistant to Fr. Federico Lombardi, head of the Holy See Press Office, provided the following information today, following the announcement that Pope Francis’ encyclical on ecology and the environment will be published on Thursday, June 18. Father Rosica does not have nor has he seen an advance copy of the encyclical but he answered three questions posed by journalists, and also provided reflections that, as he said, “simply flow from an attentive reading of teachings on the environment in the works of both Popes Benedict XVI and Pope Francis.  Popes write encyclicals formulated on the foundations of what has already been stated by their predecessors.”

  1. What is an encyclical?

A Papal Encyclical is the name typically given to a letter written by a Pope.  It can be addressed to the bishops and priests of a particular region or of the entire world, to specific groups in the Church or to the entire Catholic faithful. It can also be addressed to all people of good will. The word encyclical comes from the Greek ‘egkyklios’, ‘kyklos’ meaning a circle. It may be considered to be a ‘circular letter’. Encyclicals are used primarily for teaching.  The first encyclical was released by Pope Benedict XIV on December 3, 1740. Since then, the Popes have written over 300 encyclicals.

  1. Is this Pope Francis’ first encyclical?

Lumen Fidei (English: “The Light of Faith”) is the name of the first encyclical of Pope Francis, signed on June 29, 2013, on the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul, and promulgated (published) on July 5, 2013, four months after his election to the papacy. The encyclical focuses its theme on faith, and completes what his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI had previously written about charity and hope, the other two theological virtues, in his encyclicals Deus caritas est (God is love) and Spe Salvi (By hope we were saved.)

Lumen Fidei was a unique document in that it is the work of two Popes.  Francis took the work of Benedict, who before his resignation from the papacy had completed a first draft of the text, and added his own reflections to the document. Pope Francis expressed this collaboration in paragraph 7 of the encyclical: “These considerations on faith — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue — are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on faith. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own.”

  1. Why is an encyclical on the environment necessary at this moment in history?

Since his election in March 2013, Pope Francis has very frequently shown concern for the environment, following the example of Benedict XVI who was sometimes labeled the first “Green Pope.” Benedict consistently called for the safeguarding of creation, arguing that respect for the human being and nature are one.  Ours is the world that God so loved, the world that was to receive his only Son, Jesus. We must show love and care toward the world, a gift of God’s creation.

– From the beginning of his Petrine Ministry, Pope Francis made it clear that his choice of his papal name after St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of ecology was indicative of his concern for the environment. In his inaugural Mass homily, he called on everyone to be “protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.”

– On World Environment Day, June 5, 2013, Francis stressed the need to “cultivate and care” for the environment, saying it is part of God’s plan that man “nurture[s] the world with responsibility,” transforming it into a “garden, a habitable place for everyone.”

– In his June 5, 2013 address Francis said: “We are losing the attitude of wonder, contemplation, listening to creation. The implications of living in a horizontal manner is that we have moved away from God, we no longer read His signs.”

– Pope Francis has issued to the Church and the world a profound challenge to rethink the culture of waste and to contemplate seriously and act with conviction against the dynamics of an economy and finance that lack ethics. “Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules.”

– As Benedict had often done, Francis links human ecology with environmental ecology, issuing a strong challenge to rethink the culture of waste and to oppose a lack of ethics in economy and finance. “I would like us all to make a serious commitment to respect and protect creation,” he said, “to be attentive to every person, to counter the culture of waste and disposable [mentality], to promote a culture of solidarity” and of living alongside others, especially on the margins, as opposed to individualism.

– In an address to the diplomatic corps accredited to the Holy See on January 13, 2014, Pope Francis noted the devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in November 2013 and warned against “greedy exploitation of environmental resources.” He quoted the popular adage: “God always forgives, we sometimes forgive, but when nature – creation – is mistreated, she never forgives.”

– Ecologies that seemingly begin with the program of saving our environment quickly run their logic to the point where the environment takes absolute priority over human beings. When taken to the extreme, many make the erroneous claim that the human person is simply one of a very large number of species, all equally valuable and enjoying the same rights.

– To recover the integrity of creation, we need a renewed Christian culture.

Recalling Pope Benedict’s contribution in ‘Caritas in veritate’

– For Benedict, human ecology is an imperative. Adopting a lifestyle that respects our environment and supports the research and use of clean energies that preserve the patrimony of creation and that are safe for human beings should be given political and economic priority.

– In his encyclical letter Caritas in veritate, and in subsequent writings, Pope Benedict XVI has called for the development of a “human ecology” grounded in the idea of creation as gift. “The human being will be capable of respecting other creatures only if he keeps the full meaning of life in his own heart. Without a clear defense of human life from conception until natural death; without a defense of the family founded on marriage between a man and a woman; without an authentic defense of those excluded and marginalized by society, we will never be able to speak of authentic protection of the environment.”

– Benedict called for a “change in mentality” in order to “quickly arrive at a global lifestyle that respects the covenant between humanity and nature, without which the human family risks disappearing.” He said that “every government must commit themselves to protecting nature and assisting it to carry out its essential role in the survival of humanity.”

– In his 2010 World Day of Peace Message entitled “If You Want to Cultivate Peace, protect creation”, Pope Benedict XVI used the term “human ecology.” Benedict reaffirmed the Catholic understanding of our relationship with the goods of the earth and our call to stewardship of the planet which has been given to us by the Creator as a gift.

– Benedict has called for an “integral human development” which recognizes the centrality of the human person and the primacy of our relationships with one another in family and society. He underscored the truth that creation is a gift, given to human persons by a God of love who entrusts us with responsibility for one another – and therefore for the goods which promote our human flourishing. We all have a responsibility for one another. We need to live together as good stewards of creation, recognizing the need first for a “human ecology”.

– “If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. The quest for peace by people of good will surely would become easier if all acknowledge the indivisible relationship between God, human beings and the whole of creation. In the light of divine Revelation and in fidelity to the Church’s Tradition, Christians have their own contribution to make.”

– Pope Benedict articulated a Catholic Environmental vision which is pro-life, pro-family, pro-poor, pro-peace, pro-justice and fundamentally relational. We are to receive one another as gifts. We must never use human persons as objects. We should receive creation as a gift, our common home, to be shared with one another, and not as an object of use. Pope Benedict articulated a vision for a «human ecology» that can promote a path to authentic peace.