THE EUCHARIST IS THE MEMORIAL OF GOD’S LOVE – THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI: THEN AND NOW

In case you did not see my earlier tweet or FB note, it was annnounced today by the press office director, Greg Burke, that Pope Francis will visit Chile and Peru in January 2018 – specific schedule and details to be announced.

THE EUCHARIST IS THE MEMORIAL OF GOD’S LOVE

On Sunday, the feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Francis celebrated Mass at St. John Lateran basilica, his cathedral as Bishop of Rome, followed by a procession to St. Mary Major Basilica. This annual procession has traditionally taken place on the Thursday before the feast of Corpus Christi but Pope Francis asked that it be moved this year to the actual feast day itself.

In his homily, Pope Francis reflected on the word “memory,” noting that “remembering all that the Lord has done for us is the foundation of our own personal history of salvation.”

“Memory is important,” said Francis, “because it allows us to dwell in love, to be mindful, never forgetting who it is who loves us and whom we are called to love in return.  Yet nowadays, this singular ability that the Lord has given us is considerably weakened.  Amid so much frantic activity, many people and events seem to pass in a whirl.  We quickly turn the page, looking for novelty while unable to retain memories.  Leaving our memories behind and living only for the moment, we risk remaining ever on the surface of things, constantly in flux, without going deeper, without the broader vision that reminds us who we are and where we are going.  In this way, our life grows fragmented, and dulled within.”

And yet, he said, “today’s Solemnity reminds us that in our fragmented lives, the Lord comes to meet us with a loving ‘fragility’ which is the Eucharist.  In the Bread of Life, the Lord comes to us, making himself a humble meal that lovingly heals our memory, wounded by life’s frantic pace of life.  The Eucharist is the memorial of God’s love.

“There, ‘Christ’s sufferings are remembered’, and we recall God’s love for us, which gives us strength and support on our journey.  This is why the Eucharistic commemoration does us so much good: it is not an abstract, cold and superficial memory, but a living remembrance that comforts us with God’s love.  The Eucharist is flavored with Jesus’ words and deeds, the taste of his Passion, the fragrance of his Spirit.  When we receive it, our hearts are overcome with the certainty of Jesus’ love.  In saying this, I think in particular of you boys and girls, who recently received First Holy Communion, and are here today in great numbers.”

After Mass, the Holy Father travelled by car to St. Mary Major where he welcomed the huge procession carrying the Blessed Sacrament. For the first time, the Monstrance was carried on a platform, instead of placed in an open truck, held aloft on the shoulders of four men, alternating with others at points. A canopy was held over the Eucharist by 8 other men.

In 1994, when Pope John Paul began to have difficulty walking, a truck became the means of transportation for the pontiff and the Eucharist. Both a chair and a kneeler were planed in the open vehicle for the Pope. Pope emeritus Benedict XVI followed suit in the truck.

Pope Francis did walk behind the Eucharist in 2013 but since then has been driven to the basilica of St. Mary Major.

THE SOLEMNITY OF CORPUS CHRISTI – THEN AND NOW

The solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, known in many countries as Corpus Christi or Corpus Domini, is always a holiday in the Vatican. For years, the public celebration occurred on the Thursday before the Sunday feast of Corpus Christi and the main event on the papal schedule that day was 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 there.

In March 2017, Pope Francis moved the traditional celebration in Rome of the feast of Corpus Christi from Thursday to the following Sunday.  One of the reasons seemed to be the Pope’s desire to attract more people to this annual Mass and procession, including people who would have Sunday as a day off of work.

After the Corpus Christi Mass on June 18, 2017,  the Holy Father travelled by car to St. Mary Major where he welcomed the huge procession carrying the Blessed Sacrament. For the first time, the Monstrance was carried on a platform, instead of placed in an open truck. It was held aloft on the shoulders of four men, alternating with others at points. A canopy was held over the Eucharist by 8 other men.

Let’s look back at the history of this important feast day.

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 them, originally named Via Gregorian and 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.

Pope Benedict XVI continued this tradition.

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, December 8 – the Immaculate Conception. Others are movable dates: Easter, the Ascension, Pentecost and Corpus Christi – which Pope Benedict marks today, May 22, in Rome.

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.

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