Although it is popular parlance to describe certain events or places as heaven on earth, I find this to be a hard sell. After all, the world can be a cruel and unforgiving place, populated with many who detest the very idea of heaven, life eternal, and true forgiveness.
This however, is a cynicism which cannot be allowed to persist, for there is indeed one thing upon this earth which is always and forever perfect, made manifest everyday all across the world: the Lord’s body and blood are consecrated every day in every country in the world. It is in celebration of this perfection that, on the day of Corpus Christi, we parade this unblemished article through the streets. This was, however, not always the case.
Corpus Christi itself is a feast day with its roots in the medieval period and has its specific origins in one woman’s desire to have more time in the year to reflect on the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Juliana of Liege was, like many women in mid-12th century Liege (present-day Belgium), a fervent devotee to the blessed body and blood of Christ.
However, this aspect of the Christ only received particular attention during the Lenten season, and Juliana felt that such an integral part of the Catholic faith as the Eucharist deserved another feast day. Throughout her early life, she received dreams she took to be prophetic, of a full moon blemished by darkness. Though she spoke with few people about these visions, she interpreted the moon to be the Church, and the dark blemish a visualization of the shame of giving so little devotion to the blessed body and blood of Jesus.
Eventually, St. Juliana would become the canoness of her abbey, and confessed her visions to a priest. The priest relayed this information to local intellectuals, who agreed with her sentiment and began to lobby among the local clergy for such a feast day to be instituted, as in those days feast days could be set by the bishops, not requiring direction from Rome.
It did not take long for the tradition to catch on, spreading especially following her death, and formal papal recognition of the new feast came in 1264 with the bull Transiturus de mundo. Since that time, the feast has only grown to hold a prominent place in the Catholic liturgical year, a time outside of Lent to reflect upon the most important element of every Mass: the body and blood of Christ himself.
Corpus Christi is traditionally celebrated the Thursday after the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (the Sunday after Pentecost). In the United States, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) is observed on the following Sunday after Trinity Sunday.
Corpus Christi is then an opportunity for us to carry the Living Christ out into the world for all to see. This being such a momentous event reflective not only of our faith but the Catholic family as a whole, it has become customary to dress well for Eucharist procession; Sunday best no matter the day.
Heads are to remain bare, and people walk in pairs so that both order and reverence might be maintained. If you are taking part in a procession this year, be mindful not to appear ostentatious or immodest, as the true star of the show will be up front. The monstrance containing the Eucharist takes precedence above all, though the ornateness and pomp of your particular Eucharistic container may vary from the elaborate, star-like designs of old to the more modern, simplistic creations of our time.
Carrying Christ through the streets in celebration of his life, resurrection, and infinite grace, we publicly testify to our faith in life everlasting and victory over death.
In a secular age which would rather see such ideas cast aside, our public witness is all the more important. To those who live in a utopian, whiggish fantasy of mankind’s perpetual progress, who delude themselves into thinking that perfection upon this Earth is possible, it is important to show them that one thing which is truly perfect.
When we walk with Christ among the wider world, we affirm two things above all else: that we as a human race and the world we inhabit are flawed, and that there is one perfect being which can save us from death, one of the imperfections our first parents brought upon our race.
This feast of Corpus Christi, let us walk confidently in the knowledge that we, Christ True Church, are endowed with a gift beyond value, and have truly found heaven on earth.