The Feast of Corpus Christi

The Feast of Corpus Christi which is always on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday has an interesting history.

Its inspiration is due to two things:  the first was the inspiration of an Augustinian nun, a Belgian named St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon (A.D. 1193-1258).  She had a vision of the moon that was full and beautiful, but marked by a black spot that signified that there was no joyous celebration of the Eucharist in the entire Church calendar.

The second source was the Miracle of Bolsena, which happened in A.D. 1263.  Peter of Prague, a German priest, during a pilgrimage to Rome, stopped At the Church of St. Christina there to offer Holy Mass.  While he was a holy and devout man, he harbored doubts about the Real Presence-doubts which were completely resolved when the Host he consecrated during that Mass began to bleed.  He rushed to meet Pope Urban IV in Orvieto, bringing the Host to him.  The miracle was declared, and the Host is still on display at the Cathedral of Orvieto today.

In response to both of the above, Pope Urban IV eventually published a Bull, Transiturus, in A.D. 1264, which made this Feast a part of the Church calendar.

Different customs surrounded the Feast of Corpus Christi dating back to the time of the Middle Ages.  These included pageants, processions and wreaths.  In America towns and bodies of water were named in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.

Especially favored was the attendance of children dressed as angels.  Already in 1496, at the great children’s procession in Florence, Savonarola had all of them appear in white or garbed as angels.  This custom quickly spread all over Europe in the following centuries.  Children dressed as the nine choirs of angels marched before the Blessed Sacrament while other “angels” strewed flowers in front of the Eucharistic Lord.  

At the time when the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted St. Thomas Aquinas lived and taught. He was considered the greatest philosopher theologian in the Church. But in his day the physical sciences had not progressed enough to know about the makeup of matter. Molecules and atoms had not yet been discovered. So, for St. Thomas matter consisted of what one could observe with the eye. And what was observed? That there were two basic elements to all matter: the appearance and the reality. The appearance is what a thing looked like: its shape, size, weight, color, etc. The other was the reality, what a thing is, apart from its appearance, before the consecration of the Mass, the bread and wine appear and really are bread and wine. After the words of Christ, at the Consecration, the bread and wine continue to appear as bread and wine, but, in reality they are the reality of the Body and Blood of Jesus. This happened at the Last Supper, the night before Jesus died. The Apostles saw, heard and touched Jesus sitting with them. He took unleavened bread, said: This is my body, and now held in His bodily hands His own Body. St. Thomas puts it this way in the “sequence” of the Mass: Man cannot understand this, cannot perceive it; but a lively faith affirms that the change, which is outside the natural course of thing, takes place. Under the different species, which are now signs only and not their own reality, there lies his wonderful realities. His body is our food, his blood is our drink.