|Corpus Christi procession in the Vatican with Pope Gregory XVI.|
The sun has risen in his splendor, while the sweet chants of the sanctuary have been greeting the coming of the divine Orient. The appointed ministers of the sacred psalmody have been giving, in the name of the whole world, the solemn tribute of Lauds to God the Creator and Redeemer; and now that the king of day is up, we behold a very busy scene outside the precincts of the holy place: the children of men are all intent on a work, in which neither the desire of lucre, nor the thirst for pleasure, have any share. Tidings of salvation have been heard; the voice of rejoicing is in the tabernacles of the just: "God is preparing to visit His creatures; Emmanuel, Who is present in the Sacred Host, is about to go forth from His sanctuary; He is coming into your cities and your fields, to hold court in your green forests; the Lord God hath shone upon you, He hath appointed this solemn day; prepare His throne with shady boughs, and cover the way to the horn of the altar with flowers!" (Psalms)
This announcement has excited a holy enthusiasm in the souls of men. For several previous days, many a faithful heart has had something of the feeling which animated David, when he vowed his vow to the God of Jacob: "I will not enter into the tabernacle of my house, I will not go up into the bed wherein I lie, I will not give sleep to mine eyes, or rest to my temples, until I find out a place for the Lord, and a tabernacle for the God of Jacob" (Ps. 131: 3-5). O beautiful resting-places where are to stand the feet of the King of peace! Short-lived but exquisite designs! The product of that sacred poetry which comes from the supernatural love of the Christian! We see them today, save where cold heresy has come to keep man from being too earnest in his worship of his Savior! On every truly Catholic heart, even on some who, at all other times, seem to be out of the influence of grace, the Mystery of Faith makes its power tell; and many a wife, and daughter, and sister, who have seen the other feasts of the year of grace pass by and produce no effect on those dear to them, on this bright morning have beheld them all busy in preparing decorations for the triumphant procession of Emmanuel (Whom they have so long neglected to receive), and spending themselves in getting the best of everything they can give, or procure, for the God Who is so soon to pass by that way, and, passing, to give these dear ones the blessing of a conversion! It is the wakening up of the Faith of their Baptism; it is the grace of the Sacrament of Love working at a distance; a grace of a reminder of other and happier days, of First Communion perhaps; and when Jesus passes through the crowd, He will look at them, and they shall remember, and shall be converted to the Lord (Ps. 21: 28).
he grand Feast has, at length, dawned upon us; and everything is speaking of the triumph of faith and love. During the Feast of the Ascension, when commenting on these words of Our Lord: "It is expedient to you that I go" (John 16: 7), we were saying that the withdrawal of the visible presence of the Man-God from the eyes of men on earth, would bring among them, by the vivid operation of the Holy Ghost, a plenitude of light and a warmth of love which they had not had for Jesus, during His mortal life among them; the only creature that had rendered to Him, in Her single self, the whole of those duties which the Church afterwards paid Him, was Mary, who was illumined with Faith.
In his exquisite hymn, Adore Te Devote, St. Thomas Aquinas says: "On the Cross the Divinity alone was hid; but here the Humanity, too, is hid;" and yet, on no day of the year is the Church more triumphant, or more demonstrative, than She is upon this Feast. Heaven is all radiant; our earth has clad herself with her best, that she may do homage to Him, Who has said: "I am the Flower of the fields, and the Lily of the valleys" (Cant. 2: 1). Holy Church is not satisfied with having prepared a throne whereon, during the whole of this Octave, the Sacred Host is to receive the adorations of the faithful; She has decreed that these days of solemn and loving exposition be preceded by the pageant of a triumph. Not satisfied today with elevating the Bread of Life immediately after the Consecration, She will carry It beyond the precincts of Her churches, amidst clouds of incense, and on paths strewn with flowers; and Her children, on bended knee, will adore, under heaven's vaulted canopy, Him Who is their King and their God.
Those joys, which each separate solemnity of the year brought us, seem to come back upon us, all of them at once, today. The royal prophet had foretold this, when he said: "He (the Lord) hath made a remembrance of His wonderful works: He hath given Food to them that fear Him" (Ps. 110, 4-5). Holy Church is filled with enthusiasm, holding in Her arms that Divine Spouse, Who said: "Behold! I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt. 28: 20). Nothing could be more formal; and the promise has been faithfully kept. It is true, we beheld Him ascending from Mount Olivet; He went up into Heaven, and there He sitteth at His Father's right hand: but ever since the memorable day of Pentecost, when the Holy Ghost took possession of the Church, the sacred mystery of the Last Supper has been celebrated, in virtue of those words spoken by Jesus: Do this in remembrance of Me; and from that day forward, the human race has never been deprived of the presence of its Head and its Redeemer. No wonder, therefore, that Holy Mother Church, possessing, as She does, the Word, the Son of God, is suddenly filled with wisdom. The Sacramental Species, it is true, are there shrouding the mystery; but they are only existing for the purpose of leading into the invisible…"
[These are the last words written for this work by Abbot Prosper Louis Pascal Gueranger. He was on the point of completing this section of The Liturgical Year, when death came upon him on January 30, 1875.]
The Corpus Christi Procession
This solemn homage to the Sacred Host is a later institution than the Feast itself. Pope Urban IV, does not mention it in his Bull of Institution in 1264. We first find mention of this procession in a Council held at Sens in 1320: "As to the solemn procession made on Thursday's Feast, when the Holy Sacrament is carried, seeing that it appears to have been introduced in these our times by a sort of inspiration, we prescribe nothing at present, and leave all concerning it to the devotion of the clergy and people." It seems, then, that the initiative of the institution of today's procession was given by the devotion of the faithful; and that this admirable completion of this Feast began in France, and thence was adopted in all the Churches of the West.
There is ground for supposing that at first the Sacred Host was carried in these processions veiled over, or enclosed in a sort of rich shrine. Even as far back as the 11th century, it had been the custom, in some places, to carry It in this way during the processions of Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday morning. The use of ostensoria, or monstrances, as they are termed in a Council held in 1452 at Cologne, soon followed the institution of the new procession. They were made, at first, in shape like little towers. In a manuscript Missal, dated 1374, the letter D, the first letter of the Collect for Corpus Christi, gives us a miniature illustration representing a bishop, accompanied by two acolytes, who is carrying a Host in a golden tower with four openings. But Catholic piety soon sought to compensate the Sun of Justice for thus hiding Himself and His glory in the Mystery of Love. The Sacred Host was now exposed to the gaze of the faithful, enclosed in a crystal sphere, surrounded by rays of gold, or of other precious materials.
And yet the Protestant heresy, which was then beginning, gave the name of novelty, superstition, and idolatry, to these natural developments of Catholic worship, prompted, as they were, by faith and love. The Council of Trent pronounced anathema upon these calumnies; and, in a Chapter apart, showed how rightly the Church had acted in countenancing these practices: "The holy Council declares that there has been most piously and religiously introduced into God's Church the practice, that each year, on a certain special feast, the august and venerable Sacrament should be honored with singular veneration and solemnity, and that It should be reverently and with every honor carried in processions through the public roads and places. For it is most just that certain holidays should be appointed, whereon all Christians should, with special and unusual demonstrations, evince their gratitude and mindfulness towards their common Lord and Redeemer, for this so unspeakable and truly divine Favor, in which is represented His victory and triumph over death. And it was also necessary, that thus invincible truth should triumph over lying and heresy; that Her enemies, seeing all that splendor, and being in the midst of such great joy of the whole Church, should either grow wearied and acknowledge their being beaten and broken, or, being ashamed and confounded, should be converted."
Fr. Faber, in his Blessed Sacrament, has given us a summary of the sentiments of true Catholics during the Corpus Christi processions of the not-too-distant past: "Oh, the joy of the immense glory the Church is sending up to God this hour! Verily as if the world was all unfallen still. We think, and, as we think, the thoughts are like so many successive tidal waves filling our whole souls with the fullness of delight, of all the thousands of Masses which are being said or sung the whole world over, and all rising with one note of blissful acclamation, from grateful creatures, to the majesty of our merciful Creator. How many glorious processions, with the sun upon their banners, are now wending their way round the squares of mighty cities, through the flower-strewn streets of Christian villages, through the antique cloisters of the glorious cathedral, or though the grounds of the devout seminary, where the various colors of the faces, and the different languages of the people are only so many fresh tokens of the unity of that Faith, which they are all exultingly professing in the single voice of the magnificent ritual of Rome! Upon how many altars of various architecture, amid sweet flowers and starry lights, amid clouds of humble incense, and the tumult of thrilling song, before thousands of prostrate worshippers, is the Blessed Sacrament raised for exposition, or taken down for Benediction! And how many blessed acts of faith and love, of triumph and reparation, do not each of these things surely represent! The world over, the summer air is filled with the voice of song. The gardens are shorn of their fairest blossoms, to be flung beneath the feet of the Sacramental God. The steeples are reeling with the clang of bells; the cannon are booming in the gorges of the Andes and the Apennines; the ships of the harbors are painting the bays of the sea with their show of colorful flags; the pomp of royal or national armies salutes the King of kings. The Pope on his throne, and the school-girl in her village, cloistered nuns, and sequestered hermits, bishops and dignitaries and preachers, emperors and kings and princes, all are engrossed today with the Blessed Sacrament. Cities are illuminated; the dwellings of men are alive with exultation. Joy so abounds that men rejoice though they know not why, and their joy overflows on sad hearts, and on the poor, and the imprisoned, and the wandering, and the orphaned, and the homesick exiles. All the millions of souls that belong to the royal family and spiritual lineage of St. Peter are today engaged more or less with the Blessed Sacrament: so that the whole Church militant is thrilling with glad emotion, like the tremulous rocking of the mighty sea. Sin seems forgotten; tears even are of rapture rather than of penance. It is like the soul's first day in Heaven; or as if earth itself were passing into Heaven, as it well might do, for sheer joy of the Blessed Sacrament."
From the commentary on the feast of Corpus Christi in Dom Prosper Gueranger 's The Liturgical Year.