Corpus Christi and Eucharistic Processions

From the Mass of the Lord’s Supper to Corpus Christi
The institution of the Eucharist has as a special memorial the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, when Christ the Lord shared a meal with his disciples and gave them the sacrament of his Body and Blood to be celebrated in the Church. The solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) further proposes the cultus of the Blessed Sacrament to the faithful so that they may celebrate the wonderful works of God, signified by the sacrament and accomplished by the Paschal mystery of Christ. This solemnity is also intended to teach the faithful how to share in the Eucharistic sacrifice and to have it more profoundly influence their life, to revere the presence of Christ the Lord in this sacrament, and to offer the thanks due for God’s gifts.

Corpus Christi procession
In its devotion the Church has handed down as a distinctive feature of the celebration of this solemnity a procession in which the Eucharist is carried solemnly and with singing through the streets, and the Christian people give public witness to their belief in the sacrament of the Eucharist and to their devotion.

It is therefore desirable to continue this procession where circumstances permit and when it can truly be a sign of common faith and adoration. In the principal districts of large cities there may be additional processions for pastoral reasons at the discretion of the diocesan bishop…

—Ceremonial of Bishops (1984), nn. 385-386.

Walking with the Lord down Nicollet Mall

Our faith in the God who took flesh in order to become our companion along the way needs to be everywhere proclaimed, especially in our streets and homes, as an expression of our grateful love and as an inexhaustible source of blessings.

—Pope John Paul II, Mane nobiscum Domine, n. 18

Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ

Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, December 17, 2001
(Text has been emended to fix typos and gross translation deficiencies; liturgical book references have been supplied for the U.S. English language editions.)

160. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is observed on the Thursday following the solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. [In the United States it is observed on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday.] This feast is both a doctrinal and cultic response to heretical teaching on the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the apogee of an ardent devotional movement concentrated on the Sacrament of the Altar. It was extended to the entire Latin Church by Urban IV in 1264.

Popular piety encouraged the process that led to the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi, which reciprocally inspired the development of new forms of Eucharistic piety among the people of God.

For centuries, the celebration of Corpus Christi remained the principal point of popular piety’s concentration on the Eucharist. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, faith, in reaction to various forms of Protestantism, and culture (art, folklore and literature) coalesced in developing lively and significant expressions Eucharistic devotion in popular piety.

161. Eucharistic devotion, which is so deeply rooted in the Christian faithful, must integrate two basic principles:

  • the supreme reference point for Eucharistic devotion is the Lord’s Passover; the Pasch, as understood by the Fathers, is the feast of Easter, while the Eucharist is before all else the celebration of Paschal Mystery or of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ;

  • all forms of Eucharist devotion must have an intrinsic reference to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or dispose the faithful for its celebration, or prolong the worship which is essential to that Sacrifice.

Hence, the Rituale Romanum states “The faithful, when worshipping Christ present in the Sacrament of the Altar, should recall that this presence comes from the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, and tends towards sacramental and spiritual communion” (169).

162. The procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is, so to speak, the “typical form” of a Eucharistic procession. It constitutes, in fact, a prolongation of the celebration of the Eucharist: immediately after Mass, the Host, which was consecrated at that Mass, is carried outside of the church, so that the Christian people might “give public witness to its faith and devotion regarding the Most Blessed Sacrament” (170).

The faithful understand and appreciate the values inherent in the Corpus Christi procession: they are aware of being “the People of God” that walks with its Lord, proclaiming faith in him who has become truly “God-with-us”.

It is necessary, however, to ensure that the norms governing Eucharistic processions be observed (171), especially those ensuring respect for the dignity and reverence of the Blessed Sacrament (172). It is also necessary to ensure that the typical elements of popular piety, such as the decoration of the streets and windows, the homage of flowers, the altars upon which the Blessed Sacrament will be placed at the stations along the route, and the hymns and prayers “should be so arranged that all may manifest their faith in Christ and devote their attention to the Lord alone” (173), and exclude all forms of competition.

163. The Eucharistic procession is ordinarily concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In the specific case of the Corpus Christi procession, the blessing constitutes the solemn conclusion of the entire celebration: the usual priestly blessing is replaced by the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.

It is important that the faithful understand that this blessing with the Blessed Sacrament is not a form of Eucharistic piety that stands on its own, but that it is the concluding moment of a sufficiently long act of worship. Hence, liturgical norms prohibit “exposition merely for the purpose of giving the blessing” (174).

(169) Roman Ritual: Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, n. 80. [RITUALE ROMANUM, De sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam, Editio Typica, Typis Polyglotis Vaticanis 1973, 80.]

(170) Ibid., n. 101; cf. Code of Canon Law, can. 944.

(171) Cf. Roman Ritual: Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, nn. 101-108. [RITUALE ROMANUM, De sacra communione et de cultu mysterii eucharistici extra Missam, cit., 101-108.]

(172) Cf. ibid., nn. 101-102.

(173) Ibid., n. 104.

(174) Ibid., n. 89.

Sent forth as “Missionaries of the Eucharist”
…At the end of every Mass, when the celebrant takes leave of the assembly with the words “Ite, Missa est,” all should feel they are sent as “missionaries of the Eucharist” to carry to every environment the great gift received. In fact anyone who encounters Christ in the Eucharist cannot fail to proclaim through his or her life the merciful love of the Redeemer.

…The Eucharist, the Second Vatican Council affirms, “is the source and summit of all Christian life” (Lumen gentium, n. 11), “the source and summit of all evangelization” (Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 5).

How could the Church fulfill her vocation without cultivating a constant relationship with the Eucharist, without nourishing herself with this food which sanctifies, without founding her missionary activity on this indispensable support? To evangelize the world there is need of apostles who are “experts” in the celebration, adoration and contemplation of the Eucharist.

—Pope John Paul II, Message “Eucharist and Mission” for the 78th World Mission Sunday, October 24, 2004, nn. 2 and 3.

Canon Law on Eucharistic processions
Code of Canon Law (1983), can. 944

§1. When it can be done in the judgment of the diocesan bishop, a procession through the public streets is to be held as a public witness of veneration toward the Most Holy Eucharist, especially on the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ.

§2. It is for the diocesan bishop to establish regulations which provide for the participation in and the dignity of processions.

First Communicant Girls (Archdiocesan Corpus Christi Procession 2005)       First Communicant Boys (Archdiocesan Corpus Christi Procession 2005)       More First Communicant Girls (Archdiocesan Corpus Christi Procession 2005)
First Holy Communicants in 2005 Corpus Christi Procession

How I loved the feasts!.... I especially loved the processions in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. What a joy it was for me to throw flowers beneath the feet of God!... I was never so happy as when I saw my roses touch the sacred Monstrance.

—St. Thérèse of Lisieux (The Little Flower), Story of a Soul

Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines
Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, December 17, 2001

245. Processions are cultic expressions of a universal character and have multiple social and religious significance. In them, the relationship between Liturgy and popular piety is especially important. Inspired by biblical examples (cf. Ex 14:8-31; 2 Sam 6:12-19; 1 Cor:15, 25 - 16:3), the Church has instituted a number of liturgical processions which have differing emphases ... [including] votive processions, such as the Eucharistic procession on the feast of Corpus Christi: the Blessed Sacrament passing through the streets arouses sentiments of gratitude and thanksgiving in the minds and hearts of the faithful, it arouses in them faith-adoration and is a source of grace and blessing (Acts 10:38)....

246. From the middle ages, votive processions acquired a particular importance in popular piety, and reached their apogee during the age of the Baroque. The Patron Saints of a city, or streets, or guild were honored by carrying their relics, or image, or effigy in procession.

In their true form, processions are a manifestation of the faith of the people. They often have cultural connotations and are capable of re-awakening the religious sense of the people. From the perspective of the Christian’s faith, votive processions, like other pious exercises, are exposed to certain risks: the precedence of devotions over the sacraments, which are relegated to second place, of external displays over interior disposition; regarding the procession as the apogee of a feast; the impression given to some of the less competently instructed of the faithful that Christianity is merely a “religion of Saints”; the degeneration of the procession itself from a manifestation of faith to a mere spectacle or a purely secular parade.

247. To preserve the character of processions as manifestations of faith, it is necessary for the faithful to be carefully instructed on their theological, liturgical and anthropological aspects.

From a theological perspective, it is important to emphasize that a procession is a sign of the Church’s condition, the pilgrimage of the People of God, with Christ and after Christ, aware that in this world it has no lasting dwelling. Through the streets of this earth it moves towards the heavenly Jerusalem. It is also a sign of the witness to the faith that every Christian community is obliged to give to the Lord in the structures of civil society. It is also a sign of the Church’s missionary task which reaches back to her origins and the Lord’s command (cf. Mt 28:19-20), which sent her to proclaim the Gospel message of salvation.

From a liturgical point of view, processions, even those of a popular tenor, should be oriented towards the Liturgy. The journey from church to church should be presented as the journey of the community living in this world towards the community living in Heaven. Such processions should be conducted under ecclesiastical supervision so as to avoid anything unsuitable or degenerative. They should begin with a moment of prayer during which the Word of God should be proclaimed. Hymns and canticles should be sung and instrumental music can also be used. Lighted candles or lamps should be carried by the faithful during the procession. Pauses should be arranged along the way so as to provide for alternative paces, bearing in mind that such also reflects the journey of life. The procession should conclude with a doxology to God, source of all sanctity, and with a blessing given by a bishop, priest or deacon.

From an anthropological perspective, the procession should make it evident that it is “a commonly undertaken journey”. The participants join in the same atmosphere of prayer and are united in singing, and concentrated on arriving at the same goal. Thus the faithful feel united with each other, and intent in giving concrete expression to their Christian commitment throughout the journey of life.


Churches at Home and Abroad Follow Pope’s Eucharistic Example
National Catholic Register, June 24-30, 2001
(Corpus Christi processions around the U.S.)

Feast of Corpus Christi
Catholic Encyclopedia (1908)
(Note: In 1970, the official name changed to the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus et Sanguis Christi) and, in the U.S., the feast moved to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday.)

Reviving the wonder and awe before the mystery of the Holy Eucharist
Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Pontifical Household

Eucharistic Procession on the Feast of Corpus Christi (ceremony details)
Msgr. (now Most Rev.) Peter J. Elliott, Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite: The Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours,
San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995.

Roman Ritual: Holy Communion and Worship of the Eucharist Outside Mass, nn. 101-108.
(The official liturgical rites.)

Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines

Corpus Christi Processions
Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958.

Customs for the Feast of Christi Christi
Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1958.

2005 Corpus Christi Procession in Rome, led by Pope Benedict XVI

The Pope’s Corpus Christi Procession
The signs of bread and wine
Homily for Corpus Christi, June 15, 2006.

Photos of Corpus Christi 2006 in Rome

Blown clean away by a brush with Benedict
Katie Grant’s delightful account her chance participation in the 2005 Corpus Christi procession in Rome with Pope Benedict XVI.

The Body of Christ and the Vicar of Christ
A letter from Br. Chad Wahl, LC, to friends and family describing his experience of the 2005 Corpus Christi procession in Rome, dated 1 June 2005.

Photos of Corpus Christi 2005 in Rome

Pope Leads Corpus Christi Procession through Rome
Catholic World News, June 23, 2000.
An article about Pope John Paul II’s procession during the Jubilee Year 2000.

Prayers, reflections, and more on the Holy Eucharist


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