Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
The Feast of Corpus Christi (Ecclesiastical Latin: Dies Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Domini Iesu Christi, lit. 'Day of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ the Lord'), also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, is a Christian liturgical solemnity celebrating the Real Presence of the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ in the elements of the Eucharist; it is observed by the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to certain Western Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican churches. Two months earlier, the institution of the Eucharist at the Last Supper is observed on Maundy Thursday in a sombre atmosphere leading to Good Friday. The liturgy on that day also commemorates Christ's washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the priesthood, and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.
The feast of Corpus Christi was proposed by Saint Thomas Aquinas, Doctor of the Church, to Pope Urban IV, in order to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist, emphasizing the joy of the Eucharist being the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Having recognized in 1264 the authenticity of the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena, on input of Aquinas, the pontiff, then living in Orvieto, established the feast of Corpus Christi as a Solemnity and extended it to the whole Roman Catholic Church.
The feast is liturgically celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, "where the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is not a holy day of obligation, it is assigned to the Sunday after the Most Holy Trinity as its proper day".
At the end of Holy Mass, there is often a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, generally displayed in a monstrance. The procession is followed by the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. A notable Eucharistic procession is that presided over by the Pope each year in Rome, where it begins at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and passes to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where it concludes with the aforementioned Benediction. Corpus Christi wreaths, which are made of flowers, are hung on the doors and windows of the Christian faithful, in addition to being erected in gardens and fields.
The celebration of the feast was suppressed in Protestant churches during the Reformation for theological reasons: outside Lutheranism, which maintained the confession of the Real Presence, many Protestants denied the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist other than as a merely symbolic or spiritual presence. Today, most Protestant denominations do not recognize the feast day, with exception of certain Lutheran churches and the Church of England, the latter of which abolished it in 1548 as the English Reformation progressed, but later reintroduced it. Some Anglican churches now observe Corpus Christi, sometimes under the name "Thanksgiving for Holy Communion".
The institution of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar resulted from approximately forty years of work on the part of Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Norbertine canoness, also known as Juliana de Cornillon, born in 1191 or 1192 in Liège, Belgium, a city where there were groups of women dedicated to Eucharistic worship. Guided by exemplary priests, they lived together, devoted to prayer and to charitable works. Orphaned at the age of five, she and her sister Agnes were entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon, where Juliana developed a special veneration for the Blessed Sacrament.
She always longed for a feast day outside of Lent in its honour. Her vita reports that this desire was enhanced by a vision of the church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity. In 1208, she reported her first vision of Christ in which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop.
Juliana also petitioned the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher, and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so Bishop Robert ordered in 1246 a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held in the diocese each year thereafter on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The first such celebration occurred at St Martin's Church in the city that same year.
Hugh of St-Cher travelled to Liège as Cardinal-Legate in 1251 and, finding that the feast was not being observed, reinstated it. In the following year, he established the feast for his whole jurisdiction (Germany, Dacia, Bohemia, and Moravia), to be celebrated on the Thursday after the Octave of Trinity (one week later than had been indicated for Liège), but with a certain elasticity, for he granted an indulgence for all who confessed their sins and attended church "on a date and in a place where [the feast] was celebrated".
Jacques Pantaléon of Troyes was also won over to the cause of the Feast of Corpus Christi during his ministry as Archdeacon in Liège under the diocesan bishop Robert of Thourotte. It was he who, having become Pope as Urban IV in 1264, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost as a feast for the entire Latin Church, by the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. The legend that this act was inspired by a procession to Orvieto in 1263, after a village priest in Bolsena and his congregation witnessed a Eucharistic miracle of a bleeding consecrated host at Bolsena, has been called into question by scholars who note problems in the dating of the alleged miracle, whose tradition begins in the 14th century, and the interests of Urban IV, a former Archdeacon in Liège. Though this was the first papally imposed universal feast for the Latin Church, it was not in fact widely celebrated for half a century, although it was adopted by a number of dioceses in Germany and by the Cistercians, and in 1295 was celebrated in Venice. It became a truly universal feast only after the bull of Urban IV was included in the collection of laws known as the Clementines, compiled under Pope Clement V, but promulgated only by his successor Pope John XXII in 1317.
While the institution of the Eucharist is celebrated on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, the liturgy on that day also commemorates Christ's washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the priesthood and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. So many other functions took place on this day that the principal event was almost lost sight of. This is mentioned in the Bull Transiturus as the chief reason for the introduction of the new feast. Hence, the feast of Corpus Christi was established to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist.
Three versions of the office for the feast of Corpus Christi in extant manuscripts provide evidence for the Liège origins and voice of Juliana in an original office, which was followed by two later versions of the office. A highly sophisticated and polished version can be found in BNF 1143, a musical manuscript devoted entirely to the feast, upon which there is wide scholarly agreement: the version in BNF 1143 is a revision of an earlier version found in Prague, Abbey of Strahov MS D.E.I. 7, and represents the work of Thomas Aquinas following or during his residency at Orvieto from 1259 to 1265. The office can also be found in the 1343 codex Regimen Animarum.: 13 This liturgy may be used as a votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament on weekdays in ordinary time. The hymn Aquinas composed for Vespers of Corpus Christi, Pange Lingua or another eucharistic hymn, is also used on Maundy Thursday during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose. The last two verses of Pange Lingua are also used as a separate hymn, Tantum Ergo, which is sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. O Salutaris Hostia, another hymn sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, comprises the last two verses of Verbum Supernum Prodiens, Aquinas' hymn for Lauds of Corpus Christi. Aquinas also composed the propers for the Mass of Corpus Christi, including the sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem. The epistle reading for the Mass was taken from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23–29), and the Gospel reading was taken from the Gospel of John (John 6:56–59).
Silver-gilt Corpus Christi monstrance of Toledo, Spain
When Pope Pius V revised the General Roman Calendar (see Tridentine Calendar), Corpus Christi was one of only two "feasts of devotion" that he kept, the other being Trinity Sunday. In that calendar, Corpus Christi was celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The feast had an octave until 1955, when Pope Pius XII suppressed all octaves, even in local calendars, except those of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost (see General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII).
From 1849 until 1969, a separate Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ was assigned originally to the first Sunday in July, later to the first day of the month. This feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, "because the Most Precious Blood of Christ the Redeemer is already venerated in the solemnities of the Passion, of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and in the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. But the Mass of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is placed among the votive Masses".
Corpus Christi is a moveable feast, celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, 60 days after Easter, or, in countries where it is not a holy day of obligation, on the following Sunday.
The earliest possible Thursday celebration falls on May 21 (as in 1818 and 2285), the latest on June 24 (as in 1943 and 2038). The Sunday celebration of the feast, introduced in the second half of the 20th century, occurs three days later, between May 24 at earliest (for the first time in 2285) and June 27 at latest (for the first time in 2038). For Western Rite Orthodox Christians, since they use the Julian Calendar, at least for all Feast Days dependent on the date of Pascha, their date of the celebration of Corpus Christi, translates to, in the Gregorian Calendar, from June 3 at the earliest, to July 7, at the latest.
Corpus Christi is a public holiday in some countries with a predominantly Catholic population including, among others, Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Equatorial Guinea, parts of Germany, Grenada, Haiti, Jerusalem in Israel, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, parts of Puerto Rico, Saint Lucia, San Marino, Spain, parts of Switzerland, Trinidad and Tobago, parts of the United States, and Venezuela.