Feast of Corpus Christi highlights the gift, truth of the Eucharist

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Bishop J. Mark Spalding led a Eucharistic procession at the Cathedral of the Incarnation on Sunday, June 19, 2022, for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also referred to as Corpus Christi. Tennessee Register file photo by Andy Telli

As the Feast of Corpus Christi approaches, Father John Hammond, pastor of St. Patrick Church in South Nashville, and Judicial Vicar and Vicar General for the Diocese of Nashville, said it’s the perfect time to refocus ourselves on our own intimate relationship with Jesus.

Corpus Christi “is a beautiful feast which highlights and celebrates the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, body, blood, soul, and divinity,” Father Hammond said. “It’s a feast day that allows us to rejoice in that particular truth, but also encourages us to pay special attention and special worship to Christ as he is truly present in the Blessed Sacrament.”

Corpus Christi, also known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, dates back to the 13th century, when Pope Urban IV instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost Sunday in 1264. Legend says Pope Urban IV did this in response to a miracle that happened during a Mass when a village priest and his congregation witnessed a bleeding host during the prayer of consecration.

This year, the Feast of Corpus Christi is on Thursday, June 8, with Corpus Christi Sunday observed on June 11.

“Corpus Christi is an interesting feast day because a few feast days at this time of year celebrate doctrinal truths like Trinity Sunday, for example,” Father Hammond said. “Most of the feasts of the Church celebrate events in the life of the Lord or the lives of the saints whereas this feast celebrates this great fundamental truth of the true presence of the body and blood of our Lord in the Eucharist.”

The readings for Corpus Christi Sunday will highlight those truths with readings from Deuteronomy about the eating of manna in the desert, and First Corinthians when Paul speaks of the cup of blessing. It will culminate in a reading from the Bread of Life Discourse in the Gospel of John 6:51-58.

The Bread of Life Discourse “is an extremely appropriate reading because the Lord himself is emphasizing the reality of the Eucharist,” Father Hammond explained. “He’s talking about eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood, and these are very vivid images that don’t suggest that this is anything symbolic, but is something that is very, very real.”

“‘My flesh is true food, my blood is true drink,’” he continued, quoting the scripture.

“The Holy Eucharist is one of our greatest gifts. The Lord promised at the end of the Gospel of Matthew to remain with us always, and this is one of, if not the main, and most powerful way that He does that,” Father Hammond concluded. “He really is substantially present, body, blood, soul, and divinity. He really is with us always.

“We have an opportunity to have an intense experience with the Lord every time we even attend Mass, and certainly when we receive Holy Communion, but also when we participate in Eucharistic worship through adoration or processions or praying in the presence of the tabernacle,” he said. “It’s truly an incredible gift that the Lord gives us.”

The Year of Parish Revival

The second year of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Eucharistic Revival will officially kick off with the Feast of Corpus Christi, as the focus turns to the individual parishes throughout the country.

“Corpus Christi focuses intently on the mystery of the Eucharist itself, so it’s a natural time to begin a phase of the Church’s desire to revive faith, piety, and devotion to that reality that we’re celebrating on that feast day,” Father Hammond said.

The Year of Parish Revival is considered the most pivotal year of the three-year Eucharistic Revival.

“On the Solemnity of Corpus Christi this year, June 11, 2023, we will begin the Eucharistic Revival’s parish year,” Bishop Andrew Cozzens, chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Evangelization and Catechesis, wrote in a letter to parish leaders. “This year promises to be the most impactful phase of this multi-year response to the Holy Spirit.

“For the Eucharistic Revival to be successful, parishes must fulfill their key role in boldly proclaiming the Gospel,” he wrote.

“With Pope Francis, we must understand that ‘the parish is not an outdated institution; precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of the pastor and the community,’” he added, quoting the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”).

Throughout the Year of Parish Revival, which is June 2023 through July 2024, pastors and ministry leaders are encouraged to implement the four pillars that uphold the movement of the Eucharistic revival – reinvigorating worship, creating moments of personal encounter, engaging in robust faith formation, and sending Catholics forth as missionaries.

Eucharistic Processions

With the four pillars in mind, several parishes throughout the diocese are planning to start the year off with Eucharistic Processions during Corpus Christi weekend, a practice that Father Hammond said is steeped in Church tradition.

“A procession is a very ancient and beautiful religious practice especially in Christianity where the whole idea of a long, solemn, joyful procession is a very celebratory and solemn thing, and has been throughout the history of the Church,” Father Hammond explained, noting how many processions include a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary or relics of the saints. “It is especially praiseworthy to have a procession with the Blessed Sacrament with the idea that you’re taking the Lord out into the world to solemnly bless wherever he goes and also to invite and promote devotion to his true presence for anybody that sees him.”

Amy Eubanks, director of Adult Faith Formation at Holy Family Church in Brentwood, said having a Eucharistic Procession during Corpus Christi weekend was a “no-brainer” as the Year of Parish Revival begins.

“It’s an opportunity for us to celebrate the Real Presence. Ideally, we do that all the time in our life as Catholics, but I think with anything in life, it’s always good to have a renewal and that we just have this reminder of what we’re centered in, and to me that’s what this feast day offers,” Eubanks explained. “We’re already a Eucharistic people. It’s the source and summit of why we’re Catholic, but the revival is this intentional chance to look at how Christ feeds us and how we can share that with others.

“It’s a chance to focus on our living relationship with our loving Lord,” she added. “As humans, we get busy, and we can tend to show up at Mass in body but not spirit, going through the motions of prayer, but not really feeling it.

“Our relationship with the Lord is living as we have hurts and joys and wounds and celebrations. This time of revival is a celebration of that. The Lord wants to be part of that, and the Lord’s love is accompanying us always.”

Holy Family’s Eucharistic Procession, put together by the parish’s Eucharistic Revival Committee, which include Knights of Columbus, parish council members, and more, will begin with an exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the church at approximately 9:45 a.m. on Sunday, June 11. Then, the group will process outside the church, stopping at various places to offer prayers, including the Marian Garden and the columbarium, before ending with benediction in the sanctuary.

Immaculate Conception Church in Clarksville is also hosting a Eucharistic Procession after the 4:30 p.m. Mass on Saturday, June 10, as well as after the 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Masses on Sunday, June 11, and the 1 p.m. Spanish Mass on Sunday.

While Eucharistic Processions have been a tradition at Immaculate Conception for a few years, it will be the first time that so many will be held.

“This year, with the Eucharistic Revival, we just feel like it’s an important way to help get people to know Jesus, and we need to get Jesus out into the streets,” said Marcia Sundberg, adoration coordinator and Immaculate Conception point person for the Eucharistic Revival. “There is so much sin in the world, so we just need to get Jesus out there, and we need to expose him to everybody.”

Each procession will begin with the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the church before Father Jacob Dio, pastor of Immaculate Conception, leads the procession around the church campus. Songs will be sung throughout as the procession ends with benediction back inside the church.

“Over the past couple weeks of this Easter season, we’ve been reminded of Jesus telling all his apostles, ‘I will always be with you. Where you are, so am I,’” explained Deacon Juan Garza, director of faith formation and special projects at Immaculate Conception. “We need to let the world know that Jesus is always with us in the Eucharist. He is with us every day.

“An important aspect of the Eucharist is not to just come see him on Sunday, but he goes out into the world to continue to serve the people, to continue to bring people to the Father through him,” he said. “This is a perfect way of showing our community around here that Jesus walks among us.”

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