Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi. The legend is that it grew out of a devout nun’s dream. Juliana of Liege, who revered Christ and the Eucharist for forty years, dreamed a vision of the moon with one dark spot. To her, that represented the lack of a feast in the church calendar honoring the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ. She petitioned her Bishop, who granted her request in 1246.
Our friend Thomas Acquinas introduced it as a Feast in the West, in 1264. His beautiful Pange Lingua was composed specifically for services of the Feast. (The hymn’s last two verses are the familiar Tantum Ergo.) Though it was abolished in the English Reformation, it was later re-introduced, and is celebrated in many Anglo-Catholic parishes today. It’s always on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
Corpus Christi is also the name for a series of “mystery” plays common in medieval England. These plays were Christian education, portraying Bible scenes to populations that were largely illiterate. Some are still performed to this day, notably in York, England.
As the name implies, it is a celebration of the Body and Blood of Christ. Its liturgy is solely focused on “The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.” Maundy Thursday also celebrates the Eucharist, but is better known and appreciated for the washing of feet on that day.
As with so many church observances these days, we can’t be together for liturgy, music and processing the monstrance. But, as with Spiritual Communion, we can worship in our hearts, “the bread that comes down from heaven.” (John 6: 58) Readings for Corpus Christi are Deuteronomy 8:2-3, Revelation 19:1-2a, 4-9 and John 6: 47-58.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington