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The Feast of Corpus Christi

The Feast of the Body of Christ (or Corpus Christi) is celebrated the Thursday after Trinity Sunday to honor the institution of the Holy Eucharist.

St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon in Belgium is responsible for the incorporation of the Feast of Corpus Christi. Juliana was born in 1193 in Retíenes and passed away April 5, 1258 at the House of Cistercian nuns at Fosses. She was orphaned as a small child and taken in by the Augustinian sisters of Mont Cornillon. She later entered their order. Juliana was deeply devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and wanted a special feast set aside in its honor. A vision of the Church under a full moon that had one, single dark spot, increased the urgency of her desire to petition for a special feast day. The dark spot signified the absence of a solemn occasion. She relayed her request to Robert De Thorete, the Bishop of Líege, Jacques Pantalèon, the Archdeacon of Líege and the educated Dominican Hugh. The Bishop of Líege was impressed by Juliana’s request and called for a synod in 1246 that established the celebration and setting the day for the celebration to occur the following year.

The decree was interred in Benterim with other parts of the Office. Official prayers of the Church that are composed for a specific holy day are called its “Office”. Bishop Robert died October16, 1246, before the execution of the order. The cannons of St. Martin at Líege were the first to celebrate the Holy Feast of Corpus Christi.

Henry Guelders, the new Bishop of Líege was the first to contact the current pope to establish the feast day throughout the world. Jacques Pantalèon was named Pope Urban IV on August 29, 1261. Pope Urban IV released the Bull “Transiturus” on September 8, 1264 which ordered the yearly celebration of Corpus Christi. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the official Office for the feast at Pope Urban IV’s request. The feast is celebrated the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.

Pope Urban IV died October 2,1264. His death slowed down the observation of the feast day until the new pope, Pope Clement V took it to the General Council of Vienna in 1311. He ordered the adoption of the holy day and published a new decree which was based on that of Urban IV. The pope following Clement V, John XXII also encouraged the observance of the Feast of Corpus Christi.

The Feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated for centuries by a procession in which the Eucharist or Sacred Host was carried through the streets of town while parishioners sang hymns and recited prayers. This parade rarely occurs anymore, except for certain parishes that parade in close proximity to their local church.