Sunday, June 3, 2018

The joy of Corpus Christi

In some countries the great festival of Corpus Christi will have been kept last Thursday, while in others today is the big day. What a wonderful celebration of the presence of Jesus among us in the Blessed Sacrament! I am still getting to know the customs of my new parish. I was so pleased a few weeks ago to discover that not only does All Saints' Benhilton keep Corpus Christi on the Sunday with great rejoicing, but also that at the end of Mass we have a procession of the Blessed Sacrament into our neighbourhood, before going back into the church for Benediction.

There have been many revivals and times of renewal prompted by the Holy Spirit over two thousand years of Church history. One such movement in the Western Church during the Middle Ages was the upsurge in love and devotion to Jesus in the Sacrament of the Altar. This resulted in the practice of elevating the Host and the Chalice for the people’s adoration during the consecration at Mass. To satisfy the widespread prayerful longing for these sacred moments of love and worship to be extended, processions of the Blessed Sacrament became common, as did devotions that evolved into the little service of “Benediction” as we know it today.

“Corpus Christi” (Latin for “Body of Christ”) as an exuberant festival of thanksgiving for the Blessed Sacrament was officially proclaimed in Belgium in 1246. It was extended to the entire Western Church in 1264.  

Our Eucharistic procession at the end of today’s Mass reminds us that Jesus, present among his people in the Sacrament of his love, accompanies us, not just as individuals, but also as a community of faith walking together, supporting one another in our journey through this life.

One of the more eccentric and colourful characters of the Catholic Revival in the Church of England was Father Sandys Wason (1867-1950), poet and for some years Vicar of Cury and Gunwalloe in Cornwall. He was greatly persecuted and suffered much for the Faith. A number of his poems have been included in the biography, Mr Wason . . . I Think, written by Roy Tickner. Particularly moving is Father Wason's poem written for the solemnity of Corpus Christi:

At every doorway of the rose-hung street,
On the stone stair-heads, in the angled shade,
Peasants in old-time festival brocade
Took refuge from the unrelenting heat;
These, all by some Mystery made one
With those who dozed or whispered, kissed or played
As silver trumpets rang through the arcade,
Leaned to the far-off sound like wind-blown wheat.

A dark-haired boy, sandalled and naked save
A shift of camel's hair, came first as John
The Baptist: in his wake a yearling lamb,
A crucifix, blest incense; next, a score
Of sunburnt singing-boys in lawn and black
Swept gaily on before a company
Of girls in long lace bridal veils and wreaths
Of oleander, telling rosaries,
But none so fervid that she failed to screen
The lighted taper in her small brown hand
Lest any love-lorn breeze mistake and woo
Its flame for some gold flower.

A group of children who from ribboned frails
Unendingly were flinging to the Host
Flowers of genista, poppy, myrtle, bay;
At last, as from a mist of frankincense
And candle-light and waving cypress boughs,
A priest in silver vestments flowered with gold
To which, as by a spell, his eyes were held;
He gazed, as if these transitory things
Were with the earth, all they had been before
They were created; as if our life were but
A greying garland doomed to pass away.

To him, within the pale orb of the Host,
All he had ever dreaded or desired,
Truth, wisdom, power, peace and righteousness,
As in a crystal mirror, stood revealed,
And so, adoring his uplifted God,
Wonder, profoundest wonder filled his soul.

This Host he held before him was, he knew,
But one of thousands he, with Christ's last words,
Had blessed and raised to God at break of dawn;
As known to him, as dearly natural
As his young olive trees, his violin,
The cedar press where lay the folded alb
He would at death be clothed in, the pale crown
Of 'everlastings' on his mother's grave.

This Host was close to these persisting things.
In this, then, dwelt the marvel; here abode
The Lord who made the beauty of the world,
The sun, the moon, and all the stars that be,
The solace and the menace of the sea.

Came holding, shaded by a baldaquin
Of white and silver tissue, thin with age,
A golden monstrance like an outspread fan.


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