It honors the Eucharist, which believers consider to be the actual body and blood of Christ, and as such it does not commemorate a particular event in Jesus' life. It is held on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, in some places, on the following Sunday. Its celebration on a Thursday is meant to associate it with Jesus' institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper, commemorated on Maundy Thursday, and this is the first free Thursday after Paschaltide. In the Ordinary form of the Roman rite of the Catholic Church, the feast is officially known as the 'Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ'.
In many English-speaking countries, Corpus Christi is transferred to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday by both Catholics and Anglicans. At the end of the Mass, it is customary to have a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament (often outdoors), followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
The appearance of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar was primarily due to the petitions of the thirteenth-century Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. From her early youth Juliana had a veneration for the Blessed Sacrament, and always longed for a special feast in its honour. This desire is said to have been increased 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, Jacques Pantaléon (Archdeacon of Liège who later became Pope Urban IV) and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so in 1246 Bishop Robert convened a synod and ordered a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held each year thereafter.
While the institution of the Eucharist is celebrated on Holy Thursday, the liturgy on that day also commemorates Christ's New Commandment ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you." John 13:34), the washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the priesthood and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. For this reason, the Feast of Corpus Christi was established to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist.
A new liturgy for the feast was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas. This liturgy has come to be used not only on the Feast of Corpus Christi itself but also throughout the liturgical year at events related to the Blessed Sacrament. The hymn Aquinas composed for Vespers of Corpus Christi, Pange Lingua, is also used on Holy 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).
Until the two feasts were combined in 1970, separate feasts existed for the Body of Christ, held on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, and the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with a feast on July 1. And until 1955, the Feast of Corpus Christi was followed by a privileged octave. Some groups continue to use those earlier forms of the Roman Rite and the corresponding calendars: see General Roman Calendar of 1962 and General Roman Calendar of 1954.
In medieval times in many parts of Europe Corpus Christi was a time for the performance of mystery plays.
The Feast of Corpus Christi, which is a moveable feast, is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, in countries where it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, on the Sunday after Holy Trinity.
The earliest possible Thursday celebration falls on 21 May (as in 1818 and 2285), the latest on 24 June (as in 1943 and 2038). The Sunday celebrations fall three days later.
The Thursday dates until 2022 are:
Contributed by: Mohinder Pal Singh
Date: May 8, 2010