22 June 2011

Corpus Christi

Weather: Corpus Christi clear, gives a good year.

This is a good day to start the Novena to the Sacred Heart, which Feast is celebrated Friday week after Corpus Christi:

O most holy Heart of Jesus, fountain of every blessing, I adore Thee, I love Thee and with a lively sorrow for my sins, I offer Thee this poor heart of mine.  Make me humble, patient, pure and wholly obedient to Thy will.  Grant, good Jesus, that I may live in Thee and for Thee.  Protect me in the midst of danger; comfort me in my afflictions; give me health of body, assistance in my temporal needs, Thy blessing on all that I do, and the grace of a holy death.  Within Thy Heart I place my every care. In every need let me come to Thee with humble trust saying, Heart of Jesus help me. 

In some parts of Wales, the Eve of Corpus Christi was considered the best time for those who had any kind of ailment to kneel in church before the altar and pray fervently for healing.


The Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ) was established in 1264 by Pope Urban IV to honor and celebrate the Body of Our Lord and commemorate the institution of the Eucharist.  It is held on the Thursday after the Octave of Pentecost (Trinity Sunday), although in many places it has been moved to the Sunday following Trinity.  In 1316, it was honored with its own octave, during which the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the churches.

The Institution of the Eucharist properly belongs to the Thursday in Holy Week - Maundy Thursday - but at that most solemn time in our calendar, there is no room for the unrestrained rejoicing which accompanied this Holy Day.  At one time this was a high festival, celebrated with processions, flowers, music, and mystery plays - those theatrical performances which taught the stories of the Bible and the lives of the saints.

The processions were the highlight of the day.  Houses were decorated with green boughs, flowers, and rich hangings, while more flowers covered the streets over which the The Host would pass.  Lighted torches and incense bearers led the way, followed by choirs singing the hymns written for this festival and young people carrying garlands of flowers.  Then came the Blessed Sacrament in the Monstrance, carried beneath a richly embroidered canopy and surrounded by candles, at which the throngs in the streets fell reverently to their knees.  More clerics and priests followed, accompanied by town officials and the companies, guilds, and fraternities of the various crafts and occupations, either in their best liveries or dressed as the Biblical figures and saints which they would later portray in the day's pageants and plays, with banners showing the patron saint of their guild borne before them.

Some examples of these portrayals are listed by Harris in his History of Dublin (1766):
"We are told that there was a grand procession, in which the glovers were to represent Adam and Eve, with an angel bearing a sword before them.
The corrisees (perhaps the curriers) were to represent Cain and Abel, with an altar and their offering.
Mariners and vintners, Noah and the persons in his Ark, apparelled in the habit of carpenters and salmon takers.
The weavers personated Abraham and Isaac, with their offering and altar.
The smiths represented Pharaoh, with his host.
The skinners, the camell with the children of Israel, &c."

And old killjoy Naogeorgus, who couldn't stand to see anybody having a good time, described the costumed participants:
"Faire Ursley [Ursula]with hir maydens all, doth passe amid the wayes:
And, valiant George, with speare thou killest the dreadfull dragon here,
The Devil's house is drawne about, wherein there doth appere
A wondrous sort of damned sprites, with foule and fearefull looke,
Great Christopher doth wade and passe with Christ amid the brooke:
Sebastian full of feathred shafts. the dint of dart doth feele,
There walketh Kathren
[Katherine] with hir sworde in hande, and cruel wheele:
The Challis and the singing Cake with Barbara is led,
And sundrie other pageants playde, in worship of this bred,
That please the foolish people well : what should I stand upon
Their Banners, Crosses, Candlestickes, and reliques many on,
Their Cuppes, and carved Images, that priestes, with count'nance hie
Or rude and common people, beare about full solemlie?
Saint John before the bread doth go, and poynting towards him,
Doth shew the same to be the Lambe that takes away our sinne:
On whome two clad in angels shape do sundrie flowres fling,
A number great of Sacring Belles with pleasant sound doe ring.
The common wayes with bowes are strawde, and every streete beside,
And to the walles and windowes all, are boughes and braunches tide."

On Corpus Christi of 1605, Philip III of Spain "went in a procession with all the Apostles very richly, and eight giants, foure men and foure women, and the chief as named Gog-magog".  The feast was described then as "the greatest day of account in Spaine in all the yeare".  The week-long festivities, for which much preparation is required, may have a more secular flavor today, but the Monstrance is still carried in solemn and magnificent procession through the streets, and the gegantes are still in evidence at the Corpus Christi parades of Granada, Toledo, Barcelona, and other parts of Spain.  Part of the festivities in Sitges is their Flower Carpet competition which grew out of the custom of strewing the processional streets with flowers and sweet herbs.

Of the pageants following the processions, there were plays produced and performed by members of the craft guilds and companies, as well as large cloth hangings which depicted such topics as the "History of Our Savior", explained to the people by the monks and friars.  Dugdale (Antiquities of Warwickshire) described those of Coventry as: "being acted with mighty state and reverence by the Friars of this house, (The Gray Friars) had theaters for the severall scenes, very large and high, placed upon wheels, and drawn to all the eminent parts of the city for the better advantage of spectators; and contained the story of the (Old and) New Testament, composed into English rithme, as appeareth by an antient MS. entitled Ludus Corporis Christ, or Ludus Coventriae".  Popular subjects included "The Deluge", "Adam and Eve", "The Baptizing of Christ",  and "The Offering of Abraham and Isaac".

For a fuller explanation of this Feast, please see the entries at Fisheaters and The Catholic Encyclopedia.