The Feast of the Thanksgiving for Holy Communion, commonly called, Corpus Christi was first celebrated in the 14th Century. It began as a local custom to celebrate the Mystery of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist and slowly spread throughout the Church, finally being added to the Kalander in the 15th Century.
William Harry Turton’s hymn “O thou who at thy Eucharist didst pray” sung to a lovely tune (Song 1) by Orlando Gibbons.
Perhaps the most famous aspect of Corpus Christi (literally the Body of Christ), that people associate with this feast day, is the great processions through cities, towns and villages. The Blessed Sacrament is held aloft by a priest, in a monstrance, as a public statement that the sacrifice of Christ was for the salvation of the whole world.
Monstrances are one of those liturgical curios that appear sometimes, but in our tradition not very regularly. This one belongs to Jamie (who drafted a substantial part of this piece for us).
The Host (the consecrated Bread) sits in the glass plate in the centre with ‘rays of glory streaming out from it‘. A reminder of the Glory of Christ, present in the Eucharist, and the glory of the Heavenly Banquet that we join when we take Communion together.
Traditionally, at the end of the Mass on Corpus Christi the Host (the consecrated Bread) is placed in a monstrance and the congregation spend some time reflecting on this Mystery of Christ made present in the bread and wine.
The officiating Priest would then take the monstrance and carry it aloft down through the church and out into the streets – with servers throwing rose petals down in front of it to make a carpet – a bit like confetti at a wedding – with bells ringing out to tell everyone that Christ was walking among them in the Eucharist.
It’ll be an irony not lost on many that the Feast of Corpus Christi has something of a hollow ring to it this year. It’s a feast when we give thanks for the gift and privilege of Holy Communion, which we normally share on a regular basis. So what does it mean to give thanks for something we can’t (at present) receive?
Corpus Christi represents more than just the Church giving thanks for the way that Christ remains, with us always – even unto the ends of the Earth. It’s a celebration that we, the Church, are united in and as the Body of Christ.
As Corpus Christi comes around this year, we have to do things differently. And perhaps this involves reflecting on what being unable to meet up and share Holy Communion together these past months has meant. It’s left a yawning gap in the lives of many members of our congregations. But of course, God’s not gone away, Christ is still very much with us. And of course when we do reunite to break the bread and pour the wine together, we can have a thanksgiving as never before!