Whatever Happened to Corpus Christi Processions?

The weekend we honor the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ -- Corpus Christi. As a child I remember my parish, named after this awesome gift, having Eucharistic Processions. Today, only a few parishes have these spiritual events and one could ask "Why?" The short answer is the people of God. Our world today is filled with all types of distractions -- computers, sporting events and occupational over-time. These remove us from the reality that is our Lord.
The Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy: Principles and Guidelines gives us some food for thought this day.

160. The Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is observed on the Thursday following the solemnity of the Most Blessed Trinity. [In the United States it is observed on the Sunday following Trinity Sunday.] This feast is both a doctrinal and cultic response to heretical teaching on the mystery of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, and the apogee of an ardent devotional movement concentrated on the Sacrament of the Altar. It was extended to the entire Latin Church by Urban IV in 1264.

Popular piety encouraged the process that led to the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi, which reciprocally inspired the development of new forms of Eucharistic piety among the people of God.

For centuries, the celebration of Corpus Christi remained the principal point of popular piety’s concentration on the Eucharist. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, faith, in reaction to various forms of Protestantism, and culture (art, folklore and literature) coalesced in developing lively and significant expressions Eucharistic devotion in popular piety.

161. Eucharistic devotion, which is so deeply rooted in the Christian faithful, must integrate two basic principles:
the supreme reference point for Eucharistic devotion is the Lord’s Passover; the Pasch, as understood by the Fathers, is the feast of Easter, while the Eucharist is before all else the celebration of Paschal Mystery or of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Christ; all forms of Eucharist devotion must have an intrinsic reference to the Eucharistic Sacrifice, or dispose the faithful for its celebration, or prolong the worship which is essential to that Sacrifice.

Hence, the Rituale Romanum states “The faithful, when worshipping Christ present in the Sacrament of the Altar, should recall that this presence comes from the Sacrifice of the Eucharist, and tends towards sacramental and spiritual communion” (169).

162. The procession on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is, so to speak, the “typical form” of a Eucharistic procession. It constitutes, in fact, a prolongation of the celebration of the Eucharist: immediately after Mass, the Host, which was consecrated at that Mass, is carried outside of the church, so that the Christian people might “give public witness to its faith and devotion regarding the Most Blessed Sacrament” (170).

The faithful understand and appreciate the values inherent in the Corpus Christi procession: they are aware of being “the People of God” that walks with its Lord, proclaiming faith in him who has become truly “God-with-us”.

It is necessary, however, to ensure that the norms governing Eucharistic processions be observed (171), especially those ensuring respect for the dignity and reverence of the Blessed Sacrament (172). It is also necessary to ensure that the typical elements of popular piety, such as the decoration of the streets and windows, the homage of flowers, the altars upon which the Blessed Sacrament will be placed at the stations along the route, and the hymns and prayers “should be so arranged that all may manifest their faith in Christ and devote their attention to the Lord alone” (173), and exclude all forms of competition.

163. The Eucharistic procession is ordinarily concluded with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. In the specific case of the Corpus Christi procession, the blessing constitutes the solemn conclusion of the entire celebration: the usual priestly blessing is replaced by the blessing with the Blessed Sacrament.

It is important that the faithful understand that this blessing with the Blessed Sacrament is not a form of Eucharistic piety that stands on its own, but that it is the concluding moment of a sufficiently long act of worship. Hence, liturgical norms prohibit “exposition merely for the purpose of giving the blessing” (174).