Homily – Corpus Christi MMIX June 14, 2009

Homily – Corpus Christi MMIX June 14, 2009

Today’s Feast of Corpus Christi, in honor of the Body and Blood of Christ, is one of the most solemn Feasts of the year in many countries of the world.

Countless villages, towns and cities throughout Europe and South America have large processions where the Blessed Sacrament is carried under a four-poled canopy by the priest in a large gold Monstrance through the main streets of the town or village.  Little girls in their First Communion dresses preceed Our Lord dropping rose petals before Him.  Following Jesus truly present in the Blessed Sacrament in the procession are great crowds of the faithful, singing hymns to the Eucharistic Lord accompanied by Marching Bands.

The outdoor procession traditionally stops at three different altars, usually specially set up for the Feast. At each altar, one of the three Gospel accounts of the institution of the Eucharist is read, and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament is given.

Msgr. Frappier tells the story about the Corpus Christi procession he remembers as a seminarian studying for the priesthood in France. Every year the seminarians would get the whole day before Corpus Christi off in order to get ready for the Feast.  Every seminarian (and everyone else in the town) had to take a bag and go out into the countryside to pick flowers.  All the petals from all the flowers collected were then laid down on the road so as to make a carpet of flowers lining the road for the Priest carrying Jesus to walk on when He passed by in the procession.

But while the Feast of Corpus Christi is today one of the most beautiful and solemn of our Catholic Feast days, we probably wouldn’t have it today if it hadn’t been for the great faith of a little girl who grew up as an orphan.

Her name was Juliana. She was born in Belgium near the city of Liege in the year 1192. Juliana’s parents died when she was 5, and she was placed under the care of Nuns.

At age 16 Juliana began to have a vision where she saw a beautiful full moon in the night sky, but the moon had a big black spot on it.  After having the vision several times, the Lord appeared to her and said the moon represented the Church, bright with all it’s great Feasts. The black spot was on the moon because there wasn’t any Feast in Honor of the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus told little Juliana that her mission in life was to get such a Feast established throughout the Church.  She became a nun in the convent she was raised in, and for the next 35 years she tried hard to get the Feast of Corpus Christi established in just her own diocese.

The devil must have obviously not wanted such a feast to be established, because first she was falsely accused of financial mismanagement and thrown out of her monastery.  Then she was exonerated of those charges by her Bishop. And the Bishop, who believed in her mission, decreed that every parish in the diocese should celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.  But a year later, the Bishop died, and only one Church in the Diocese had followed the decree.

Without her old Bishop to protect her, Juliana was again driven from her convent by her enemies, and took refuge in a Cistercian convent in another part of the country.  No sooner did she get settled in when that convent was burned to the ground and she had to move a third time.

Juliana died ten years later, in 1258, almost a total failure, with only that one parish in her old diocese celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi, and the rest of the diocese indifferent to the new feast or opposed to it.

But before she was banished from her convent, Juliana became friendly with an archdeacon of the diocese named James.  Three years after her death, this deacon was elected the Pope, and became Pope Urban IV.

Pope Urban asked the great Dominican Friar, St. Thomas Aquinas, to write Mass and Office prayers and Hymns for this New Feast.  St. Thomas ended up writing the Tantum Ergo, Panis Angelicus, O Salutaris Hostia, and Adoro Te, some of the greatest hymns ever written, and in 1264 Pope Urban decreed that the feast of Corpus Christi be celebrated in every Church throughout Christendom, which it was.

One last interesting note.  Every year in England in the middle ages, plays were performed on the Feast of Corpus Christi called “mystery plays”. These plays were very popular and taught the faith in an entertaining way.

The mystery plays were banned soon after England broke from the Roman Church.  But before that, it is speculated by some that a little boy named William would attend these plays every year with his parents, and be fascinated by them.  When William grew up, he began to write plays of his own.  While it probably will never be know for sure, there is strong evidence that this William Shakespeare I’m speaking about was a clandestined Catholic throughout his life.

May Jesus give us the deep faith in and love for the Holy Eucharist that he gave Blessed Juliana, a faith that will help us persevere when all looks hopeless and when our mission as followers of Christ seem to be ending in total failure.  May we not despair, but be assured that to Christ belongs the victory, that He is with us always in this Sacrament until the end of the world, and that He will raise up gloriously on the last day all who eat His Sacred Flesh and drink His Precious Blood.

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