Corpus Christi

Part of the legacy of the Spanish influence in Texas and California are two cities named for the Holy Eucharist, Corpus Christi and Sacramento. And there is a nuclear submarine, the USS City Of Corpus Christi (SSN-705). It was originally named “Corpus Christi,”, but when it was objected that it would be unseemly for the “Body of Christ” to be an instrument of nuclear destruction, it was renamed. I don’t think prepending “City of…” fully satisfied everyone though.

Corpus Christi is, of course, a holy day, occurring on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. It just passed; it was Thursday of last week. It is one of my favorites, if that isn’t too impious a way to refer to a holy day. I think that is because from about the fourth through the eighth grade I was often the thurifer for the service of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament at St. Anne’s Parish in Beaumont, Texas, where I grew up. The Benediction service, I later came to recognize, is in some ways a condensation – a concentration – of the Offices for the Feast of Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi came into being as a result of 40 years of effort by an Augustinian nun in
Belgium, St. Julian of Mont Cornillon (1193-1258). Even as a young girl Julian had a great veneration of the Blessed Sacrament and thought that there should be a feast of thanksgiving for its institution at the Last Supper. Heretofore, the Last Supper was commemorated only on Maundy Thursday, and any aspect of thanksgiving or celebration is overshadowed by the somber Holy Week focus on the arrest, torture and execution of Jesus. St. Julian’s persistence resulted in Corpus Christi being established, first in her diocese, and then throughout Christendom by Pope Urban IV. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the Mass and the eight Offices (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline) for Corpus Christi, the only holy day for which he did so. They are regarded as among the most beautiful of all Offices and Masses.

Four hymns written by St. Thomas for Corpus Christi are in the 1982 Hymnal: “O saving victim, opening wide” (hymn 310 and 311); “Humbly I adore thee, verity unseen” (hymn 314); “Zion, praise thy Savior” (Hymn 320); and “Now my tongue, the mystery telling” (hymn 329). Verses 5 and 6 of hymn 329 are also set forth as a separate hymn “Therefore, we before him bending” (hymns 330 and 331). “O saving victim, opening wide” and “Therefore, we before him bending” are unchanging components of the service of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, and are ingrained in me from by my time as a thurifer at St. Anne’s.

The Collect written by St. Thomas for Corpus Christi is in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, being included for the first time in the 1979 version. It occurs in three places, on pages 201 (traditional language), 252 (contemporary), and 834 (traditional). You might well consider adopting the practice of praying one of these after receiving communion. Here’s the the one on page 834.

67. After Receiving Communion
“O Lord Jesus Christ, who in a wonderful Sacrament hast left unto us a memorial of thy passion: Grant us, we beseech thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of thy redemption, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 04-June-2013

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