After I published last week’s Cup on Holy Cross Day, an aspect of it occurred to me that I had missed – that it shares something with the Feast of Corpus Christi. Both are celebrations occurring, intentionally, outside the season of Lent, of the two major holy days in Holy Week – Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.
Corpus Christi was established to focus on one of the many facets of Maundy Thursday – to celebrate joyfully the institution of the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. This was thought necessary because any joyful celebration was considered inappropriate on Maundy Thursday when the focus is on the betrayal of Jesus and the unfolding of the coming tragic events that night. Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Thomas Aquinas wrote a mass and offices for the Feast, the only one for which he did so. Hymns he composed for the Feast are in the communion section of the Hymnal 1982 and one – Pange Lingua – is traditionally sung on Maundy Thursday. The Collect he wrote for Corpus Christi occurs in the Book of Common Prayer twice: in the Collect “Of the Holy Eucharist” (noted as “Especially suitable for Thursdays”), pages 201 (traditional language) and 252( contemporary) and in the additional Prayer and Thanksgivings for “After Receiving Communion“ on page 834.
Excesses in the manner of its celebration and superstitions that arose caused the feast to be abolished in the Anglican communion in 1548. Luither said he was more hostile to the Feast of Corpus Christi than to any other. It is a shame that excesses in the way it came to be celebrated led, understandably, to an over reaction – a throwing of the baby out with the bath water – for the original intent seems to have merit – a specific thanksgiving for the Holy Eucharist.
Holy Cross Day is apparently intended in some denominations to be similar – a celebration of something – of one aspect of the events of Good Friday – that it would be inappropriate to celebrate in Lent. The Roman church celebrates Holy Cross Day as the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I must confess that I find it hard to see anything in the events of Good Friday that can be abstracted as an object of celebration. It is unmitigated horror and sadness to me.
Here are links to more information.
Almighty God, whose beloved Son willingly endured the agony and shame of the cross for our redemption. Give us courage to take up our cross and follow him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 22-September-2015.