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Corpus Christi procession in Charlotte, North Carolina

Corpus Christi (Latin for Body of Christ) is a Western Catholic feast. It is also celebrated in some Anglican and Lutheran churches. It honors the Eucharist, which believers consider to be the actual body and blood of Christ, and as such it does not commemorate a particular event in Jesus' life. It is held on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, in some places, on the following Sunday. Its celebration on a Thursday is meant to associate it with Jesus' institution of the Eucharist during the Last Supper, commemorated on Maundy Thursday, and this is the first free Thursday after Paschaltide.[1] In the Ordinary Form of the Catholic Church, the feast is officially known as the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

In many English-speaking countries, Corpus Christi is transferred to the Sunday after Trinity Sunday by both Catholics and Anglicans. At the end of the Mass, it is customary to have a Procession of the Blessed Sacrament (often outdoors), followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.


Corpus Christi procession in Łowicz, Poland, 2007

Corpus Christi procession in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, 2007

The appearance of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar was primarily due to the petitions of the thirteenth-century Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. From her early youth Juliana had a veneration for the Blessed Sacrament, and always longed for a special feast in its honour. This desire is said to have been increased by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity.[2] In 1208 she reported her first vision of Christ in which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop.[3]

Juliana also petitioned the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher, Jacques Pantaléon (Archdeacon of Liège who later became Pope Urban IV) and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so in 1246 Bishop Robert convened a synod and ordered a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held each year thereafter.[4]

The celebration of Corpus Christi became widespread only after both St. Juliana and Bishop Robert de Thorete had died. In 1263 Pope Urban IV investigated claims of a Eucharistic miracle at Bolsena, in which a consecrated host began to bleed. In 1264 he issued the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo in which Corpus Christi was made a feast throughout the entire Latin Rite.[5]This was the very first papally sanctioned universal feast in the history of the Latin Rite.[6]

While the institution of the Eucharist is celebrated on Holy Thursday, the liturgy on that day also commemorates Christ's New Commandment ("A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you." John 13:34), the washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the priesthood and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. For this reason, the Feast of Corpus Christi was established to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist.

A new liturgy for the feast was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas. This liturgy has come to be used not only on the Feast of Corpus Christi itself but also throughout the liturgical year at events related to the Blessed Sacrament. The hymn Aquinas composed for Vespers of Corpus Christi, Pange Lingua, is also used on Holy Thursday during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose. The last two verses of Pange Lingua are also used as a separate hymn, Tantum Ergo, which is sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. O Salutaris Hostia, another hymn sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, comprises the last two verses of Verbum Supernum Prodiens, Aquinas' hymn for Lauds of Corpus Christi. Aquinas also composed the propers for the Mass of Corpus Christi, including the sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem. The epistle reading for the Mass was taken from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-29), and the Gospel reading was taken from the Gospel of John (John 6:56-59).

Prior to the liturigcal reforms following the Second Vatican Council, separate feasts existed for the Body of Christ, held on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, and the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ, with a feast held on July 1. For those groups currently using the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, the two distinct feasts remain according to the liturgical calendar of the Extraordinary Rite. Until 1955, the Feast of Corpus Christi was followed by a privileged octave.

Solid gold Corpus Christi of Toledo, Spain


Corpus Christi is primarily celebrated by the Catholic Church, but it is also included in the calendar of a few Anglican churches, most notably the Church of England. The feast is also celebrated by some Anglo-Catholic parishes even in provinces of the Anglican Communion that do not officially include it in their calendars. McCausland's Order of Divine Service, the most commonly used ordo in the Anglican Church of Canada, provides lections for the day. In English-speaking Roman Catholic parishes that use the Mass of Paul VI, the feast is known as "the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ". In the Church of England it is known as The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion (Corpus Christi) and has the status of a Festival. Although its observance is optional, where kept it is typically celebrated as a major holy day. It is also celebrated by the Old Catholic Church and by some Western Rite Orthodox Christians, and is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of the more Latinized Eastern Catholic Churches. The feast was also retained in the calendars of Lutheran churches up until about 1600.[7] Today, it continues to be celebrated by Lutheran congregations.

In medieval times in many parts of Europe Corpus Christi was a time for the performance of mystery plays.


Corpus Christi procession in Poznań, Poland, 2004

Corpus Christi procession by ships on the Rhine called "Mülheimer Gottestracht" in Cologne, Germany, 2005

The Feast of Corpus Christi, which is a moveable feast, is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, in countries where it is not a Holy Day of Obligation, on the Sunday after Holy Trinity.

The earliest possible Thursday celebration falls on 21 May (as in 1818 and 2285), the latest on 24 June (as in 1943 and 2038). The Sunday celebrations fall three days later.

The Thursday dates until 2022 are:

  • 11 June 2009
  • 3 June 2010
  • 23 June 2011
  • 7 June 2012
  • 30 May 2013
  • 19 June 2014
  • 4 June 2015
  • 26 May 2016
  • 15 June 2017
  • 31 May 2018
  • 20 June 2019
  • 11 June 2020
  • 3 June 2021
  • 16 June 2022

Corpus Christi is a public holiday in some traditionally Catholic countries including amongst others Austria, Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Poland, parts of Germany, Portugal, San Marino, parts of Spain and Switzerland, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago.

Corpus Christi celebrations in Antigua Guatemala, 1979


  1. At the time Corpus Christi was introduced. Paschaltide is now ended by Whitsunday. See Corpus Christi: All About Corpus Christi
  2. Catholic encyclopedia [1]
  3. Phyllis Jestice, Holy people of the world Published by ABC-CLIO, 2004 ISBN 1576073556 page 457
  4. The decree is preserved in Anton Joseph Binterim, Vorzüglichsten Denkwürdigkeiten der Christkatholischen Kirche (Mainz, 1825-41), together with parts of the first liturgy written for the occasion.
  5. The Feast of Corpus Christi By Barbara R. Walters, Published by Penn State Press, 2007 ISBN 0271029242 page 12
  6. Oxford history of Christian worship By Geoffrey Wainwright, Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0195138864, page 248
  7. Frank Senn: Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical, Fortress Press, 1997. p. 344. ISBN 0800627261

External links

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