The Feast of Corpus Christi was first established for the Universal Church at the beginning of the 17th century. Soon afterwards the practice of public processions on that day with the Blessed Sacrament carried through the streets of the parish and, in some places, through the streets of large cities, became very popular. Devotion to the real presence of Jesus in the consecrated host had an enormous appeal and for many people looking at the host became more important than actually consuming it. Vatican II somewhat corrected this by emphasising the importance of participating fully in the celebration of the Eucharist, reminding us that Jesus said “take and EAT” at the last Supper. Processions have their value but participation must get priority.
When we gather for Mass, we are participating in both a sacrifice and a meal. During his earthly life, Jesus often used the occasion of meals to proclaim his teaching. Meals were important to him for it is at meals that we experience unity with one another, friendship and joy. So, it is not surprising that it was at a meal, the Last Supper, that Jesus gave himself to his disciples as food and drink under the symbols of bread and wine, and that was how he wanted to be remembered. He invites us to eat the bread and drink the wine so that we become more like him, unlike earthly food, which, when we eat, becomes part of us. In eating the bread and drinking the wine, we are called to live according to his standards and values, to imbibe all that he stands for, to walk in his way, to be led by his Spirit and to bring Him wherever we go.
Participation in the Eucharist is the fount and summit of a Catholic’s spiritual and moral life, and Mass attendance on Sundays and Holy Days, is a mark of Catholic identity. It is so easy to take it for granted, to become accustomed to the repetition of words and actions that the importance of our Mass attendance can be dampened. Perhaps it might be a good thing if the present relaxation of the obligation to attend Mass was continued so that those who come, do so with a greater seriousness and a deeper motivation. It might also help us to appreciate and value the great gift and privilege of participating fully in the Eucharist. Though unworthy, we are blessed to be invited to this banquet. Processions can help us to deepen our faith in the presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament.