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Corpus Christi: The Body and Blood of Christ

Dedicated by the Marian Catechists to Father John A. Hardon, S.J.
Compiled and Written by Michael and Carole Breslin

The feast of Corpus Christi is one time when our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is exposed not just to faithful Catholics but to all the world. This is a time when Catholics can show their love for Christ in the Real Presence by honoring Him in a very public way. It is also a wonderful way in which we can show our love for our neighbors by bringing Our Lord and Savior closer to them. So many conversions are a result of Eucharistic Adoration experienced from inside the Church. How many more there would be if we could reach those who only drive by the church in worldly pursuits. For an example of outdoor exhibits see the following Corpus Christi procession picture and the other pictures included in this article.

Corpus Christi Procession

"And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that those who believe in him may not perish, but may have life everlasting." John 3:14

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself." John 12:32

Establishment of the Feast of Corpus Christi

According to Canon Law (Can. 944 §1,2) "Wherever in the judgment of the diocesan Bishop it can be done, a procession through the streets is to be held, especially on the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, as a public witness of veneration of the Blessed Eucharist. It is for the diocesan Bishop to establish such regulations about processions as will provide participation in them and for their being carried out in a dignified manner." Note that such processions can take place throughout the liturgical year but are "especially" encouraged on the feast of Corpus Christi. No other devotion has received such attention in the Code of Canon Law which shows the importance the Church attaches to this feast. It is one of the few feasts which is mentioned along with Holy Days of Obligation: "… the following holy days are to be observed: the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Epiphany, the Ascension of Christ, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the feast of Mary, the Mother of God, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, the feast of St. Joseph, the feast of the Apostles Sts. Peter and Paul, and the feast of All Saints." (Can. 1246 §1)

The full name of this feast is Corpus et Sanguis Christi or The Body and Blood of Christ. "The feast of the Blessed Sacrament was established in 1246 by Bishop Robert de Thorte of Liege at the suggestion of St. Juliana of Mont Carvillon. [It was] extended to the universal Church by Pope Urban in 1264. The office composed by St. Thomas Aquinas and customary procession was approved by Popes Martin V and Eugene IV. Celebrated in June, the first Sunday after the feast of the Trinity." (Modern Catholic Dictionary, by John A. Hardon, S.J.)

St. Juliana, a Belgian nun in Retinne, lived at the time of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Louis. She received this inspiration from Our Lord for the following reasons: 1) that the Catholic doctrine receive aid from the institution of this festival at a time when the faith of the world was growing cold and heresies were rife; 2) that the faithful who love and seek truth and piety may be enabled to draw from this source of life new strength and vigor to walk continually in the way of virtue; 3) that irreverence and sacrilegious behavior towards the Divine Majesty in this adorable Sacrament may, by sincere and profound adoration, be extirpated and repaired; 4) to announce to the Christian world His will that the feast be observed. (Full Brief of Pope Urban IV in The Blessed Eucharist, Fr. Michael Muller, C.S.S.R., 1867; republished by TAN Publishers, Rockford, IL 1994.)

After the last Mass on this feast day Our Lord is placed in the monstrance. The priest then carries Him to four different altars representing the four corners of the earth. While processing, the congregation follows and sings. At each altar there are readings, prayers, and benediction.

A Eucharistic Procession - Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi Procession The public procession of the Eucharist should be promoted everywhere, especially in the light of the example of Pope John Paul II, who took the annual Corpus Christi procession from St. Peter's Square to the streets of Rome. However, such a procession must be carefully planned. If it passes "through the streets", i.e., outside church property, it may be authorized by the diocesan Bishop, who should establish appropriate regulations to ensure respect for the Eucharist, a dignified celebration and full participation on the part of the people. What is described below for the solemnity of the Body and Blood of the Lord (Corpus Christi) may be used on other major occasions when this act of homage to Our Lord may also be celebrated, for example, "after a lengthy period of adoration." Such as the annual solemn exposition or Forty Hours devotion.

Everything is prepared as usual: (a) for a solemn Mass with white vestments and (b) for exposition of the Eucharist. Six or four candles burn on the altar. An extra priest's host is placed on the paten or prepared in a lunette, to be consecrated for the procession. The monstrance is ready on a credence table. Extra candles and flowers may be set up in the sanctuary to enhance the festive occasion. A white cope may be placed near the chair.

In the sacristy, a second thurible is prepared during Communion. The two thurifers should be assisted by a boat bearer during the procession. A noble canopy (baldachin) attached to four or six staffs may be prepared outside the sanctuary, preferably near the seats of the people trained to carry it. Torch bearers should assist as for the solemn Mass. Glasses to protect the torches or lanterns mounted on staffs may be used according to custom. Only eucharistic banners should be carried in the procession, never images of Our Lady or the saints. Banners of sodalities and Catholic movements may be carried by their representatives. A eucharistic banner may replace the processional cross. Hand candles are usually carried by those walking in the procession. If it is customary for children, such as first communicants, to strew flowers before the Eucharist, they should be trained to act in an orderly and reverent way, without impeding the procession. Members of the armed forces, the police, scouts or other bodies may escort the procession through the streets. Music may be provided by a choir and/or band, according to custom.

The route of the procession must be carefully defined. Well-placed loudspeakers and printed programs promote the full participation of the people—and help those watching the procession to be drawn into the celebration. In some countries, it is customary to decorate the houses and other buildings along the route. If the procession is long, the celebrant may stop at altars set up at convenient places where Benediction is given. The procession terminates with solemn Benediction, given either in or outside the church here it began, at another church or at some suitable place where the people can gather conveniently.

The Mass

The principal Mass of the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ is celebrated, according to local custom. In the homily, the theological and spiritual significance of the procession should be explained. Directions to assist the faithful to take part should be provided at the time of the homily or set out in the program with the hymns and acclamations to be sung during the procession, which should focus on the Lord.

At the fraction, the Host for the procession is either set apart on a paten or placed in the lunette (unless already consecrated in it). During Communion a server brings the empty monstrance to the altar, genuflects and places it to the left of the corporal. The missal and stand are removed. In the sacristy, the two thurifers prepare the thuribles with an ample supply of charcoal and bring them to the sanctuary, leading the torch bearers, unless they have remained in the sanctuary since the Eucharistic Prayer. The ablutions are best carried out at the credence table. Clergy who are not concelebrants may put on white copes for the procession, but not eucharistic vestments which are reserved for concelebrants. Hand candles are distributed and lit.

The deacon or, lacking him, the celebrant, goes to the altar, places the Host in the monstrance, sets the monstrance on the corporal and genuflects. The deacon then goes to the chair, where the celebrant sings or says the Prayer after Communion. The blessing and dismissal are omitted. At the chair, the celebrant may remove the chasuble and put on a white cope. If the monstrance is heavy or the procession will be long, a sling may be put around his neck, over the stole, to take the weight of the monstrance. Directed by the M.C., the cross bearer and candle bearers take up a position in the aisle of the church, where they will lead the procession from the church. Concelebrants and other clergy follow them and line up in front of the altar, genuflect and then kneel.

The Procession

All kneel while a hymn of adoration is sung. Incense is prepared as at exposition, but in two thuribles. The Host is incensed as usual. Then the deacon or, if he is not present, a concelebrant or assistant priest goes to the altar with the celebrant. Both genuflect, and the deacon (concelebrant or assistant priest) places the monstrance in the celebrant's veiled hands. If he has no assisting clergy, the celebrant himself goes to the altar to take the monstrance in his veiled hands. If a sling is used, the deacon or the M.C. ensures that the monstrance rests securely in it, under the humeral veil.

All taking part in the procession stand. The celebrant turns or comes around to the front of the altar. His cope is held back by the deacon(s) as he slowly walks forward to an agreed point, where those bearing the canopy meet him and raise it over him and the deacon(s). The two thurifers and the boat bearer take their places in front of the canopy. As the first hymn begins, the procession proceeds in this order:

  1. cross bearer carrying the cross or banner, flanked by the candle bearers;
  2. religious associations, sodalities, etc., perhaps carrying their own banners;
  3. religious in their habits; followed by First Communicants strewing flower petals;
  4. the book bearer and corporal bearer;
  5. the clergy, in choir dress (and copes);
  6. the concelebrants of the Mass;
  7. the two thurifers in front of the canopy customarily swinging the thuribles with their inside hands;
  8. the people.
Directly under the canopy walks the celebrant, carrying the Eucharist devoutly at eye-level, with the deacon(s) beside and slightly behind him, holding back his cope, if necessary. No one else walks beneath the canopy. The torch bearers with torches or lanterns walk along each side of the canopy. According to local custom, an escort from the armed forces, the police, scouts or a Catholic youth movement, etc., may also flank the canopy, but arranged farther out from the torch bearers and carefully spaced so as not to obscure the celebrant as he carries the Eucharist.

Directed by the ushers in the church, the people who are to walk in the procession follow the canopy, taking part in hymns and acclamations. The singing is led by the choir and cantor(s) - either walking in the midst of the people or singing from a fixed point, with appropriate amplification. The procession should move at a slow and reverent pace. Identifiable marshals should control the ranks of a large procession, so that it does not become disordered. All those in the procession not already carrying something may carry hand candles. Children trained to strew flowers are arranged according to local custom, but they are not mingled with the clergy or servers.

If the Bishop carries the monstrance, he is flanked by two assistant deacons in dalmatics (or lacking deacons, concelebrants), who walk beside and slightly behind him holding back his cope. There are some other variations in the order of procession. The clergy in choir dress are followed by the deacon(s) of the Mass, then the canons of the cathedral chapter and other priests, wearing copes, followed by visiting Bishops wearing copes, but bareheaded, walking immediately in front of the thurifers. Those of higher rank walk nearer the Blessed Sacrament. Other visiting Bishops wear choir dress but are bareheaded during the procession and immediately follow the canopy. Those of higher rank also walk nearer the Blessed Sacrament, in this case preceding others in the order of procession.

If the Bishop does not carry the monstrance, he walks alone immediately before the canopy, bareheaded and carrying his crozier, but not blessing the people. If he celebrated the Mass, he wears vestments, otherwise a white cope. A Bishop in choir dress comes immediately after the canopy.

As the procession goes through the streets or appointed area, the faithful not walking in it should kneel as the Blessed Eucharist passes by. As noted above, the procession may pause at suitably decorated "altars" for Benediction.

On returning to the church, or arriving at another church chosen and prepared for the final Benediction, the ceremonial escort, torch bearers and thurifers precede the canopy if the aisle is narrow. The canopy bearers stop in front of the sanctuary as the celebrant goes up to the altar. They move off to one side and put the canopy in a suitable place. The deacon takes the monstrance from the celebrant, places it on the corporal, and both genuflect. The M.C. or a server removes the humeral veil. Servers and torch bearers line up in the sanctuary for Benediction.

The celebrant and deacon(s) should wait until all the people have taken their places in the church and are kneeling. At a signal from the M.C., the hymn of adoration is sung, the Eucharist is incensed and Benediction is given as usual. Unless adoration is to continue, the Eucharist is reposed and a final hymn, acclamation or Marian antiphon may be sung. Clergy and servers proceed to the sacristy.

If the final Benediction is given in the open air, from the church steps, a balcony, or other place, these arrangements are adapted accordingly. The Benediction hymn begins only once all the people have gathered, kneeling or standing in an orderly way in the designated area. After Benediction the Eucharist is taken privately to the nearest tabernacle for reposition.

Readings and Prayers for the Corpus Christi Procession

The First Station

A reading from the Gospel according to St. John (6:47-51)

Jesus said to the Jews: Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if anyone eats this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

V.    The Gospel of the Lord.
R.    Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, we ask that Your blessing be upon Your Church, so that Your people and Your ministries may serve You in this most august Sacrament of the Altar with ever deeper reverence and love, and that, united with You, Who are the Bread of life, we may live with You in heaven, You Who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.

The Second Station

The Gospel according to St. Mark (6:34;39-44)

Jesus saw a great throng, and He had compassion on them for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things. Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups, by hundreds and by fifties. And taking five loaves and two fish He looked up to heaven and blessed and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people; and He divided the two fish among them all. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. And those who ate the loaves were five thousand men.

V.    The Gospel of the Lord.
R.    Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, we ask you to look with compassion upon Your people who are like sheep without a shepherd, especially on those who have not yet accepted the full truth of Your teaching in Your Catholic Church. Through Your blessing may they have the grace to enter into communion with Your Sacred Body and Blood, You Who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

The Third Station

The Gospel according to St. Matthew (26:26-29)

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to His disciples and said, "Take and eat; this is my body." And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, "Drink of it all of You; for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom."

V.    The Gospel of the Lord.
R.    Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, we ask that Your blessing may be upon the souls of our parishioners who have passed away, and upon the souls of all Your faithful departed, that through Your mercy they may all enter into the peace of your heavenly kingdom, where You live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

The Fourth Station

The Gospel according to St. Luke (24:28-35).

[The two disciples] constrained Him saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So He went in to stay with them. When He sat at table with them, He took bread and blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized Him and He vanished from their sight. They said to one another, "Did not our hearts burn within us while He talked to us on the road, while He opened to us the Scriptures?" And they arose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" Then they told what happened along the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

V.    The Gospel of the Lord.
R.    Praise to You Lord Jesus Christ.
Let us pray.

Lord Jesus Christ, we ask Your blessing upon the families of this parish, so that You grant the grace of many vocations to the priesthood and the religious life, and that there be many holy families who heroically live as witnesses to Your Sacred Presence in the Most Blessed Sacrament, You Who lives and reigns forever and ever. Amen.

Notes for Organizers

Notes for Altar Preparers:

Corpus Christi Altar For the four altars to be prepared, four families or organizations in the parish should be selected to decorate their own altar and monitor it during Mass and the procession.

Materials Needed for each Altar

Prepare the altar, setting it up at home to see how it will look.

Bring the materials for the church on Sunday morning, and set them up before the beginning of the last Mass.

If it is raining, or threatening to rain, check with the priest in charge, who should be in the church during the morning. He will decide what to do such as set up the altars in the activity center.

If the procession will be outside, it is a good idea to have someone responsible for keeping an eye on your altar during the Mass—especially if there is anything of value on the altar. Light the candles only after Mass. It is also possible to wait until the very end of Mass to place the last touches on the altar, for there will be a little time before the procession arrives at the altars.

Notes for Ushers:

At the end of Mass, when the priest goes to expose the Blessed Sacrament, the four (or six) ushers with canopy should go to the place of the canopy and be prepared to begin.

When the altar servers begin to move in procession, the other ushers must direct the people to follow behind the priests in the procession, if the procession will go outside. Otherwise, the people will remain in their places, and further instructions with regard to crowd management need not be regarded.

The ushers with the canopy move into place in the center aisle when the priest with the Blessed Sacrament leaves the front sanctuary gate. If it happens that the priest passes through a place where the canopy will not fit, allow the priest to go first, and then proceed behind him with the canopy until you come to an open place once more.

Upon arrival at the different altars, the canopy should move off to one of the sides to a place where it does not block the general view to the altar.

Immediately after the blessing at each altar, the ushers should direct the people to join the procession once more behind the priests. If it is at all possible, try to encourage the people to maintain some kind of orderly file in the procession.

At the end of the procession, the ushers direct the people to take once more their places in church.

The ushers with the canopy continue to accompany the priest until he arrives at the altar steps, at which time they retire to the side.

Notes for the Altar Servers:

See above for the order of the procession.

Sequence of Events:

Mass goes as normal until after the purification of the vessels. When the altar is cleared, the monstrance should be placed near the tabernacle and the incense prepared.

After the announcements, (during the collection, if there is one) the priest changes his chasuble for the cope. This is done at his chair.

When the collection is taken, the priest will go up to the tabernacle to expose the Blessed Sacrament and place It on the altar. At that time, the altar servers should go down to kneel on the step in front of the altar, except the cross bearer, who should kneel on the lowest step of the altar. The priest will then incense the Blessed Sacrament.

After he incenses, one of the altar servers will place the humeral veil on his shoulders. He will then take the Blessed Sacrament.

At this time, the cross bearer should come down and get in position to start the procession, along with all the other servers.

When the priest starts to come forward the procession should begin. The M.C. must direct the priests to their proper position in the procession.

The server with the bells should ring them intermittently during the procession.

The cross bearer should lead the procession to the first altar, and stand off to the right side of the altar upon arrival. The candle-bearers should place their candles on the altar, and kneel off to the sides. The corporal-bearer should open the corporal on the stand which is on the altar for the monstrance.

When the priest places the Blessed Sacrament on the altar, he will then remove the humeral veil so a server must be ready to take it from him. He will then read the gospel and the prayer.

After the prayer he will incense the Blessed Sacrament as the Tantum Ergo is sung. After incensing, the altar server with the humeral veil will place it on his shoulders. Following the Tantum Ergo the priest will give the blessing, during which one thurifer should incense, and the bell ringer should ring the bells three distinct times.

After the blessing, the procession should begin again with the cross-bearer leading to the next altar. Be careful not to go too quickly such that a gap forms in the procession, nor too slowly such that it drags along.

At the end of the procession come back into the church. The priest will place the Blessed Sacrament on the altar. He will come down, remove the humeral veil, and incense the Blessed Sacrament. He will then pray the Divine Praises after which he will go up to repose the Blessed Sacrament if not followed by a period of Eucharistic Adoration. When he has place the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle, and the door is closed, then all the servers should come and flank the priests as they stand at the foot of the altar. After singing, genuflect and proceed directly to the sacristy, letting the priests enter last into the sacristy.

Notes for the Organist:

At the end of Mass there will be no final blessing. After the announcements the priest will expose the Blessed Sacrament. When he is ready to incense the Blessed Sacrament begin the O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim).

When the priest takes the Blessed Sacrament in his hands, begin a Eucharistic Hymn for the procession.

Continue to sing hymns until the priest arrives at the first altar. Pause slightly between the verses when you think that he may be approaching so that he may give a signal on his arrival, such as: "Oh Sacrament most holy…"

The priest will then read from the Gospel and after the Gospel, he will pray a short prayer. At the end of the prayer begin the Tantum Ergo.

After the Tantum Ergo there will be a Eucharistic Benediction. Wait until the blessing is over. Listen for the bells to ring three times, and pause a moment to make sure that it is over. Then announce the next hymn and sing as we process to the next altar.

Repeat the same pattern over again for the next three altars. Then, after the fourth altar, continue singing until the priest incenses the Blessed Sacrament on the altar in the church. (Do not sing the Tantum Ergo again at this time, for there will not be another blessing.) After he incenses, finish singing. He will then pray the Divine Praises. After that he will repose the Blessed Sacrament. Upon doing so, sing Holy God We Praise Thy Name.

  Suggested Eucharistic hymns:
O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim)
Tantum Ergo (Down in Adoration Falling)
Ecce Panis Angelorum (Behold the Bread of Angels)
Holy God We Praise Thy Name
Pange, Lingua (Sing, My Tongue, the Savior's Glory)
O Jesus, We Adore Thee
Jesus, My Lord, My God, My All

  Suggested Marian Hymns:
Immaculate Mary
Hail Holy Queen
Salve Regina


Special thanks to the following for their assistance and support in preparing this:

  Assumption Grotto Catholic Church, Detroit, Michigan

Holy Spirit Catholic Church, Hamburg, Michigan

Photos by Barbara Middleton, of Corpus Christi procession at
Sts. Cyril and Methodius Catholic Church, Sterling Heights, Michigan.

Extensive quotations taken from:

  Ceremonies of the Modern Roman Rite: The Eucharist and The Liturgy of the Hours, A Manual for Clergy and All Involved in Liturgical Ministries, by Peter J. Elliot, Ignatius Press, San Francisco.

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