On June 19, while participating with hundreds of others in a Eucharistic procession through the streets of Lowell, Massachusetts, I was reminded of an experience I had as an 11-year-old altar boy.
My Parish, St. Joseph Patron in Brooklyn, N.Y. received news that Bishop Brian McEntegart was coming on the Feast of Corpus Christi to lead a Eucharistic Procession through the streets. This was a big deal. Our parish was one of over 220 in the Diocese of Brooklyn, so to be visited by the bishop was very special indeed. What made it even more special for me was that I was chosen to bear the canopy to be held over the Monstrance carried by the bishop during the procession. This canopy was made up of a 10-foot pole with an umbrella which dangled from the end.
I did a pretty good job balancing this thing through the streets, but when we returned to the church, tragedy struck. As we entered, I crashed the end of the pole into the choir loft, dislodging the umbrella and almost hitting Bishop McEntegart in the head. Thankfully, he laughed it off.
Pope Francis told Christians worldwide, “We cannot do without the Eucharist, for it is God’s memorial. And it heals our wounded memory.”
More and more across our nation and the world, the ancient tradition of a Eucharistic procession through the streets is resurfacing on the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ (the Feast of Corpus Christi.) This tradition goes back to the year 1264, when Pope Urban IV established the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Before his elevation to the papacy, Pope Urban IV (Jacques Pantaleone) was the archdeacon of the Diocese of Liege in France. He heard of a young woman, Juliana (St. Juliana of Liege), who for 20 years had had visions of the necessity for a liturgical feast in honor of Christ’s body and blood, and he was so taken by her message that as pope, he instituted the feast. The pope had Juliana prepare the prayers and Thomas Aquinas write the hymns for the feast; today we know these hymns as Tantum Ergo, Pange Lingua, and O Salutaris.
The tradition of honoring Christ in the Eucharist with a public display through the streets of cities and towns is both a wonderful witness to others, and a reminder to us, of our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. I pray that this tradition grows exponentially in years to come.
By Deacon Ben LoCasto