The celebrations for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi at the Holy Sepulchre

The celebrations for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi at the Holy Sepulchre

“The Eucharist as a style of life”: the Latin Patriarch Card. Pizzaballa presided over the feat-day dedicated to the Mystery of the Eucharistic Sacrament in Jerusalem

The solemnity of Corpus Christi is the feast-day that celebrates the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ and reaffirms the faith of the Catholic Church in the real presence of Jesus in transubstantiation.

The celebrations in Jerusalem were presided over by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude Cardinal Pierbattista Pizzaballa and started on Wednesday 29 May in the   Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, to conclude with the Solemn Mass on the morning of Thursday 30 May.

The origin of the solemnity in Flanders

Few people know that the first Transiturus de hoc mundo bull of 11 August 1264 with which Pope Urban IV established the feast day of Corpus Christi was addressed to the Patriarchate of Jerusalem (which he himself had occupied before being elected Pope) and contained the new office of St Thomas Aquinas. It was followed by a second bull with the extension of the feast of Corpus Christi to the whole of the Catholic Church.

The reason inspiring the feast-day has its origins in Flanders where, in the middle of the 13th century, the Eucharistic movement was already very active against the rampant spread of heretic doctrines for which the presence of Christ was not considered real, but only symbolic. The Belgian nun Juliana of Mount Cornillon (Liege) and other cloistered nuns had a series of mystic visions, in which the Lord made her understand the absence in the Church of a solemnity in honour of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

Jean de Lausanne, Juliana’s spiritual director, having obtained on this revelation the favourable opinion of several theologians (including the archdeacon of Liege, Jacques Pantaleon of Troyes, the future Pope Urban IV), persuaded the Bishop of Liege to introduce the feast-day locally in honour of Corpus Christi, in 1246, fixing the celebration on the Thursday following the Octave of Pentecost.

When he became pope, Urban IV established the solemnity of Corpus Christi in 1264 after the miracle that had taken place in Bolsena, when a dubious priest experienced the transformation of the consecrated host into bleeding flesh during Mass.

The solemn entrance and the Vigil

On the afternoon of Wednesday 29 May, the Patriarch made his solemn entrance into the Basilica, welcomed by the Franciscan friars and the President of the Holy Sepulchre  fr. Stéphane Milovitch. The Cardinal, together with the religious, the local faithful and some groups of pilgrims, then presided over the first Vespers of the solemnity before the edicule of the Holy Sepulchre.

After Vespers, all the participants joined in the solemn procession of the Franciscan friars through the holy places in the Basilica, to then end with the Compline. As per the liturgy, the Office of the Vigil presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land fra Francesco Patton was celebrated during the night before the Edicule of the Empty Tomb.

“The bread with which God feeds his people is Jesus himself”

The following day, after a new entrance into the Holy Sepulchre, the Patriarch presided over Lauds and the Solemn Mass. 

“The Eucharist is not just a moment in the life of Jesus, any more than it is in ours: it is above all a style,” said the Patriarch in his homily. Jesus lived the Eucharist throughout his life, confidently taking into his hands every experience of life, every joy and every sorrow that the people he met brought Him. And he always gave everything back to the Father.”

The Cardinal quotes the story of the last supper of Jesus with his disciples: “After the blessing, Jesus does not keep the bread for himself, he does not eat it alone, but shares it with his own so that all may be filled and all may experience that the Father nourishes.” And there is something new. “Jesus,” the Patriarch continued, “accompanies this gesture with a word that gives new meaning to this bread, saying that this bread is his body to be offered on the altar of the cross (Mark 14, 22). The bread with which God feeds his people is Jesus himself. He is the answer to our need for trust, life, love and acceptance: Jesus.”

The Procession

At the end of the Mass, there was a solemn procession with the Most Blessed Sacrament, to the singing of Eucharistic hymns: after having gone around the Edicule three times (the last time including the Stone of Unction), the Patriarch entered the Edicule with the Most Blessed. The Most Blessed Sacrament was then adored by the faithful and the Patriarch gave his blessing with the Most Blessed Sacrament in three spots: on the threshold of the Edicule, before the altar of Mary Magdalene and in the Franciscan Chapel of the Apparition.

There are two celebrations in the Holy Land: the one at the Sepulchre preserves the original tradition and is celebrated on the Thursday, while the one at the Convent of St Francis at the Cenacle takes place on the following Sunday and is presided over by the Custos of the Holy Land.

Silvia Giuliano