Bishop Robert Barron tells the story of the origins of the feast of Corpus Christi in his series entitled “Catholicism”.
In 1263 a German priest, Fr. Peter of Prague, made a pilgrimage to Rome. He stopped in Bolsena, Italy, to celebrate Mass at the Church of St. Christina. At the time he was having doubts about Jesus being truly present in the Blessed Sacrament. He was affected by the growing debate among certain theologians who, for the first time in the history of the Church, began introducing doubts about the Body and Blood of Christ being actually present in the consecrated bread and wine.
While Fr Peter was celebrating Mass, at the time of consecration blood started seeping from the consecrated host and onto the altar and corporal. Fr. Peter reported this miracle to Pope Urban IV, who at the time was nearby in Orvieto. The pope sent delegates to investigate and ordered that host and blood-stained corporal be brought to Orvieto. The relics were then placed in the Cathedral of Orvieto, where they remain today. Pope Urban instituted Corpus Christi for the Universal Church and celebrated it for the first time in Orvieto in 1264, a year after the Eucharistic Miracle in Bolsena.
Inspired by the miracle, the Pope also commissioned a Dominican friar, St. Thomas Aquinas, to compose the Mass and Office for the feast of Corpus Christi. Aquinas’ hymns in honour of the Holy Eucharist, “Pange Lingua”, “Tantum Ergo”, “Panis Angelicus”, and “O Salutaris Hostia” we still sing today, not only on the feast of Corpus Christi but throughout the year during Exposition and Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
In years past this feast was celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday but it has been transferred to the Sunday. Corpus Christi is observed as a public holiday in: Austria, Brazil, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, East Timor, parts of Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Panama, Peru, Poland, Portugal, San Marino, parts of Spain and Switzerland, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The celebration of the Corpus Christi feast was suppressed during the Reformation in Protestant churches. Today the Church of England celebrates the feast on the same day but is know as the Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion.
Today our children will be receiving Jesus in Holy Communion for the first time. As we congratulate them and their families, we are able to celebrate this wonderful gift that Jesus has given us. Pope St John Paul in his letter Ecclesia de Eucharistica (2003) sought to rekindle the sense of amazement that should fill us when we gather for Mass.
My dear friend Bishop Michael Evans wrote:
“The Church draws her life from the Eucharist, This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfilment of the promise; “Lo I am with you always, to the close of the age.” (Mt 28:20), but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of the bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity. (Ecclesia de Eucharistis No 1)”