Corpus Christi

This blog is subtitled:
“It is written,  ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
We had a beautiful Corpus Christi procession on Sunday in Leigh-on-Sea, Deo gratias!

The Church was fairly full, but really one would hope that the whole Parish family would turn out to this event. Indeed, Father Kevin has expressed his own sadness that this is not the case in his homilies leading up to the feast. As my wife expressed it, a large part of the congregation is made up of the First Holy Communion families as the children take part in the procession, the rest are the stalwart parishioners.

So why is this?

The institution of Corpus Christi as a feast resulted from approximately forty years of work on the part of Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Norbertine canoness, also known as Juliana de Cornillon, born in 1191 or 1192 in Liège, Belgium, a city where there were groups of women dedicated to Eucharistic worship. Guided by exemplary priests, they lived together, devoted to prayer and to charitable works. Orphaned at the age of five, she and her sister Agnes were entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon, where Juliana developed a special veneration for the Blessed Sacrament.

She always longed for a feast day outside of Lent in its honour. Her vita reports that this desire was enhanced by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity. In 1208, she reported her first vision of Christ in which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop.

Juliana also petitioned the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher, and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so Bishop Robert ordered in 1246 a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held in the diocese each year thereafter on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The first such celebration occurred at St Martin's Church in the city that same year.

While the institution of the Eucharist is celebrated on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, the liturgy on that day also commemorates Christ's washing of the disciples' feet, the institution of the priesthood and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. So many other functions took place on this day that the principal event was almost lost sight of. This is mentioned in the Bull Transiturus as the chief reason for the introduction of the new feast. Hence, the feast of Corpus Christi was established to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist.

I love the way the feast came about due to a real love and devotion to the Eucharistic presence of our Lord & Saviour, indeed the belief in, and devotion to the Real Presence is a constant source of inspiration to me.

I read this article in The Remnant which I feel goes some way to addressing the reality that fewer and fewer Catholics seem to understand the Real Presence or are willing to express a devotion to it. The article states that, as Our Lord did for doubting Thomas, who had to see to believe, God provides proof of our Catholic beliefs in our day and time. Let us consider the ‘Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano’ where the Sacred Host not only miraculously changed into the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, but also miraculously changed into the appearance of human heart tissue and blood. 

My own Parish Priest's inspirational belief and devotion to the Real Presence is clear in his reverence, prayerful attitude and action. He leads his parish family as a true spiritual father by modelling his own belief. But is this true for all priests today?

The Remnant article puts it this way:
As Catholics we must believe with ALL of our hearts, minds, and souls that at every Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the validly ordained Priest changes bread and wine into the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ, in what is defined as ‘Transubstantiation.’ This is a true MIRACLE that has been done “in remembrance” of Christ since He instituted the Mass at the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. This belief is under attack today.
Sadly, there seems to be many in the last fifty years of Church history who demonstrate by their mannerisms in the presence of the Eucharistic Lord that they do not believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Traditions that protect belief in the Real Presence in the Traditional Latin Mass communities are no longer present in most Novus Ordo venues, such as: receiving Holy Communion exclusively on the tongue while kneeling; using a Paten under the chin of the communicant to safeguard Particles of the Sacred Host; genuflecting before the Tabernacle; kneeling for exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; receiving Holy Communion only when in ‘a state of grace;’ and showing a decorum of reverence and silence before the Most Blessed Sacrament in the Tabernacle.
I recognise that this is a tricky subject for Catholics. If you do not agree or act this way, discussions like this are extremely challenging and often people feel offended, as if their own approach, belief and understanding is being criticised or challenged. If you are reading this and those feelings are welling up, please, please do not feel that way. I am, as St Augustine put it, merely one beggar explaining to another beggar where I found a piece of bread. I would share what I have learnt myself that such understanding might enrich your own belief and worship and bring you greater fulfilment. And how can it be reductive to be MORE reverent when what we are reverences is the Risen Lord Himself?

Let me give you some concrete examples of what I mean.

At Brentwood Cathedral on Saturday 8th June Mgsr Kieth Newton, Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham presided at an Ordinariate Mass of Celebration of eight years service in Brentwood Diocese. I was quite surprised that Mgsr Kieth was graciously afforded the cathedra, Mitre & Crosier by Bishop Alan Williams as a sign of his jurisdiction over priests and people of the Ordinariate in Brentwood Diocese. I thought this was a really generous gesture.

(these photographs are courtesy of Paul F Abbott)

The Cathedral was beautifully prepared by Fr Jeff Woolnough of Eastwood's Saint Peter's Parish. It was wonderful to see altar cards and a statue of Our Lady (as the Cathedral has very little decoration of an obviously religious nature). There is a focus on reverence and the Ordinariate form of the Roman Rite lends itself to deeper understanding and devotion and I find it quite beautiful and edifying as I have explained before, here for example. As expressed in Anglicanorum coetibus this patrimony constitutes a precious gift; a treasure to be shared: 
Without excluding liturgical celebrations according to the Roman Rite, the Ordinariate has the faculty to celebrate the Holy Eucharist and the other Sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical celebrations according to the liturgical books proper to the Anglican tradition, which have been approved by the Holy See, so as to maintain the liturgical, spiritual and pastoral traditions of the Anglican Communion within the Catholic Church, as a precious gift nourishing the faith of the members of the Ordinariate and as a treasure to be shared. (Anglicanorum coetibus n. 3)
Indeed Brentwood has much to thank the Ordinariate for!

By way of contrast, a priest friend recently sent me this picture of something called a "Nave Dinner" which took place in Hereford (Anglican) Cathedral:

It makes it easy to see what the Ordinariate escaped.
To me this immediately brings to mind one image: Jesus in the Temple casting out the money changers.

Now I know you probably think I should get over myself, and these people are using a historic building to generate some money/ interest/ enjoyment (add your own argument here..) but you have to ask if our Church's constitute a sacred space or not, and whether that space, soaked with the prayers of generations of faithful petitioners over centuries, only counts sometimes, when we want it to, or if it counts all the time? If it is sometimes, can we blame lay people like me for not really believing it actually is a sacred space, but just a space to be subject to whatever utility best suits our purpose at any given time? What need then for silence, or reverence or respect at all?

You couldn't really say that Brentwood Cathedral is soaked in centuries of prayer, it was the first Classical cathedral to be built in England since Wren’s St Paul’s. Built as a mission church in the 1860s from designs by Gilbert Blount, it was enlarged in 1989-91, from designs by the Atheist Quinlan Terry.

Now clearly this is not on the scale of what happened at Hereford Cathedral, but I was a little shocked to find that the Cathedral was recently turned into a music hall, hosting a concert from the Priests - I suppose at least the performers wore clerical collars! Both the bishop & bishop emeritus and the former VG are pictured here:

The Code of Canon Law states:
1210 Only those things which serve the exercise or promotion of worship, piety, or religion are permitted in a sacred place; anything not consonant with the holiness of the place is forbidden. In an individual case, however, the ordinary can permit other uses which are not contrary to the holiness of the place.
Sacred space should almost always only be used for sacred events. A church is not a public gathering space or hall; it is dedicated to the worship of Almighty God.

Obviously there are many classic religious pieces of music that were written for churches and to be performed in churches. Concerts of this type make sense to take place in a church. Though they are not liturgical, they are explicitly designed to raise our attention to worship of God.

In such situations, the Blessed Sacrament should be removed to an alternate place of reservation for the duration of the event (I am sure this was done).

Secular music concerts are not permitted in churches. Music that is not religious in nature is not appropriate in sacred space dedicated to worship. To permit merely secular music reduces the space to a simple rental hall.

I don't know what the full repertoire of this concert was, but this snippet of one of the numbers is certainly not "sacred" or "a religious piece" (it's a reworking of a piece by pop star Van Morrison).

The concert was in aid of Brentwood Catholic Children's Society and they report:
Their repertoire included many beautiful well-known hymns and songs as well as some entertaining pieces to get the audience clapping and joining in.
The concert was a fantastic, flagship event for our special year and will be remembered by the bccs community for many years to come.
For further reading on this issue, I recommend the Congregation for Divine Worship’s 1987 document Concerts in Churches which states:
In a society disturbed by noise, especially in the big cities, churches are also an oasis where people gather, in silence and in prayer, to seek peace of soul and the light of faith.
That will only be possible in so far as church maintain their specific identity. When churches are used for ends other than those for which they were built, their role as a sign of the Christian mystery is put at risk, with more or less serious harm to the teaching of the faith and to the sensitivity of the People of God, according to the Lord’s words: "My house is a house of prayer" (Lk 19:46).
In an age where we continuously complain that people are apathetic about their faith, I find it deeply worrying that no one in Brentwood Diocese thought that having a concert IN the Cathedral might be problematic in any way? What sort of pedagogy does this promote? Why didn't they have it in the (perfectly good) Cathedral Hall? It seems the church is only a sacred space when we choose for it to be, and the rest of the time it doesn't really matter; it's just a useful venue to be used as we see fit, dedication and consecration are ignored or set aside. After all, it's all for a good cause right? It's all just a bit of fun! Get over yourself Mark, you need to relax a bit.

I do apologise for taking my faith seriously, for believing in the sacred character of our places of worship, and a supernatural dimension to what we do at Mass in those spaces.

If we want people to understand there's something important going on at Mass, should we be serious or frivolous about our Churches?

What would Jesus do?

If we want to know why people don't take doctrines like the Real Presence seriously anymore, we have to take a long hard look at our pedagogy.


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