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Corpus Christi (feast)

The Feast of Corpus Christi (Latin for "Body of Christ") is a Catholic liturgical solemnity celebrating the real presence of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, in the elements of the Eucharist—known as transubstantiation. Two months earlier, the Eucharist is observed on Maundy Thursday in a sombre atmosphere leading to Good Friday. 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. The feast of Corpus Christi was established to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist emphasizing the joy of the Eucharist being the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
Carl Emil Doepler Fronleichnamsprozession.jpg
Corpus Christi procession. Oil on canvas by Carl Emil Doepler
Also calledCorpus Domini
Observed byas 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
DateThursday after Trinity Sunday; 60 days after Easter, or the Sunday immediately following this
2017 dateJune 15
2018 dateMay 31[1]
2019 dateJune 20
2020 dateJune 11
Rock of the Eucharistic Miracle in Bolsena 1263

The feast is liturgically celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday or, "where the Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ is not a holy day of obligation, it is assigned to the Sunday after the Most Holy Trinity as its proper day".[2] In the liturgical reforms of 1969, under Pope Paul VI, the bishops of each nation have the option to transfer it to the following Sunday.

At the end of Holy Mass, there is often a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, generally displayed in a monstrance. The procession is followed by Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. A notable Eucharistic procession is that presided over by the Pope each year in Rome, where it begins at the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran and passes to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major, where it concludes with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The celebration of the feast was suppressed in Protestant churches during the Reformation, because they do not hold to the teachings of transubstantiation. Depending on the denomination, Protestant churches instead believe in differing views concerning the presence of Christ in the Eucharist, or that Christ is symbolically or metaphorically part of the eucharist. Today, most Protestant denominations do not recognize the feast.[3] The Church of England abolished it in 1548 as the English Reformation progressed, but later reintroduced it.



St. Juliana of LiègeEdit

Stained glass window in the Saint Mary Basilica in Tongeren

The institution of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar 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.[4]

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.[5][6] 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.[7]

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.[8][9][10] The first such celebration occurred at St Martin's Church in the city that same year.

Hugh of St-Cher travelled to Liège as Cardinal-Legate in 1251 and, finding that the feast was not being observed, reinstated it. In the following year, he established the feast for his whole jurisdiction (Germany, Dacia, Bohemia, and Moravia), to be celebrated on the Thursday after the Octave of Trinity (one week later than had been indicated for Liège), but with a certain elasticity, for he granted an indulgence for all who confessed their sins and attended church "on a date and in a place where [the feast] was celebrated".[11]

Jacques Pantaléon of Troyes was also won over to the cause of the Feast of Corpus Christi during his ministry as Archdeacon in Liège. It was he who, having become Pope as Urban IV in 1264, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost as a feast for the entire Latin Church, by the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo.[4][12] The legend that this act was inspired by a procession to Orvieto in 1263, after a village priest in Bolsena and his congregation witnessed a Eucharistic miracle of a bleeding consecrated host at Bolsena,[10] has been called into question by scholars who note problems in the dating of the alleged miracle, whose tradition begins in the 14th century, and the interests of Urban IV, a former Archdeacon in Liège. Though this was the first papally imposed universal feast for the Latin Church,[13] it was not in fact widely celebrated for half a century, although it was adopted by a number of dioceses in Germany and by the Cistercians, and in 1295 was celebrated in Venice.[14] It became a truly universal feast only after the bull of Urban IV was included in the collection of laws known as the Clementines, compiled under Pope Clement V, but promulgated only by his successor Pope John XXII in 1317.[14][15]

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.[5]

Three versions of the office for the feast of Corpus Christi in extant manuscripts provide evidence for the Liège origins and voice of Juliana in an original office, which was followed by two later versions of the office. A highly sophisticated and polished version can be found in BNF 1143, a musical manuscript devoted entirely to the feast, upon which there is wide scholarly agreement: the version in BNF 1143 is a revision of an earlier version found in Prague, Abbey of Strahov MS D.E.I. 7, and represents the work of St. Thomas Aquinas following or during his residency at Orvieto from 1259 to 1265. The office can also be found in the 1343 codex Regimen Animarum.[16]:13 This liturgy may be used as a votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament on weekdays in ordinary time.[17] The hymn Aquinas composed for Vespers of Corpus Christi, Pange Lingua or another eucharistic hymn, is also used on Maundy Thursday during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose.[18] The last two verses of Pange Lingua are also used as a separate hymn, Tantum Ergo, which is sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. O Salutaris Hostia, another hymn sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, comprises the last two verses of Verbum Supernum Prodiens, Aquinas' hymn for Lauds of Corpus Christi. Aquinas also composed the propers for the Mass of Corpus Christi, including the sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem. The epistle reading for the Mass was taken from Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-29), and the Gospel reading was taken from the Gospel of John (John 6:56-59).

Silver-gilt Corpus Christi monstrance of Toledo, Spain

When Pope Pius V revised the General Roman Calendar (see Tridentine Calendar), Corpus Christi was one of only two "feasts of devotion" that he kept, the other being Trinity Sunday.[19] In that calendar, Corpus Christi was celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.[20] The feast had an octave until 1955, when Pope Pius XII suppressed all octaves, even in local calendars, except those of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost (see General Roman Calendar of Pope Pius XII).

From 1849 until 1969, a separate Feast of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ was assigned originally to the first Sunday in July, later to the first day of the month. This feast was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969, "because the Most Precious Blood of Christ the Redeemer is already venerated in the solemnities of the Passion, of Corpus Christi and of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and in the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. But the Mass of the Most Precious Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ is placed among the votive Masses".[21]


Roman Catholic ChurchEdit

The feast of Corpus Christi is one of five occasions in the year on which a diocesan bishop is not to be away from his diocese unless for a grave and urgent reason.[22]

Procession in Ottersweier, Germany

By tradition, Catholics hear Mass then go in procession through the streets of their parish church’s neighborhood, all whilst praying and singing. The Eucharist, known as the Blessed Sacrament, is placed in a monstrance and is held aloft by a member of the clergy during the procession. After the procession, parishioners return to the church, where Benediction usually takes place.[23]


The celebration of Corpus Christi was abolished in England in 1548.[24][25] The Church of England always keeps the celebration, known also as The Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion (Corpus Christi). This is assigned the status of a Festival.[26] The feast is also celebrated by Anglo-Catholic parishes, even in provinces of the Anglican Communion that do not officially include it in their calendars. McCausland's Order of Divine Service, the most commonly used ordo in the Anglican Church of Canada, provides lections for the day.


Martin Luther spoke out against transubstantiation as well as the elevation (ritual raising) of the consecrated elements. He was further mortified by Corpus Christi as he believed the festival was idolizing the sacramental bread. In one of his postils (homilies), he wrote

I am to no festival more hostile ... than this one. Because it is the most shameful festival. At no festival are God and his Christ more blasphemed, than on this day, and particularly by the procession. For then people are treating the Blessed Sacrament with such ignominy that it becomes only play-acting and is just vain idolatry. With its cosmetics and false holiness it conflicts with Christ's order and establishment. Because He never commanded us to carry on like this. Therefore beware of such worship![27]

The feast was retained in the calendars of the Lutheran Church until about 1600.[28]


Like Lutherans, followers of the Reformed tradition do not observe the feast.[29]

Other churchesEdit

Corpus Christi is also celebrated by the Old Catholic Church, the Liberal Catholic Church and by some Western Rite Orthodox Christians. It is commemorated in the liturgical calendars of the more Latinized Eastern Catholic Churches.

Folk traditionsEdit

Patum de Berga

The Patum de Berga is a popular and traditional festival that is celebrated each year in the Catalan city of Berga (Barcelona) during Corpus Christi. It consists of a series of "dances" (balls) by townspeople dressed as mystical and symbolical figures. The balls are marked by their solemnity and their ample use of fire and pyrotechnics. It was declared a Traditional Festival of National Interest by the Generalitat de Catalunya in 1983, and as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2005.[30]

Dancing egg, Barcelona

In Catalonia, Corpus Cristi is celebrated with the tradition of the dancing egg. There is evidence this tradition dates from the 16th century.[31]

In medieval times in many parts of Europe, Corpus Christi was a time for the performance of mystery plays. The plays in York, England were performed on Corpus Christi Day for some 200 years until suppressed in the sixteenth century during the Protestant Reformation.[32]

In the village of Castrillo de Murcia near Burgos, the celebration includes the practice of El Colacho (baby jumping).[33]

In the southern highlands of the Cusco Region of Peru, the festival of Quyllurit'i is held near Corpus Cristi in the Sinaqara Valley. As many as 10,000 pilgrims come from neighboring areas. Culminating on Trinity Sunday, this festival marks the return in the sky of the Pleiades constellation, known in the Quechua language as Qullqa, or "storehouse", as it is associated with the upcoming harvest and New Year. The festival precedes the official feast of Corpus Cristi, held the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, but it is closely associated with it.[34]


Corpus Christi is a moveable feast, celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday[5] or, in countries where it is not a holy day of obligation, on the following Sunday.

The earliest possible Thursday celebration falls on May 21 (as in 1818 and 2285), the latest on June 24 (as in 1943 and 2038). The Sunday celebrations occur three days later.

Corpus Christi is a public holiday in some countries with a predominantly Catholic population including, amongst others, Austria, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Chile, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Haiti, (Jerusalem) Israel, parts of Germany, Grenada, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, parts of Puerto Rico, San Marino, Spain, parts of Switzerland, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, parts of the United States, and Venezuela.[citation needed]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Moveable date calculations by Module:Easter – via {{Calendar date}}
  2. ^ "Sanctissimi Corpus et Sanguis Christi." Roman Missal, 2011 Latin to English translation
  3. ^ "Corpus Christi, Feast of". Encyclopædia Britanica. 1974.
  4. ^ a b "Benedict XVI. "St. Juliana: the Nun Who Gave Us the Feast of Corpus Christi", general audience address of Nov. 17, 2010, which he dedicated to St. Juliana". Retrieved 2014-01-23.
  5. ^ a b c "Mershman, Francis. "Feast of Corpus Christi." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 17 Jun. 2013". Retrieved 2014-01-23.
  6. ^ "Vie de Sainte Julienne de Cornillon" by J.P. Delville, Published by the Institute of Medieval Studies at the Catholic University at Louvain pp. 120-123
  7. ^ Phyllis Jestice, Holy people of the world Published by ABC-CLIO, 2004 ISBN 1-57607-355-6 page 457
  8. ^ Barbara R. Walters, The Feast of Corpus Christi (Penn State Press 2006 ISBN 978-0-271-04831-4), p. 9
  9. ^ The decree is preserved in Anton Joseph Binterim, Vorzüglichsten Denkwürdigkeiten der Christkatholischen Kirche (Mainz, 1825-41), together with parts of the first liturgy written for the occasion.
  10. ^ a b   Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Corpus Christi, Feast of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 7 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 193.
  11. ^ Walters (2006), p. 12
  12. ^ Walters (2006), page 12
  13. ^ Oxford History of Christian Worship By Geoffrey Wainwright, Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0-19-513886-4, page 248
  14. ^ a b Miri Rubin, Corpus Christi: The Eucharist in Late Medieval Culture (Cambridge University Press 1991 ISBN 978-0-52143805-6), pp. 181–182
  15. ^ Walters (2006), p. 13
  16. ^ Mathiesen, Thomas J. (Winter 1983). "The Office of the New Feast of Corpus Christi" in the Regimen Animarum at Brigham Young University". The Journal of Musicology. 2 (1): 13–44. JSTOR 763576.
  17. ^ General Instruction of the Roman Missal, 375
  18. ^ Roman Missal, Mass of the Lord's Supper, 38
  19. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), p. 66
  20. ^ Manlio Sodi, Achille Maria Triacca (editors), Missale Romanum: Editio Princeps (1570) (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1998 ISBN 978-88-209-2547-5), pp. 399–401
  21. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), p. 128]
  22. ^ Code of Canon Law, canon 395 §3
  23. ^ "Katinas, Paula. "Brooklyn's Catholic churches celebrate Feast of Corpus Christi", ''Brooklyn Daily Eagle'',3 June 2013". 2013-06-03. Retrieved 2014-01-23.
  24. ^ King, John N., ed. (2004). Voices of the English Reformation: A Sourcebook. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 181.
  25. ^ Rogerson, Margaret (2011). The York Mystery Plays: Performance in the City. York Medieval Press.
  26. ^ CC as Church of England Festival
  27. ^ Luther Martin: Auslegung von Joh 6. 1530, Kirchenpostille 1521, Tischreden
  28. ^ Frank Senn: Christian Liturgy: Catholic and Evangelical, Fortress Press, 1997. p. 344. ISBN 0-8006-2726-1
  29. ^
  30. ^ info at
  31. ^ VilaWeb TV: L'Ou com Balla a Ca l'Ardiaca (in Catalan)
  32. ^ Beadle, Richard; King, Pamela M. York Mystery Plays: A Selection in Modern Spelling. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-283710-9.
  33. ^ "BBC NEWS - Europe - Spanish village holds baby jump".
  34. ^ Antoinette Molinié Fioravanti, Celebrando el Cuerpo de Dios (Corpus Cristi Festival), Fondo Editorial PUCP, 1999, pp. 197-198(in Spanish)

External linksEdit