Pope Again Changes Corpus Christi Tradition in Rome

Pope Francis has moved the Corpus Christi procession he leads to outlying Roman parishes this year, rather than moving from St. John Lateran basilica to St. Mary Major, Vatican radio reports. In the Corpus Christi processions – the solemnity is actually called the “Body and Blood of Christ,” Corpus et Sanguis Christi, since the liturgical reform – the Host is carried through the streets in a monstrance with a canopy over it.

The pope will celebrate Mass at the parish church of Santa Monica in Ostia on June 3. The procession will go to the neighboring parish of Nostra Signora di Bonaria (“Our Lady of Bonaria”).

It was in 1982 that Pope John Paul II introduced the Corpus Christi procession from the Lateran basilica to Mary Major. When he was no longer able to walk, a platform wagon on which he kneeled before the monstrance was constructed.

Pope Francis did away with this wagon, and in his first year chose to follow the procession on foot, behind the Blessed Sacrament. It was said that this was to put the focus on the Eucharist rather than himself. When, we he did not feel able to walk, he was driven by car and arrived before the procession.

Last year (2017), Pope Francis moved the procession from Thursday to Sunday. The celebration is on the second Thursday after Pentecost in the Roman calendar, but is moved to the following Sunday in many regions. Among them is Italy, which celebrates the solemnity on Sunday, while the Vatican itself has retained the Thursday celebration. Pope Francis moved the procession to Sunday, in sync with Italian practice, to make it possible for more faithful to celebrate, and also so as not to disrupt traffic on a workday.

The procession with the consecrated Host was unknown in the early church or in the first millennium, and has never become the custom in Eastern Orthodoxy. In the west, the feast of Corpus Christi was not introduced until 1264 by Pope Urban IV. This was at a time when reception of Communion by the laity was extremely rare. The feast spread only slowly in the west, and in later centuries the procession with the Blessed Sacrament began to take hold.


  1. The Corpus Christi was particularly neuralgic for the good Father Doctor Martin Luther, and remains so for confessional Lutherans today. While teaching class in the Deacon Formation program of our region, I was amazed that none of my students had ever heard of it, nor have they ever seen one.

    The Lutheran concern is that the Eucharist was meant by our Lord to be eaten and drank. As noted in the article above, when this observance became popular, most laity very rarely received the Eucharist. I remember reading that many of the lesser catechized saints should show up for the Elevation, or for the Sanctus bells when they would stop and reverently face the church, thereby in their way of thinking they had received spiritually

    One of Luther’s reforms that has largely fallen into disuse, and then resurgence, is celebrating the Eucharist in every Mass. Our Augsburg Cofnfession calls for weekly Eucharist, but it is unbelievable to this cradle Roman Catholic that Lutherans have spent incredible amounts of energy trying to prove they are not Catholic. The ecumenism of the last century and the Liturgical Movement has resulted in the Eucharist being celebrated more often again. Now the latest thing is that clerical collars and vestments are not worn to make the Eucharist “more approachable”. This is simply wrong! But who am I…..?

  2. “The procession with the consecrated Host was unknown in the early church or in the first millennium, and has never become the custom in Eastern Orthodoxy.”

    At the Pre-Sanctified Divine Liturgy celebrated on the weekdays of the Great Fast by the Orthodox and Eastern Catholics, the Holy Mysteries that were consecrated on the previous Sunday are carried by the priest from the Table of Preparation (to where they have been discretely moved in an earlier part of the Liturgy from the tabernacle on the altar) through the entire church, preceded by candle bearing servers ( or sub-deacons) and the deacon (or a server), censing all the while. The priest’s head is cover with the chalice veil and the people are prostrating or at least kneeling. While one might say that this is not devotional, as the Corpus Christi procession is, the Holy Mysteries are moved back and forth, to and from the altar where they were to begin with. It’s symbolic, devotional, and since it takes place with the context of a Divine Liturgy, it’s also liturgical.

    1. Yes, there is this procession in the Eastern Orthodox liturgy. I guess I was thinking of a procession through the streets that happens outside the liturgy. As far as I know, this is not practiced in Eastern Orthodoxy.

      1. I wonder if there are circumstantial dimensions to the non-development during the Second Millennium. This is speculative, of course, but with the exception of the Russian and Ethiopian churches, one cannot help but note that most of Eastern and Oriental Christianity existed as minority religions where their public expression was severely limited (or at least under the prospect of becoming so or recovering therefrom). (For a Western cognate, think of Irish Catholicism between the Battle of the Boyne and Emancipation…)

        It’s not like there’s never been any kind of public expression of the faith that had never traveled from West to East; if memory services, church bells (I don’t mean Sanctus bells within the liturgical service but rather, bell towers and the like) started in Italy in the 7th century and moved eastward to Constantinople by the 9th (whence they inspired something even grander in later centuries in Kiev and Russian) – but in the First Millennium those areas of Christianity were still ruled by Christians.

        That’s not to discount the substantive differences in devotional expression.

      2. You are correct Father Anthony, the Holy Gifts are only carried outside of the church to bring Holy Communion to the faithful who cannot celebrate Divine Liturgy for health or other serious reasons.

        Though sadly (and against the Eastern Tradition) some of the Eastern Churches (Melkite and Ruthenian) developed a form Eucharistic Adoration. This involved placing the consecrated bread on a diskos for people to see. This was a major “latinization”. Fortunately it seems to have died out and I don’t know of a place where it is still done.

    2. But the carrying of the Pre-Sanctified Gifts during weekday Lenten Liturgies in the East has nothing to do with “ocular communion” or avoiding receiving the Holy Gifts.

      The hymn, “Now the heavenly powers do minister invisibly with us. For behold the King of Glory enters. Behold the mystical sacrifice, all fulfilled, is ushered in. Let us with faith and love draw near that we may be partakers of everlasting life. Alleluia Alleluia. Alleluia.” is sung before the procession from preparation table to the Holy Table. The actual procession with the Holy Gifts is usually done in silence. The Gifts are veiled and not “exposed” for adoration though we believe they are “adorable” and worthy of worship.

      It is clear from the hymn that the procession is done so that the Holy Gifts might be brought among the people but the primary purpose is to place them on the Holy Table for reception of Holy Communion

      Eucharistic “devotions” in the Latin Church were to replace the reception of actual Holy Communion. There is no comparison between the Pre-Sanctified Liturgy and Latin Eucharistic devotions.

  3. I’m not sure if this is the best place to ask this, but has anyone ever produced a scholarly treatment of the assertion that lack of reception on the part of the lay faithful was a key motivation for the development of the cult of the host?
    I’m asking because decline in lay reception happens long before the late middle ages, going back at least to late antiquity (e.g. Chrysostom already laments it), and the East has historically had low reception of communion and yet did not develop a cult to the holy gifts outside of the Eucharistic liturgy.

    1. In the world of scholarship stuff gets repeated all the time because it kind of sort of makes sense and we all presume that somebody must have demonstrated this at some point because everyone says this.

      1. Deacon Fritz

        Yes, and religious history seems one of the sub-disciplines that seems particularly vulnerable it. It’s a non-venerable tradition, one might say. I suspect it’s because it’s a sub-discipline that is coming late to the more general professional trend towards greater epistemic modesty (if not exactly humility) about what one can say about evidence says/means or does not say/mean and dealing more candidly with cognitive bias – this shift in the profession has been going on for a while, but religious history seems to be a late-comer to it. (Things confidently asserted about the Dark Ages in collegiate history classes a generation or two ago would be greatly modified and nuanced at a professional level today, though the professional spade work for this was being done a couple of generations ago….)

    2. Also, regardless of how it may have developed, the “cult of the Host,” in my own unscientific observation, tends to encourage people to attend Mass and receive communion *more* in this day and age. In my experience, those who attend Adoration/Benediction are more likely to be involved with parish activities and liturgy, attend weekday Masses, and often take more care to be properly disposed for frequent communion.

      1. I didn’t mean “cult of the host” in a pejorative sense. I think that Eucharistic adoration is a wonderful practice and am happy that Pope Francis is an enthusiastic promoter of it. (As were all post-Vatican II popes without exception.)

  4. This will probably get spun on the schtick of “going to the Peripheries”.

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