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.