In his final words as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict XVI reminded us from the balcony of Castel Gandolfo that he was “simply a pilgrim beginning the last leg of his pilgrimage on Earth.” In doing so, he reminded us, the faithful, that we too are on an earthly pilgrimage. Benedict’s goal, as well as ours, is the Kingdom of Heaven. As pilgrims, we travel around and seek the ways that will lead us to our destination. Though at times we go down the wrong path, we trust that, having faith in God, He will always bring us back to our goal, to be with Him. Thus, we are truly a “Pilgrim Church,” a community of believers on a voyage to Christ.
This past Sunday, we celebrated the great solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as Corpus Christi. The history of the feast goes back all the way to the early 1200s in modern day Belgium. St. Juliana of Liege, a Norbertine canoness, had a vision of a full moon with a dark spot. The spot, she believed, represented the absence of a feast dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament outside the season of Lent. After reporting her visions to her confessor and bishop, the bishop instituted such a feast in the diocese in 1247. Several years later, Pope Urban IV extended the celebration to the universal church in 1261. It was he who requested St. Thomas Aquinas to write hymns for the feast day. We know them today as the Pange Lingua and Panis Angelicus. Urban successors, most especially Clement V in 1311, reinforced the original decree and promoted the observance of the feast.
One of the most beautiful and traditional aspects of the celebration is the procession of the congregation behind the Eucharist encased in a monstrance. On a personal note, this day has always been one of my favorites growing up. I loved walking with my family and friends around the church building (often stopping traffic!), all following our pastor holding the monstrance up as high as he could.
In many ways, the Corpus Christi procession mirrors our pilgrimage (our procession) on earth. Together, with other members of the faithful, we are led toward God, whose real presence on earth is in the Eucharist. The Most Blessed Sacrament is the point in which heaven and earth meet. Not only is it our guide on earth, but also our guide to heaven. Processing around, following the Eucharist is a reminder that what we do on earth can lead us to an everlasting reward. By receiving the Eucharist, we are given the strength (both spiritual and physical) to continue on our earthly journey. As St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “Per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus, ad lucem quam inhabitas” (By your ways lead us to where we are going, to the light where you live.)
Victor David is a recent graduate of The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.