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The Origin of the Celebration of Corpus Christi

As we approach the beautiful solemnity of Corpus Christi, it’s a wonderful opportunity to reflect on the origins of this feast and the profound significance it holds for our faith. This special celebration, dedicated to the Body and Blood of Christ, has a rich history rooted in both theological devotion and miraculous events.

Corpus Christi, or the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, was established in the 13th century. The inspiration for this feast can be traced back to the deep Eucharistic devotion of St. Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Augustinian nun in Belgium. From a young age, St. Juliana had a profound love for the Eucharist and believed there should be a special feast to honor the Blessed Sacrament. She experienced visions in which Christ Himself requested the institution of such a feast.

Her visions and advocacy eventually reached the ears of Pope Urban IV. The pivotal moment that cemented the feast’s place in the liturgical calendar, however, was the Miracle of Bolsena.

In 1263, a German priest named Peter of Prague was journeying to Rome. Though he was a devout priest, he struggled with doubts about the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. While celebrating Mass at the Church of St. Christina in Bolsena, a small town in Italy, something extraordinary occurred. As he consecrated the host, blood began to seep from the consecrated host, staining the corporal (the cloth on which the Eucharist is placed). Astonished and deeply moved, the priest brought the bleeding host and the corporal to Pope Urban IV in nearby Orvieto.

Pope Urban IV, recognizing the miraculous nature of this event, ordered an investigation which confirmed the miracle. Deeply inspired by this, he instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1264 with the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. He commissioned the great theologian St. Thomas Aquinas to compose the liturgical texts for the feast, including the hymns “Pange Lingua” and “Tantum Ergo,” which we cherish and sing to this day.

The Miracle of Bolsena served as a powerful confirmation of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, reinforcing the faith of the Church and the laity in this profound mystery. The feast of Corpus Christi was intended to be a day when the faithful could publicly express their faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, through Eucharistic processions, adoration, and other devotions.

As we celebrate Corpus Christi this year, let us remember the miracle that affirmed the truth of our faith and inspired this beautiful feast. May our own Eucharistic devotion be deepened, and may we always recognize the great gift we have in the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our Christian life.

Praised be Jesus Christ, truly present in the Sacred Host, now and forever!
All you holy saints of God, pray for us!

Peace in Christ,
Fr. Michael