The Feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated last Thursday, so today, Sunday, we formed a Corpus Christi procession.
In my soon-to-be-released novel, The Magdalene Mystery, my protagonists witness a Corpus Christi procession in Rome. From inside the basilica Santa Maria Maggiore they hear chanting outside. They follow the sounds to the porch steps in the growing dusk. A crowd has gathered. Soon they see clergy, monks, and nuns walking toward them up the Via Merulana from the basilica San Giovanni Laterano. They are singing the Pangue Linqua, St. Thomas Aquinas’s hymn to the Eucharistic Presence, Now my tongue, the mystery telling, of the glorious body sing… Daylight has turned to twilight as the sun drops behind domes silhouetted against a glowing Roman sky, but lanterns held by the processing singers lighten the darkness. The Pope is part of the procession. He kneels in an open van before a monstrance cradling the Blessed Sacrament. When he arrives at Maria Maggiore, he processes with the Blessed Sacrament into the gilded Marian basilica for the liturgy of Benediction and Adoration.
I’ve always loved processions – their beginnings, middles, and ends – for they reflect our own journeys through time, satisfyingly. They are an art form, portraying the People of God as the Body of Christ.
Last Sunday in our own parish church we stepped outside, leaving the inner safe sanctum of the church, and had processed up Lawton Street as we sang to the Trinity. Today we we stepped out onto the sidewalk, singing to the mystery and miracle of Christ’s Presence in the Eucharist.
Raised a Presbyterian, I had some doubt about the claims of the Eucharistic Presence when I first heard about it. But over the years scripture and tradition have testified powerfully and personally to the reality of the Real Presence. We are told when we receive Christ in the Eucharist we are fed by God in a unique and saving way. We are told Christ’s Presence is one of the three comings of Christ – the first, two thousand years ago, taking on human flesh in Bethlehem; the second, in the daily consecration of bread and wine and the reception by millions of faithful; the third, the Second Coming of Christ in the future in judgment. Our Lord commanded us to receive him in this way the night before his death, at the Last Supper (Maundy Thursday of Holy Week) so it is fitting that Corpus Christi falls at the end of the glorious seasons of Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, chasing Trinity Sunday, as though it were an exclamation mark at the end of a beautiful sentence. For we have added a postlude to the Easter season of salvation with this mysterious and miraculous gift of bread and wine. We may now enter into the long season of Trinitytide, when we grow steadily in our faith, quietly, with fewer exclamation points.
It may be the everyday nature of this Eucharistic miracle that has made it less of a mystery, so that it is often taken for granted. It may be we live in a doubting age, an age that isn’t interested in God, or in God’s love for us. But for me, I have always been in awe before the Blessed Sacrament, transfixed and transformed. I have experienced love, the love of the Creator for the creation, the love of God the Father for his children and personally for me as his own precious child. This is no small thing. It is true nourishment, without which I am smaller, without which I enter my week weaker.
So the Corpus Christi procession, winding through the public squares of our world, stepping into the communities of disbelief and doubt, is a witness to that love of the Father for his children, the precious prodigals that he so desires to come home, to come to him.
Unlike the Roman procession, it was not dusk as we walked the half block outside the church. A bright morning sun emblazoned the cross raised high by the crucifer. It lit the golden monstrance holding the host. We held our hymnals, following the words linked to the notes, bar by bar, verse by verse, and occasionally I glanced up to the Corpus Christi, carried with care, with tremendous honor (as he later told me), by our devout deacon. It is an image I shall never forget, this gilded circle with the Real Presence in its center, carried along Lawton Street, rising and falling gently with the stepping of our deacon, in a heartbeat rhythm. We followed the cross and the monstrance; we the Body of Christ followed the Body of Christ. We had received him at the altar, and now we flowed like a river through a neighborhood in the Rockridge community of Oakland.
When I set the first part of my story in Rome, I studied my monthly calendar to choose the most appropriate and meaningful season, month, week, day, hour. When I saw the Feast of Corpus Christi in its Thursday-after-Trinity square, the decision was easy. For in this mystery, the mystery of God and man, the mystery of God touching us and we touching him, beats the heart of our Christian faith. And since my novel’s story was about reasoned belief and dubious doubt, historical truth and media lies, the real Mary Magdalene and the imagined Mary Magdalene, I began to research the Rome procession with the help of a nun at San Giovanni Laterano, the Pope’s cathedral as Bishop of Rome.
It has been a rich, fruity season, this spring in the year 2013, like a burst of cherry in a glimmering Beaujolais. We began the month of May processing, singing to Mary. We ended it processing, singing to the Holy Trinity. And we begin June processing, singing to the Blessed Sacrament, as the door to summer opens.