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Corpus Christi: ‘With suppliant hearts we come’

Thank-you to all the parishes who responded to the Cardinal’s request for some form of public worship of Our Eucharistic Lord around the Solemnity of Corpus Christi as part of the preparation for Adoremus, the Eucharistic Congress to be held in Liverpool between 7th and 9th September.

This took many forms from quiet parish celebrations to the larger events in central London. The Cathedral hosted the Forty Hours’ Devotion, starting with Mass celebrated by the Cardinal on Thursday, 31st May and ending with Mass celebrated by Bishop John Sherrington and a procession on Saturday, 2nd June. The established West End procession wound its way from the Assumption, Warwick Street to St James’s, Spanish Place. While the procession led by the Cardinal through Covent Garden was a particularly joyous occasion, marking as it did, the elevation of the church of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane to the status of a diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament.

In Hatfield priests and people followed Our Lord from Marychurch to St Peter’s, pausing at St Philip Howard School, where an altar had been erected in the grounds for Exposition and quiet reflection. The First Holy Communion children led the way, singing and praying the Rosary. The looks of intrigue and curiosity witnessed to the impact on bystanders in this part of Hertfordshire.

Fr James Neal led the parishes of Northolt and South Harrow in honouring the Most Holy Eucharist. The faces and posture of the parishioners speak volumes.

Shepherd’s Bush followed the format adopted the preceding year. Beginning at the Good Shepherd School, the First Holy Communion children led parishioners in praying the Rosary. The parish then processed singing down a busy Askew Road to Benediction in the parish church which was followed by a parish picnic in Ravenscourt Park.

In every case the joy was evident at the presence of Jesus amongst us, from older parishioners who reminisced about processions of the past, to the young who experienced this part of our Catholic identity for the first time.

Many parishes mark the Solemnity of Corpus Christi with a Blessed Sacrament procession. Never underestimate the impact of taking Our Lord out into the streets, both for our own people and the wider community. While recognising the potential advantages, it might seem rather daunting to organise a procession: just another thing to fit into a busy Sunday schedule. With a little organisation, it is not at all burdensome; any effort is amply repaid by the spiritual benefits received.

Planning is crucial. Put the date in the parish diary the preceding year. If you have the procession in the First Holy Communion programme, then you guarantee a good attendance. Most Blessed Sacrament processions give a role to the children in their First Holy Communion clothes. There is no problem persuading them to wear them again in honour of Jesus. Invite the whole parish and school community to participate. 

Use the homily, newsletters and catechesis to explain the nature and purpose of the procession to those who might not be familiar with it.
Timing? Will a procession work better after the final Sunday morning Mass, or on a Sunday afternoon?

Route? The distance should be meaningful, but remembering that there will be both little people and the less mobile in the procession. Plan the route carefully so that there will be public witness, but with traffic in mind. Your circumstances will determine whether it is better to start and end in church, or to start at the school/hall and process to the church. If the distance is significant, you might have ‘stations’ along the way, with the monstrance placed on temporary wayside altars.

What will be the format? Our parish began by exposing the Blessed Sacrament at the school, the children led the rosary, then we processed singing to the church for Benediction. Having a booklet with the prayers and hymns is helpful.

Ask volunteers to act as stewards and first aid officers. Have the choir in the procession to lead the singing. Rehearse the altar servers.

Provided the procession is continually moving, you should not require permission. But it is a good idea just to check with the police and Highways Department, especially if using a particularly busy route.

Surprisingly little is required for a procession: a monstrance, thurible, cross and torches. You may well find a canopy or ombrellino lurking in some far recess of the sacristy. It is a great opportunity to give the parish banners an outing.

Weather? Prayer, rather than preparation, is important here. If faced with rain, will you announce the procession is cancelled at the morning Masses or is there an alternative indoor route in the church, hall or school?

Finally, consider keeping people together for some social celebration afterwards. We go from Benediction to a ‘parish picnic’ in the local park. Religion, food and drink: the essence of Catholicism!

One procession planned on the grand scale is that to be held on the afternoon of Sunday, 9th September in the vicinity of the Metropolitan Cathedral during Adoremus, the National Eucharistic Congress in Liverpool. Pray for the participants – or come and join us. There are no tickets required for the procession itself.