VATICAN CITY, JUN 19, 2003 (VIS) - For the 25th time in his pontificate, Pope John Paul presided at Mass for the feast of Corpus Christi this evening in front of St. John Lateran Basilica, the cathedral church of the bishop of Rome, following which he processed to St. Mary Major Basilica with the Eucharist in an open vehicle. Cardinal Vicar Camillo Ruini celebrated Mass and the Pope delivered the homily.
The Holy Father referred several times to his encyclical on the Eucharist, dated Holy Thursday of this year, saying that the feast of Corpus Christi reminds us of the "evocative celebration" of the Last Supper and the institution of the Eucharist. "This evening, with profound gratitude to God, we remain in silence before the mystery of the faith - 'mysterium fidei'. We contemplate it with that intimate feeling that, in the encyclical, I called 'Eucharistic awe'. ... We contemplate the face of Christ, as did the Apostles and, following them, the saints throughout the centuries."
He remarked that "the bishop of Rome, the Successor of Peter, his brothers in the episcopacy and priesthood, all religious, consecrated lay people and all the baptized live by the Eucharist. And in a special way Christian families are nourished by the Eucharist. ... Dear families of Rome! The living Eucharistic presence of Christ nourishes in you the grace of marriage and allows you to progress on the path of conjugal and family holiness."
"After Mass," said John Paul II, "we will proceed, praying and singing, to the basilica of St. Mary Major. With this procession, we intend to symbolically express our being as pilgrims, 'viatores', towards the heavenly kingdom. We are not alone on our pilgrimage: Christ, the bread of life, walks with us."
The Prayers of the Faithful included petitions for Pope John Paul, for the Church in Rome, for families, "especially those living moments of fatigue and difficulty," and for "the peoples of the Holy Land and for all those who, in various parts of the world, are living the drama of war, oppression, and social injustice; May the Lord uproot hatred, calm dissent, and inspire in governments farsightedness and the will to seek solutions that respect the dignity of every man."
St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon, born near Lieges, Belgium in 1193, was an Augustinian nun who during her years at the Mont Cornillon convent learned in repeated visions that the Lord wanted a feast to honor the institution of the Eucharist. She worked indefatigably to persuade Bishop Robert de Thorete of Liege to institute such a feast, which he did decree in 1246, stating that it should be celebrated locally on the Thursday after the octave of the Trinity. St. Juliana died in 1258.
Pope Urban IV (1261-1264), who had been archdeacon in Liege, knew of this feast and formally extended it to the entire Church when he published the Bull "Transiturus" on September 8, 1264. He ordered the feast to be celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday and granted many indulgences to the faithful who attended Mass and recited the Office. Urban IV had asked St. Thomas Aquinas, a friend of St. Juliana's, to compose the Office, which is still used today. The Council of Vienna confirmed Urban IV's Bull in 1312 and from that time on this feast became general.
The processions that take place today on this feast sprung up spontaneously centuries ago in various European villages and towns. The procession In Rome between the basilicas of St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major began in the late 1400's. Its current itinerary began in 1575 when the road that now directly links the two churches was built on the orders of Pope Gregory XIII. This route was followed for more than 300 years until the procession fell into disuse. It was resumed in 1979 by Pope John Paul II.
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