The Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi). fr Robert Gay reflects on publicly witnessing to our faith.
Our Dominican parish of Holy Cross, Leicester has a long tradition stretching back almost two hundred years. And we are extremely fortunate in still having a lot of items that serve as a reminder of the past, which have survived the ravages of time and the numerous changes in the community.
Amongst these items are some banners from the Guild of the Blessed Sacrament, which our records show goes back to 1919. At that time, the banners, and the Guild who proudly carried them, would have been a feature of the Blessed Sacrament processions, which occurred on or around the feast we celebrate today. The procession would have gone through the town, into the town hall square. It gave a chance for Leicester’s significant Catholic population, which was largely Irish, often isolated and marginalised and excluded, to show something of their faith, and why it mattered to them. It was a great act of witness to a central belief of our Catholic faith: the Real Presence of Our Lord and Saviour in the Blessed Sacrament. It spoke of the power of Christ to sustain and transform what were often difficult and troubled lives.
Processions of the Blessed Sacrament in our towns and cities are now a relatively rare thing, at least in this country. We might come up with all kinds of reasons why they might not be such a good idea any more. We might say that society has changed, and that fewer people than ever might understand what such a procession is about. We might say therefore that it is not a good way of showing this fundamental aspect of our faith. Whilst there are certainly hurdles to be overcome, I think that Blessed Sacrament processions are probably more important now than ever.
We frequently bemoan the coverage of the Church and Church teachings in the media. The Church’s teachings are reduced simply to opposition to abortion, contraception and the redefinition of marriage. Now, there’s no doubt that these are extremely important issues, and that it’s good that our voice can be heard on them. But the Church is then presented solely in terms of those issues, without a chance to present the wider context in which they are set. We will have seen what sort of hold those presentations have in people’s minds, and how, when questioned, they know little else about the Church’s teaching and practice.
It is understandable that we might be dissatisfied about the narrow, sometimes inaccurate way in which the Church is portrayed. However, it’s also important to ask how we might play our part in reshaping and representing our faith in its fullness.
If we take the Blessed Sacrament in procession, people will look on, and be puzzled, no doubt. But does this not then give us an opportunity to speak to them, or to give them information about what it is we are doing, and why it matters to us, and why it matters for them? Our belief in the Real Presence is so central to our faith, and yet one that few people outside the Church know anything about. By taking the Blessed Sacrament in procession, we are making a public proclamation of this central doctrine of our faith in the public square. We are interrupting people’s normal daily activity with something unexpected and unfamiliar, something that they would have not otherwise encountered. It might, for some, even become the start of a journey of faith.
Readings: Genesis 14:18-20 | 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 | Luke 9:11-17
The image above is from St Etheldreda’s in London.