“Of the Holy Eucharist” — The Feast of Corpus Christi

God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a
wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion:
Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and
Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit
of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Donna with Elements

(This photo was taken at the Eucharist on The Seventh Sunday of Easter on May 13, 2018)

The Encyclopedia of the Episcopal Church has this to say about Corpus Christi:

Corpus Christi, Feast of

This feast commemorates the institution of the eucharist by Jesus on the night of his betrayal and arrest. It is often associated with a festive procession that follows the celebration of the eucharist. A consecrated host in a monstrance is prominently displayed in this procession. It is treated as the triumphant Christ the King. This feast is observed in the Roman Catholic Church on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Emphasis on Jesus’ Passion in the Maundy Thursday service led to selection of another day for celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, even though the eucharist was instituted by Jesus on the Thursday before his death. The Feast of Corpus Christi is not included in the feasts of our Lord or other feasts of the Episcopal calendar of the church year. However, it is celebrated by some Episcopal parishes, especially those with an Anglo-catholic piety.

The BCP provides a proper collect and readings for the celebration “Of the Holy Eucharist” among the “Various Occasions” for optional use. This service is a commemoration of the institution of the eucharist. It may be celebrated at any time, subject to the rules set forth in the calendar of the church year. A Prayer Book rubric notes that this celebration is especially suitable for Thursdays. The collect for this celebration is a revised version of the collect composed by St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) for the Feast of Corpus Christi (BCP, p. 252). The BCP provides another version of this prayer for use “After Receiving Communion” (p. 834).

Observance of this feast dates from the thirteenth century. The nun Juliana of Liège (d. 1258), in Belgium, became an advocate for such a feast in response to a vision. The first Feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated at Liège around 1247. Its observance by the western church was commanded by Pope Urban IV in 1264.

A procession of the host has been a prominent part of the celebration since the fourteenth century. Historically, in medieval times, cycles of mystery plays were performed around the time of the Feast of Corpus Christi in France, Germany, and England. These plays dramatized salvation history with stories from the OT and NT.

Anglican and Episcopal ambivalence about the Feast of Corpus Christi is likely related to its historic association with the Roman Catholic dogma of transubstantiation. Urban IV commissioned Aquinas to compose the special Mass and offices for the feast. Aquinas also composed hymns for this celebration. Aquinas’s hymn, “Lauda Sion,” was originally composed as the sequence hymn for the eucharist on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The “Tantum ergo” was originally Aquinas’s hymn for vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The Hymnal 1982 includes both the “Lauda Sion” (Hymn 320) and the “Tantum ergo” (Hymn 330; Hymns 329/331, stanzas 5-6), but with Aquinas’s original references to transubstantiation omitted.