One of the best memories of my early years, which were spent at St Edward’s College, Malta, are the memories of the Corpus Christi procession. Our teacher was a very good woman, now long dead, called Monica Carey, and as Corpus Christi approached, she would make sure we could all sing the appropriate hymns in the Westminster Hymnal, and also employ us to pull apart roses to make rose petals that would be cast in the path of the Blessed Sacrament. The school chapel had a canopy for the procession, and an ombrellino too which was kept in one corner of the sanctuary. Our chaplain in those days was a wonderful old priest, Fr Henry Ferro, who had studied at the Beda after a distinguished military career. I owe Mrs Carey and Fr Ferro an enormous debt: between them, they taught me to love the Blessed Sacrament, and to revere the Real Presence. Other people too will remember them I am sure.
The lesson from this is that Blessed Sacrament processions work. People remember them. They sink into the memory. They make a visual impact, and Catholicism is a visual religion: it invites you to look, to feel and to believe. There is no better way of doing this than through a Blessed Sacrament procession, or its little sister, Benediction.
Worship of the Eucharist outside Mass, to give it its preferred liturgical designation, not only teaches us our faith, but it also is reparation for the disrespect that is shown to the Blessed Sacrament. Recently we have all read about some stunt in Harvard which the perpetrators no doubt thought really cool and clever. The response of the local church in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has been to hold a Holy Hour with Blessed Sacrament procession in reparation. You can see some pictures of the event here and the website The New Liturgical Movement has pictures here. The people attending are perhaps really cool and clever too, but the photographs give the impression that they are fixed on something that is way beyond themselves, namely the visible sign of God’s love for us in the abiding presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament. The first thing I notice about these events is that they remind us of the central truth that it is not about us, but about Him, whose Church it is. The second thing I notice is the wide spectrum of people that attend, who all find unity in the worship of Christ their Head.
I do not know about you, but that is the sort of Church that I want: one focussed on its Head, Christ the Lord.
I am glad that I have seen the pictures of the procession from Harvard. In a way the silly stunt organised by some outfit called the Harvard Extension Cultural Studies Club has backfired rather pleasingly. For where Cambridge, Massachusetts, leads, we can all follow. Corpus Christi will be celebrated on 22nd June in England. I am thinking of my Blessed Sacrament procession now. It won’t be very grand, as we have no ombrellino (unless someone wants to lend or give us one?), but it will, I hope teach the same lesson that I learned long ago, thanks to Mrs Carey and Fr Ferro. They, I hope, now see in reality what they once saw in sacramental signs, as, I hope to one day. May God reward them for teaching me, and many others, such a good lesson all those years ago.