Corpus Christi: Christians venerate Eucharist, honor saints

Group of people dressed in traditional clothing walking down street

A Corpus Christi procession. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

SUNDAY, JUNE 3: Pentecost has passed for both Eastern and Western Christians, and today, the faithful observe the Sunday of All Saints and the Feast of Corpus Christi (respectively). While Western Christians observe All Saints’ Day in November, Eastern Orthodox Christians honor this feast on the Sunday following Pentecost. On this first Sunday of June, Eastern Christians honor all saints—known and unknown—and Western Christians set aside a day for sole veneration of the Eucharist, in the Feast of Corpus Christi. Note: The Feast of Corpus Christi is liturgically celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday—this year, May 31—but is moved to a Sunday in places where it is not a holy day of obligation.

EASTERN: SUNDAY OF ALL SAINTS

On the first Sunday following Pentecost, Eastern Orthodox Christians mark the Sunday of All Saints. What began as the Sunday of All Martyrs now includes all saints whose works honor God—the righteous, the prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, shepherds, teachers and holy monastics, both known and unknown. Eastern Christians honor them for their examples of virtue, and as intercessors for the behalf of the living with God.

WESTERN: THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI

Known also as The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Feast of Corpus Christi celebrates the tradition and belief in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and his real presence in the Eucharist. While the Eucharist is recognized and honored on Holy Thursday, its celebration can be overshadowed by the approaching Paschal (Easter) Triduum. Thus a day was designated with the sole purpose of recognizing the Eucharist. At the end of Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Catholic churches may hold a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by a Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

ORIGINS: A DAY FOR THE EUCHARIST & JULIANA OF LIEGE

The institution of a day for the Eucharist in the church calendar began with the decades-long work of Juliana of Liege, a 13th-century woman of Belgium who was orphaned and raised by Augustinian nuns. With a special veneration for the Blessed Sacrament, Juliana reported having a dream of the church under a full moon, with one dark spot: the absence of a solemnity for the Eucharist. For 20 years, Juliana had visions of Christ, and she relayed these to her confessor. Word passed, and Pope Urban IV instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost for the entire Latin Rite. Pope John XXII promulgated a collection of laws in 1317 that made the feast universal.

 

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Corpus Christi and All Saints: After Pentecost for Western and Eastern Christians

Stained glass window with yellow fancy goblet and wheat beneath, blue tinted background

A stained glass window of the Eucharist. Photo by stainedglassartist, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, JUNE 7: Pentecost has passed for both Eastern and Western Christians, and today, the faithful observe the Sunday of All Saints and the Feast of Corpus Christi (respectively). While Western Christians observe All Saints’ Day in November, Eastern Orthodox Christians honor this feast on the Sunday following Pentecost. On this first Sunday of June, Eastern Christians honor all saints—known and unknown—and Western Christians set aside a day for sole veneration of the Eucharist, in the Feast of Corpus Christi. Note: The Feast of Corpus Christi is liturgically celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday—this year, June 4—but is moved to a Sunday in places where it is not a holy day of obligation.

EASTERN: SUNDAY OF ALL SAINTS

On the first Sunday following Pentecost, Eastern Orthodox Christians mark the Sunday of All Saints. What began as the Sunday of All Martyrs now includes all saints whose works honor God—the righteous, the prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, shepherds, teachers and holy monastics, both known and unknown. Eastern Christians honor them for their examples of virtue, and as intercessors for the behalf of the living with God.

WESTERN: THE FEAST OF CORPUS CHRISTI

In Christian tradition: Known also as The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, the Feast of Corpus Christi celebrates the tradition and belief in the body and blood of Jesus Christ, and his real presence in the Eucharist. While the Eucharist is recognized and honored on Holy Thursday, its celebration can be overshadowed by the approaching Paschal (Easter) Triduum. Thus a day was designated with the sole purpose of recognizing the Eucharist. At the end of Mass on the Feast of Corpus Christi, Catholic churches may hold a procession of the Blessed Sacrament, followed by a Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

The institution of a day for the Eucharist in the Church calendar began with the decades-long work of Juliana of Liege, a 13th-century woman of Belgium who was orphaned and raised by Augustinian nuns. With a special veneration for the Blessed Sacrament, Juliana reported having a dream of the Church under a full moon, with one dark spot: the absence of a solemnity for the Eucharist. For 20 years, Juliana had visions of Christ, and she relayed these to her confessor. (Wikipedia has details.) Word passed, and Pope Urban IV instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost for the entire Latin Rite. Pope John XXII promulgated a collection of laws in 1317 that made the feast universal.

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Sunday of All Saints: Orthodox Christians honor named and unnamed

Icon painting of a crowd, in lines, of saints

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, JUNE 15: It’s the Sunday of All Saints in the Orthodox Christian Church today, as the faithful recall the devoted saints of God, known and unknown—along with the Righteous, Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Confessors, Shepherds, Teacher and Holy Monastics. Although many saints are recognized on a specific, individualized day, there are countless others throughout history that Orthodox Christians believe will forever go unnamed. (Read more from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) It is those saints—those who have been keepers of God’s commandments and “shining examples of virtue”—who are recognized and celebrated today.

The Apostle Paul described the achievements of the saints this way: “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every burden, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

ALL ARE CALLED TO BECOME SAINTS

The Orthodox Research Institute points out that all Christians are called to become saints, and that the highly regarded figures were merely human beings willing to dedicate their entire being to God. Therefore, Sunday of All Saints also makes an appeal to every Christian, no matter the age or place in life, to dedicate all of life to God and become a saint. Orthodox teachers stress that the Gospels call saints to do three things: publicly confess Christ as Lord; love Christ and “take up his cross;” and follow Christ, no matter the sacrifice that must be faced.

While originally a feast for martyrs, it was Emperor Leo VI of the Byzantine Empire who all but transformed this Orthodox feast into a collective commemoration for all saints. Leo’s wife, Empress Theophano, had led a devout life before her death in 893 CE. Wishing to honor his deceased wife, Leo built a church for her—and was told the act was forbidden. Rather than forgo the church, Leo instead dedicated it to all saints, in the hopes that if his late wife were, in fact, among the righteous, she could be honored whenever and wherever the feast was observed.

Patriarch Bartholomew in long white beard and black traditional clothing, speaking at a podium in a dimly-lit churc

Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I has been making historical advances in warming relations between the Eastern and Western Christian churches. Photo in public domain courtesy of Flickr

IN THE NEWS:
FRANCIS AND BARTHOLOMEW
MEET IN JERUSALEM

Relations between the Orthodox Christian and Catholic churches have been warming lately. That doesn’t mean that major, historic splits are likely to be bridged anytime soon, experts warn. For example, the annual date of Easter often is different in Eastern and Western churches.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I recently met at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, in Jerusalem, to pray together and hold dialogue. (Read more from Fox News and the UK’s The Guardian.) The two also marked, together, the 50th anniversary of the 1964 meeting between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras, in Jerusalem. That historical meeting is credited with ending 900 years of icy relations between the two churches.

In his public messages, Patriarch Batholomew has expressed a keen interest in continuing to improve relations between Eastern and Western Christianity.

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Sunday of All Saints: Orthodox Christians recall Holy Spirit’s perfections

Orthodox icon of Jesus surrounded by saintsSUNDAY, JUNE 30: Orthodox Christians commemorate saints every Sunday, but today, all tiers of the righteous are elevated for the Sunday of All Saints. As designated by St. Peter of Damascus, five categories of saints exist: Apostles, Martyrs, Prophets, Heirarchs and Monastic Saints. St. Nicodemus later added one more category to Peter’s lineup: the Righteous. Today, the hymnology for the feast of All Saints lists these six categories, in order of their importance to the Church and how they helped it to either establish or retain true to its values.

As noted in our Orthodox Pentecost story last week, the Sunday of All Saints always falls on the first Sunday after Pentecost—owing to the belief that the descent of the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) allows humans to rise above a fallen state and attain sainthood. (Learn more from the Orthodox Church in America or the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) Christians view saints as the ultimate keepers of God’s Commandments; prime examples of God’s virtue on earth; as true friends of God. It’s held that all saints, no matter the rank, were perfected by the Holy Spirit.

The Paschal season comes to a close in the Orthodox Christian Church today, and more localized saints may be honored on the Sundays immediately following today’s feast. (Wikipedia has details.) Veneration is to an icon depicting Jesus Christ upon a throne in heaven, surrounded by the saints.

A BYZANTINE FEAST; A ROMANTIC GESTURE

The feast of All Saints gained immense popularity in the 9th century, during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Leo VI. Leo’s wife, Theophano, was renowned through the Empire as benefactor to the poor, a caretaker for orphans and widows, and a counselor to the grieving. After Theophano’s death, Leo declared that the Sunday after Pentecost would be dedicated to All Saints, so that his wife—one whom he regarded as among the Righteous—would be honored forevermore, whenever the Feast of All Saints was observed.

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