This weekend the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ, a feast perhaps better known by the Latin Corpus Christi. At its core, the solemnity is a celebration of the Tradition and belief in the Eucharist as the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Many folks wonder why this celebration is not integral with Holy Thursday. It was, mixed in with other themes, e.g., institution of the priesthood. And, all this occurs in the shadow of Good Friday. The placement of the celebration was not one that necessarily lends itself to a joyful celebration.
Saint Juliana of Liège, O.Praem, was the one who became the spark leading to a joyous celebration of Corpus Christi. For her devotion, life, and efforts, she is known as the “Apostle of the Blessed Sacrament.” Liège was already a center for devotion to the Eucharist, so from her early youth, Juliana had great veneration for the Eucharist and longed for a special feast day in its honor. In 1208 at age 16, she began having visions of the moon in its full splendor, crossed diametrically by a dark stripe. In time, she came to understand that the moon symbolized the life of the Church on earth, the opaque line, on the other hand, represented the absence of a liturgical feast in honor of Christ’s Body and Blood. Not having any way to bring about such a feast, she kept her thoughts to herself, except for sharing them with Blessed Eve of Liège, who lived in a cell adjacent to the Basilica of St. Martin, and a few other trusted sisters in her monastery. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years, but she maintained it as a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the Bishop of Liège, Robert de Thorete as well as petitioning the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so Bishop Robert ordered in 1246 a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held in the diocese each year thereafter on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. In 1252, now Cardinal-Legate established the feast for his whole jurisdiction (Germany, Dacia, Bohemia, and Moravia), to be celebrated on the Thursday after the Octave of Trinity
The archdeacon of the Diocese of Liège, Jacques Pantaléon of Troyes was also won over to the cause of the Feast of Corpus Christi during his time in the Diocese of Liège. He eventually became Pope Urban IV in 1264. In addition to his devotion to St Juliana’s vision, the feast of Corpus Christi was also proposed by St. Thomas Aquinas in order to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist, emphasizing the joy of the Eucharist being the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. On August 11, 1264 the pope instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost as a feast for the entire Latin Rite, by the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. It was the first papally-mandated feast for the world-wide church.