As the Solemnity of Corpus Christi—the Body and Blood of Christ—draws near, many parishes are planning Eucharistic processions, and our country is preparing for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage which will begin in May 2024! We’ve been blessed as a Church to celebrate Corpus Christi for over 750 years.
The significance of this solemnity is as relevant today as it was in 1264, when Pope Urban IV declared it a feast of the Universal Church. A year before that, a priest was struggling to believe that the Eucharist was truly Jesus’ Body and Blood. While celebrating Mass at the tomb of St. Christina, something miraculous happened. Just as the priest spoke the words of Consecration, the host began to bleed! When the pope heard what had happened, he instructed the bishop of the diocese to bring the host and the corporal with the drops of blood to the cathedral in Orvieto. This procession was met by Pope Urban IV, and the relics were placed in the cathedral where they can still be venerated today. The pope created the Solemnity of Corpus Christi as an opportunity to celebrate the gift of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ truly present in the Eucharist.
Corpus Christi processions and Eucharistic Pilgrimages are wonderful ways to celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. They do require some forethought, but these public expressions of our faith need not be reserved to distant locations or entail elaborate planning. And they are certainly not just for pious adults. Rather, anyone can participate in processions and pilgrimages, including children! When you consider sharing these prayerful practices with children, use the following talking points and activities to help them grow in understanding and devotion.
A Eucharistic procession is like a holy parade that brings Jesus, truly present in the Holy Eucharist, into the world that he loves. The Blessed Sacrament is placed in a monstrance and carried out of the church by a priest. A Eucharistic procession sometimes begins at one church and ends at another and is connected to the celebration of the Mass or a time of Adoration.
The procession can be a short walk around the neighborhood of a church or can stretch for miles and miles from start to finish. Along the way, Jesus is accompanied by priests, deacons, altar servers, and people of all ages. Together they can pray the Rosary, sing hymns, or walk in silent prayer. Processions are often planned for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi but can take place just about any time of the year.
The altar servers or other members of the Eucharistic procession might carry a canopy, processional cross, candles, a thurible, or bells. One type of processional canopy, a baldacchino, is held over the monstrance by four servers holding a pole for each corner. This creates a sacred space that is set aside for the Eucharist during the movement of the procession. The processional cross is a large crucifix attached to a long handle that can be lifted high for all to see. The candles remind us of Jesus, the Light of the World, truly present in the Holy Eucharist. The thurible is filled with burning incense, which releases sweet-smelling smoke that rises to the sky, symbolizing our prayers rising to heaven. The bells incorporate another of our five senses, announcing that Jesus is here with us. A Eucharistic procession is a wonderful opportunity to worship our Lord and pray together as a community as we witness our faith publicly to the world.
A pilgrimage is a trip made for a religious purpose to a holy site. Pilgrimages help us remember that our whole life is a journey toward our eternal home in heaven. On this journey we are strengthened through prayer and the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, which is our food for this earthly pilgrimage.
Christians might go on pilgrimage to pray for a specific intention, to do penance, or to grow closer to God. Pilgrimages always include two elements: prayer and some sort of travel, especially walking. Prayer takes the form of intercession and/or petition, praying for a specific intention (like for healing or discernment), making a sacrifice, and participating in the sacraments through Mass and Confession.
A pilgrimage could take you around the world or it could be right in your own backyard. Someday you might plan a trip to Jerusalem, Rome, Lourdes, or Fatima, but you can still go on pilgrimage right in your own town or even your own home! A pilgrimage to your parish church, a nearby shrine, or a statue in your garden is an opportunity to pray and learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
The distance of the pilgrimage does not determine its effectiveness. Our openness to accompany the Lord can create a spirit of pilgrimage even within the walls of our home. Ultimately, every pilgrimage is a journey of the heart in which we follow the path that the Lord has given us to travel on our way to heaven.
“Pilgrimages evoke our earthly journey toward heaven and are traditionally very special occasions for renewal in prayer. For pilgrims seeking living water, shrines are special places for living the forms of Christian prayer ‘in Church’.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2691
• Stay after Mass to make an Act of Thanksgiving with your family.
• Research local adoration chapels near you, and go for a short visit.
• Add one daily Mass to your week, and offer it for a special intention.
• Stop into your home parish for a few quiet minutes of prayer.
• Find a church to attend for weekend Mass while on vacation or a trip.
• Attend a Holy Hour of Eucharistic adoration as a family.
• Go to Mass at a local Catholic church you don’t normally attend as a simple local pilgrimage.
• Participate in a Eucharistic procession and bring along a friend.
• What are some reasons that people organize parades? Did you know that we can have a parade for Jesus called a Eucharistic procession? If you were organizing a Eucharistic procession, what kinds of things would you include to show Jesus you love him and to share Jesus with the world?
• Where are some local pilgrimage sites you would like to visit with our family?
• Where would you like to go on pilgrimage around the world someday?
• How do you think our family should celebrate the Solemnity of Corpus Christi this year?
• You can use this printable set to make your own model of a Eucharistic Procession [English | Spanish] with a priest, servers, and lay people. The priest can carry the Monstrance and the servers can carry the processional canopy, candles, cross, and thurible. Use the instructions on each page to put the model pieces together, and then set up the whole Eucharistic Procession on a table or the floor, or even outside. Sing a Eucharistic hymn or say a prayer, praising the Lord for the gift of the Eucharist!
• Use the Eucharistic Pilgrimage Summer Bucket List [English | Spanish] to plan and implement some goals for your family to grow in devotion to the Eucharist through the spirit of pilgrimage this summer.
• Use the Pilgrimage Passport [English | Spanish] to list pilgrimages that you would like to go on. Do some research and look for local places your family can visit. On the inside pages, keep track of your pilgrimages and prayer intentions. Use the Pilgrimage Passport Stamps [English | Spanish] to mark your Pilgrimage Passport, as you make a pilgrimage, big or small.
• After going on a pilgrimage, send a Pilgrimage Postcard [English | Spanish] to a friend or family member. Draw a picture on the front of the postcard of the pilgrimage site and write a note on the back about your journey there. You can let the recipient know that you prayed for them!
• Check out the website for the National Eucharistic Pilgrimage, which will take place from May through July of 2024. Further information will be available in the coming year. If you are able, consider joining the pilgrimage along one of the routes, or plan your own pilgrimage in solidarity with the movement. A planning guide is available here.
• Contact your parish and ask if a Eucharistic procession is planned for this Corpus Christi or anytime in the future. If so, mark your calendar and plan to attend as a family. If not, ask what you could do to help plan a procession that all can participate in. The Knights of Columbus have a useful planning guide available here.
• The miracle that led to establishing the feast of Corpus Christi is only one of hundreds of documented Eucharistic Miracles. Check out the website originally compiled by Bl. Carlo Acutis on Eucharistic Miracles of the world.
“Come, let us go up to the Lord’s mountain, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths.” Isaiah 2:3