There is no greater evangelist than the Blessed Sacrament itself. As the source and summit of the faith, even the heart of an indifferent onlooker cannot help but be moved in some quiet way by the sight of Christ as present in the Eucharist.
And so, though the Eucharistic procession that made its way down Historic Mitchell Street on the evening of June 15 was about celebrating the Somenity of the Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi) and the institution of the Blessed Sacrament, it was also about bringing the sight of that Host — and all the sacrificial, salvific love contained therein — to the dozens of bystanders who emerged from restaurants, shops and homes, smartphones in hand, to take in the view.
“The Eucharist likes to be seen,” said Canon Benoit Jayr, ICRSS, administrator and rector at St. Stanislaus, one of three parishes that collaborated for the procession. “An outdoor procession is Catholic life made more accessible for people who do not go to church every Sunday. It is an act of public worship, an act of faith in the Eucharist and in Jesus present among men.”
St. Stanislaus hosts a Corpus Christi procession every year, but this is the first time they have aligned with St. Anthony of Padua and St. Vincent de Paul for a tri-parish effort in staging the event. The idea was to make a grand statement in support and adoration of the Body of Christ, said organizer Paddy Noone of St. Stanislaus.
“We’re in a unique spot in the South Side in that we really represent cultural diversity of Catholicism. St. Stanislaus has a French priest, and we have Colombian and Venezuelan priests as parish neighbors,” he said, noting that public Eucharistic processions are much more common in other countries. “This year, we got together and said, we’re kind of tired of seeing all these protests get all the news coverage. We want to roll our big guns out and have something that shows Christ King.”
The evening began at 6:30 p.m. with a standing-room-only Solemn High Mass at St. Stanislaus. In the Extraordinary Form, the Solemn High Mass is distinct from the Low Mass by the inclusion of more sacramentals, singing and the chanting of the Epistle and Gospel. The priest is also assisted by a deacon and subdeacon. Many of the congregation were members of other parishes and new to the Mass as offered in Latin, but missals were on hand with full translations and explanations of the priests’ actions, and ushers helped to assist newcomers in how to receive the Eucharist kneeling at the Communion rail.
The parish is always happy to welcome new faces, said Noone, and no one should feel excluded simply because of unfamiliarity with the Extraordinary Form.
“We welcome everybody. If you go to St. Stan’s, there are a lot of people like my family that grew up with the Novus Ordo and we just became attracted to the Latin and the old traditions,” he said. “We’re all fellow Catholics.”
It is a rite at once resplendent and contemplative, and it set the tone for the remainder of the evening — a reverence for traditions that is made accessible and friendly — that literally goes into the streets for ministry. After the conclusion of Mass, the monstrance containing the Eucharist was carried west down Mitchell Street beneath an elaborate canopy, followed by a tri-parish choir singing hymns like “Pange Lingua” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name.” Flower petals were strewn before the way of the procession, attendees carried candles and several children wore their First Communion outfits. A police escort stopped traffic at all cross-streets.
After a short four-block walk, the procession entered St. Anthony Church on South 9th Street for a consecration of the family to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Pastor Fr. Hugo Londono addressed the crowd first in Spanish and then in English. “It is an honor to have each of you here today on this special day, this festivity of Corpus Christi,” he said. “As a community of believers, we walk the streets…to pray for the safety of this city, for our parishes, for our communities.”
The procession then walked another 14 blocks to St. Vincent de Paul Church on the corner of Mitchell and 21st Streets, where a Benediction service concluded the evening around 9:45 p.m.
The traditional day of the feast — the Thursday after Trinity Sunday — was deliberately chosen for the procession, said Canon Jayr. The faithful’s Sunday obligation to attend Mass was transferred to the nearest Sunday in 1983 by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
“It’s understandable, because people work,” said Canon Jayr. “But (that means the feast) has also gone out of our daily schedule. It was an effect of secularization. We thought it would be nice to restore this celebration of Corpus Christi on a Thursday — a day of the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood — to motivate the people of the neighborhood and the parish.”
The crowd, which included all ages, from babies in slings and strollers to seniors in wheelchairs, remained largely intact throughout the three hours of events. As the Eucharist made its way past businesses and homes along Mitchell Street, dozens of people came outside to watch and take photographs of the procession, which often stretched the length of a whole block.
That was another unexpected benefit of the timing of the procession: the street was far more populated on a Thursday evening than it would have been on a Sunday morning.
After all, the Eucharist likes to be seen.