Covent Garden’s Corpus Christi

Newly refurbished Corpus Christi in Maiden Lane

Cardinal Vincent Nichols has declared Corpus Christi Church in Covent Garden to be the Westminster Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament.

When the delightful little Corpus Christi church in Maiden Lane was opened in 1874 it was only the second church in England to have the dedication.

St Juliana of Liege, who in the 13th century relayed God’s desire for the feast to a sceptical hierarchy, is depicted in a window.

The grotto-like building, a hidden gem, has ben beautifully restored.

The church features in Graham Greene’s End of the Affair.

Past worshippers include poet Francis Thompson and Radclyffe Hall whose novel The Well of Loneliness was the first to have a lesbian theme.

On Sunday the Mass of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi celebrated by the Cardinal included the hymn Sweet Sacrament divine written by former parish priest Francis Stanfield.

Those providing the music included two Royal Opera House singers.

The procession in Covent Garden

The Pontifical Mass was followed by a Corpus Christi procession round the market.

Going with Christ into the market place is  huge privilege and part of mission.

But it is fascinating to see how few recognise what is happening.

As the procession passed  under the wonderful high portal of St Paul’s Church there was an acrobatic entertainment continuing a few feet away. This was not bad manners. It was a lack of recognition and awareness.

The Maiden Lane church could make the procession an annual event and maybe follow the example of All Saints Margaret Street whose congregation gives out leaflets containing an explanation to puzzled onlookers as its procession passes along Oxford Street.

Procession passing between arcading as crowds shelter from sun
Entertainment continues as passing procession is ignored
The Blessed Sacrament in procession under St Paul’s Covent Garden grand porch
Corpus Christi service sheet

Corpus Christi: Juliana’s message from Liege

St Juliana of Liege

Today Thursday 31 May is Corpus Christi when we give thanks for the gift of Holy Communion.

We do this because from about 1208 St Juliana of Liege received messages from God suggesting that we should do so. She had a long struggle to convince all the male clergy that this was God’s wish.

The idea was that having just finished the Easter season we should give thanks with joy in a way we could not on Maundy Thursday. Then we acknowledged what happened at the Last Supper but were entering deep into the challenge of Holy Week.

Some countries do not keep the feast today, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday as known to Juliana, but for convenience next Sunday.

In the British Isles we are divided. Anglicans observe Corpus Christi today whilst Roman Catholics wait until Sunday.

Today 31 May is The Visitation which Roman Catholics are observing.

There are exceptions on both sides.  At Arundel Cathedral, which is Roman Catholic, the festival is today with a traditional carpet of flowers and street procession. Some Anglican churches will have their procession on Sunday.

St Juliana of Liege is depicted in a window at Corpus Christi Church in Covent Garden which is keeping the feast tonight Thursday as well as Sunday morning when the Mass will be followed by an outdoor procession at about noon.

Outdoor processions this evening Thursday (weather permitting) include noted ones at Arundel Cathedral (after 5.30pm Mass), London’s All Saints Margaret Street W1 (after 6.30pm Mass) where the route includes Oxford Street, St Martin’s Liege (after 7pm Mass ) in Belgium and St Michael’s Bedford Park (after 8pm Mass).

Corpus Christi procession in Oxford Street

Trinity Sunday: A new start

Holy Trinity Dockhead in London’s Bermondsey

This weekend we reach Trinity Sunday.

The Trinity is the name for God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. three in one and one in three.

Since the end of November we have lived through the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.

Trinity Sunday is the beginning of the second half of the year when we not only continue growing into the faith we have proclaimed but look to spreading the teaching.

The liturgical colour from Monday is green for growth and it’s the colour that, except for high days, will be with us until we start the Advent again at the end of the year.

The first high day is Thursday, Corpus Christi, when we give thanks for the gift of Holy Communion which will sustain us during the rest of the year.

Both feasts began in Liege and both were made universal by Pope John XXII.


Whit Friday: Walks and brass

Church congregations in Saddleworth will be out this morning taking part in Whit Walks.

Whit Friday remains a local holiday in parts of Lancashshire.

The Friday tradition was building up in the 1880s and today there is an ecumenical feel to the occasion: being together rather than rivalry.

At 10am today in Top Mossley in Lancashire there will be an outdoor recitation of the Lord’s Prayer and the Grace before a brass band starts to lead the procession downhill to Bottom Mossley and back.

For the rest of the day, and well into the late evening, brass bands feature in brass band contests in Mossley and Uppermill where the main street is closed.

**Manchester Whit Walk is on this weekend’s Spring Bank Holiday Monday morning.

Whitsun is Pentecost

Goosnagh Cake

Sixty years ago we would have said that Harry and Meghan had a Whitsun wedding. Philip Larkin wrote a poem called The Whitsun Weddings.

Pentecost used to be a big holiday weekend in England as it still is in France.

It was in 1965 that the Whit Monday Bank Holiday was rebranded Spring Bank Holiday and fixed on the last Monday in May. Now it only occasionally coincides with Whitsun.

Since then the name Whitsun, derived from the white worn by newly baptised at this time of the year, has given way to the original name Pentecost.

Whitsun was, and in some places still is, a time for special food.

Goosnargh in Lancashire, well-known for the Goosnargh duck, has a Whitsun speciality with caraway seeds called Goosnargh Cake.

It is more like a biscuit although a little larger than the Cornish Fairings originally sold at Whitsun and Corpus Christi fairs in the Duchy.

Pentecost marks the time Peter and the other Apostles in the upper room received the holy spirit in the form of fire and the sound of wind.

The Virgin Mary was present in the room.

Whit Monday or Pentecost Monday, even when not  holiday, is from this year being dedicated to Mary, Mother of the Church by decree of Pope Francis.

In Lancashire and Manchester there will be the traditional Whit Walks over the coming week, including many on Whit Friday, when Christians publicly demonstrate their faith.

A Cornish Fairing
Fairings now sold in packs as well as boxes


St Matthias: an appropriate date this year

St Matthias (Workshop of Simone Martini c 1317-19)

Today is the Sunday between The Ascension last Thursday and Pentecost next Sunday.

The first followers of Christ, about 120 people, spent the ten days in between in Jerusalem waiting for the Holy Spirit.

They used the time to choose a replacement for Judas, the group’s treasurer, who had betrayed Jesus and triggered his arrest just before the first Easter Day.

Prayer and the drawing of lots, maybe involving a form of election, resulted in Matthias being chosen. He was the replacement apostle.

Tomorrow Monday is St Matthias Day. It’s always 14 May but this year’s Easter date means that it falls at exactly the right time.

All Hallows-by-the-Tower beating the bounds

The Verger with staves leads the procession on Tower Hill

The annual Ascension Day beating the bounds took place today in bright sunshine at All Hallows-by-the-Tower parish on the edge of the City of London.

The boundary runs up against the Tower of London and along the middle of the Thames.

Custom House is in the parish as is the charming garden ruin of St Dunstan-in-the-East. Hence the St Dunstan’s College students taking a leading role in the ceremony.

The afternoon ended with Ascension Day evensong.

Doggett’s Coat & Badge winners with the beaters from St Dunstan’s on Tower Hill.
The party getting ready to go out into the Pool of London and find the boundary in the water
The procession on Tower Pier returning to the shore
The procession leaving St Dunstan-in-the East

Ascension tower top singing

Southwark Cathedral tower souvenir mug

Thursday 10 May is Ascension Day when we recall Christ ascending to heaven forty days after his resurrection.

This is the climax of Easter marked in many places by tower-top singing.

Choirs ascend their church tower to mark the day.

It will happen at St Davids Cathedral at 5.30am; Southwark Cathedral at 7.30am, Lichfield Cathedral at 7.40am and Great St Mary’s Cambridge at 7.45am.

The noon singing in Cambridge from the top of St John’s College chapel tower stops people outside in the street.

At Gloucester Cathedral 7am  Eucharist in the Quire is followed by procession to Cathedral Green as the choir sings from the top of the tower.

South Cerney Church in the Gloucester Diocese has long kept the tradition at 6.30am.

This year the Roman Catholic Church of England & Wales has abandoned its recent confusing policy of moving the Ascension observance to the following Sunday.

Together Anglican and Roman Catholic churches are again keeping the 40th day together on the traditional Biblical day.

Rogation Days

Rogation Sunday at Mudeford

Tomorrow is the Sixth Sunday of Easter but it is often known as Rogation Sunday because we are about to have several Rogation days in the lead up to Ascension Day on Thursday.

We are coming to the climax of Easter when Jesus, having risen on Easter Day, now ascends to heaven thus ending his earthly appearances.

Rogation is a time when we ask a blessing for the crops or trace out the parish boundary by beating its bounds.

The two ceremonies are often combined.

At Southwell Minster the 10.30am Rogationtide Service is followed by the traditional procession across countryside to Brackenhurst where the agricultural college kindly hosts a light lunch.

At Mudeford on Sunday afternoon 3pm  the church congregation, local people and visitors will stand on the quay and watch a  priest from the parish church take to the water and pray for a good fish harvest.

Mudeford is on the Dorset/Hampshire border and at the entrance to Christchurch Harbour where salmon are caught.

But next Thursday clergy and school children from All Hallows-by-the-Tower take to the River Thames as part of beating the bounds.

May Day starts Month of Mary

Jack in the Green outside Southwark Cathedral

This morning many people were up early to welcome the month of May.

Morris dancers were performing on Runnymede at 5am.

Choirboys sang at 6am from the top of Magdalen College Oxford. We shall see more of this on Ascension Day next week.

It was also the hour for the ‘Obby ‘Oss to appear at Minehead. Another will be seen this morning to late tonight at Padstow.

The Jack in the Green will be seen around Greenwich this afternoon.

Today is St Joseph the Worker Day which is a second feast this spring for the husband of the Virgin Mary.

May is the Month of Mary when we shall see May processions and the crowning of Mary statues.

The climax is The Visitation and Corpus Christi which this year clash at the end of the month.

Leigh Hatts