Corpus Christi meaning Body of Christ is a feast of celebration and thanksgiving for the institution of the Holy Communion.
It is kept today 11 June, a Thursday, to recall Maundy Thursday and we celebrate again because normally we can be more joyful now than in Holy Week.
The Mass has been hard to find recently so maybe it’s the moment to read again the reflection by Patrick O’Donovan in 1967 when attempting to explain the significance of the Eucharist:
They do it in colossal cathedrals, on kitchen tables, in chapels built on the cheap, at Baroque altars in which an instant of religious drama has been frozen in stone and contrived light, in rooms over public houses that still smell of beer and occasionally, still, in upper rooms with the doors guarded.
A man bends over a piece of unleavened bread and over a silver gilt cup with a little wine and water in it and he pronounces a formula more terrible than the sound of guns … And the majority of Christians believe that God himself is immediate and present, not in the way that he is everywhere anyway, but in the way that a man is there in the same room.
This celebration day with its processions was introduced by brave and feisty St Juliana of Liege, supported by her friend Blessed Eve, in the face of huge opposition by the male hierarchy.
Juliana said that she was passing on the wish of God for this feast day which we keep now in our hearts and hope to keep with traditional custom next year.
**Whilst Corpus Christi is observed on the traditional Thursday by the Church of England it is being transferred by the Roman Catholic Church in England & Wales to next Sunday. An exception is Arundel Cathedral, famous for its Corpus Christi Thursday carpet of flowers in past years, where there will be a live stream online Corpus Christi Mass tonight Thursday at 6.55pm.
Ascension Day on Thursday 21 May is the spiritual climax of the year.
This Thursday marks Christ’s last resurrection appearance to the disciples who report seeing him ascend.
St Paul said that Christ had been seen by over 500 men and women between resurrection (Easter) and ascension.
For some years Ascension Day has been largely ignored in Britain whilst understood better in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Finland, Holland, Norway, Serbia, Sweden and Switzerland where it is public holiday.
In the British Isles however it is in normal times faithfully kept in many towns and villages which maintain much loved old customs. Oxford, for example, has lots of tower top singing from morning to evening.
So also does Southwark Cathedral where singers are used to climbing the tower early on Ascension morning.
But without this it will still feel an extra special day to those following services on the Southwark Cathedral feed for this will be the first time since mid-Lent that worship comes again from inside the cathedral church.
The Eucharist for Ascension Day at Southwark Cathedral is at 12 noon and can be followed via the website.
The sixth Sunday of Easter is also known as Rogation Sunday since many of this week’s Rogation walks now normally happen on the Sunday.
Without the virus there would have been a tour of parish boundaries, known as beating the bounds, in Cambridge (Little St Mary’s), a procession through the town at Leighton Buzzard (The Wilkes Walk) and a country walk out to an agricultural college at Southwell (Southwell Minster).
Rogation comes from the Latin word rogare meaning to ask which was part of today’s gospel reading (John 16.24 as in Book of Common Prayer) and included the words ‘Ask and you will receive’.
By long tradition at this time God’s blessing is asked for on the crops to be harvested later in the year.
Rogation looks towards Lammas in August and Harvest Festival in October.
During outdoor Rogation processions pauses are made to read the Gospel and say prayers for good crops. Gospel Oak in north London is named after the now felled oak tree where the Gospel was read during beating the bounds.
Beating the bounds was important annual Southwark event in 1536 when Southwark Cathedral was known as Southwark Priory.
In recent years a procession has set out on a route which one year involved a boat trip along the parish boundary in Thames. Inland several stops are made to chalk a date on the ground or a building and say a prayer.
Chalk marks dating from 2004 can still be found on one or two sheltered walls near Shakespeare’s Globe.
An unusual book has been quietly published during the current lock-down.
A launch event would have highlighted the result of the special project which has been supported by a number of individuals, livery companies and churches in The City.
Faith in the City of London by Niki Gorick is a photographic book depicting activities in the City churches.
The Square Mile is one of those places where on Ash Wednesday it is not unusual to see people in the street with ash on their heads. Church attendance is above average as home county residents choose to worship near their workplace where they tend to spend long weekday hours.
The great festivals are marked outwardly such on Ascension Day when there is a ringing of Bow Bells at lunchtime and beating the bounds processions in the afternoon and early evening.
This bold living out the liturgical year is continued at weekends by the small residential population. You can see donkeys on Palm Sunday at St Giles Cripplegate, hot cross buns solemnly distributed at St Bartholomew the Great on Good Friday and egg rolling on Easter morning outside St Bride’s.
Nikki Gorick spent three years making hundreds of visits to obtain the pictures. She claims to have done so as an outsider but she got inside a vestry.
In addition to the annual customs she also records the everyday life in church. There are pictures of Mass at St Mary Moorfields, both ordinary facing the people form and extraordinary east facing, celebrated at its unusual sarcophagus altar.
And on Good Friday at St Bartholomew’s, Nikki does not just catch the hot cross buns outside but also the solemn Liturgy inside beneath the Norman arches.
We are also shown little noticed congregations of Indian and Romanian Orthodox worshipping on Sunday in the churches and Muslims praying together in a livery hall in the working week.
This book is a record of living faith to enjoy and maybe give as a present.
SIR – I was interested to read in Helena Horton’s report (April 10) that Iron Age Britons idolised hares. Every Easter Monday, we host one of Britain’s oldest continuing sporting events: the Hallaton Bottle-Kicking and Hare-Pie Scramble.
A hare pie is baked (my wife Lynne makes it), and is then paraded through Hallaton followed by thousands of people. When it arrives at the church, the village rector cuts it up, and pieces are placed in sacks.
Local villagers then wrestle for them, and for the “bottles” – small kegs of beer. Sadly, due to the coronavirus, the event is cancelled this year for only the second time in its history, which evidence suggests stretches back for over two millennia (it was staged amid the Black Death, and during both World Wars).
It will be greatly missed by the whole area. Let’s hope it can take place in 2021.
Phil Allan Chairman, Hallaton Bottle-Kicking and Hare-Pie Scramble Hallaton, Leicestershire