In a few days Roman Catholics in Trinidad and Tobago will celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. This year, however, with the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception closed for renovations, there are several changes to the annual celebrations in Port-of-Spain. On the day of Corpus Christi Holy Mass will be celebrated in the Grand Stand at the Queen’s Park Savannah beginning at 8.30 am. Immediately following the mass the procession with the blessed sacrament will make its way downtown, ending in the courtyard of the Cathedral where benediction will be said. Another named benediction site is outside of the Rosary Primary School. To facilitate pilgrims coming in from the country areas a shuttle service will be in operation to take people from downtown to the Savannah, as well as take people back to the Savannah to collect their vehicles after the procession. Celebration of Corpus Christi has been over the decades, one of the most significant displays of Catholic Culture and Identity in Trinidad and Tobago. The large procession with the blessed sacrament in downtown Port-of-Spain has always attracted, not only the Catholic laity, but people of other religious persuasions.
The significance of the procession as an integral part of the celebrations was captured by former Archbishop Edward Gilbert in 2007 when he said, “The procession that will follow the mass is an interesting symbol of God’s presence among us. The procession is a sign of witness to our faith in the eucharist, but it is not a sign of triumphalism. A procession is a symbol that we understand that we are pilgrims in this world. We are a people on the move.” He added, “Our response to the presence of God in the eucharist must be conscious and explicit. Usually, we respond through prayerful silence or culturally acceptable forms of reverence eg through posture and gesture. The most common forms of reverence are genuflecting, kneeling and bowing. Each is a sign that we understand we are in the presence of the sacred.” Continuing Archbishop Gilbert said, “We are on a journey, but we are not alone. As the ark of the covenant was a symbol of God’s presence to the Israelites as they journeyed through the desert, so the blessed sacrament is present for us not only during the procession, but also during life’s journey.” This all-inclusive procession would see members of the various Catholic groups like boy scouts and cadets and has become over the years a spectator’s joy. This year, the procession, since it would move from the Queen’s Park Savannah to the Cathedral downtown, chances are it could possibly attract many more spectators to this powerful show of Catholic culture and identity in Trinidad and Tobago.
While a lot of attention has always been paid to the large Port-of-Spain procession, many of the parishes in the Archdiocese ensure the Corpus Christi tradition is kept alive with smaller processions in the various districts in keeping with the Catholic cultural traditions. Corpus Christi (Latin for body of Christ), properly called the solemnity of the most holy body and blood of Christ, does not commemorate a particular event in Jesus’ life, but rather celebrates the body and blood of Christ truly present in the eucharist. In the archdiocese of Port-of-Spain the feast is usually celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but in dioceses where the solemnity of the most holy body and blood of Christ is not a holy day of obligation, it is assigned to the Sunday after the most Holy Trinity. The procession which follows after the mass has long been part of Catholic tradition. The observance of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar dates back to the 13th century and was primarily due to the constant petitions of an Augustinian nun Juliana of Liege. From her early youth, she always had a veneration for the blessed sacrament and always longed for a special feast in its honour.
Church history has it that her desire for a feast was increased following a vision of the church under the appearance of the full moon having a dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity. In 1208 Juliana reported her first vision of Christ during which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years, but she kept it a secret. When she eventually told her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop. Sr Juliana kept up her petitions and sought the help of the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher and Jacques Pantaleon, Archdeacon of Liege, who later became Pope Urban IV, as well as Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liege. Finally, in 1246 Bishop Robert convened a Synod and ordered a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held each year thereafter. While Corpus Christi is primarily celebrated by the Catholic church, it is also included in the calendar of several Anglican churches, most notably the Church of England. On the local calendar, is interesting to note that next year, 2013, Corpus Christi falls on the same day as Indian Arrival Day (May 30). Further, the following year 2014, Corpus Christi will be celebrated on the same day as Labour Day in Trinidad and Tobago, June 19.
VERNON KHELAWAN is the Media Relations Officer at Catholic Media Services Ltd, the official communication arm of the Archdiocese of Port-of-Spain.