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1st time in 40 years: Pope will celebrate Corpus Christi in Ostia, as Paul VI did in 1968

AFP
Photo courtesy of AFP
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Before John Paul II's election, feast of the Body and Blood was held at various places in Rome

For the first time in 40 years, the papal Corpus Christi celebration will return to “another tradition,” being celebrated outside Rome, affirmed the Vicariate of Rome on Tuesday. Following in the footsteps of Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis will go on this occasion to the city of Ostia.

Since 1978, the pontiffs have been in the habit of celebrating this solemnity at the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, which is the pope’s cathedral.

The celebration has been followed by a procession through the streets of Rome to Saint Mary Major.

This year, the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ will be celebrated in a particularly popular area of the seaside town of Ostia, approximately 20 miles (30 km) from the capital.

“We are interrupting a tradition,” said Bishop Paolo Lojudice, auxiliary bishop of Rome for the southern sector, “but we are renewing another.”

Indeed, Pope Francis is following in the footsteps of one of his predecessors, Pope Paul VI (1963-1978).

Pope Paul celebrated the solemnity of Corpus Christi in this coastal city in 1968. Before 1978, the Corpus Christi festival took place at different locations in the Italian capital. According to Bishop Lojudice, this choice is an expression of the “pastoral logic” of Pope Francis: that of the “magisterium of signs” which wants to carry the Church to the peripheries and “the most delicate situations.”

This year, the Successor of Peter will preside over Mass at 6 pm in the Square in front of Saint Monica Church. At the end of the Eucharistic Celebration, concelebrated with Bishop Angelo De Donatis, his vicar, as well as the auxiliary bishops and priests of the parishes of Ostia, the Bishop of Rome will go in procession with the Blessed Sacrament along a route ending near the Church of Our Lady of Bonaria.

A feast day now celebrated on Sunday

So that the greatest number of people can participate, the pope had already decided in 2017 to shift the celebration from Thursday to the following Sunday, as many dioceses do.

Until last year, this solemnity was celebrated in Rome on the Thursday following the octave of Pentecost, as a reminder of Holy Thursday, as established by Pope Urban IV (1261-1264). 

In 1264, Pope Urban IV established the solemnity of the Body and Blood of Christ to celebrate the real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. This solemnity, the French pontiff said, was to be a true feast for the Church so “that all the clergy and the people, full of joy, may sing songs of praise,” he wrote. This solemnity had been established in response to the desire of the people to contemplate the Blessed Sacrament, and particularly through the work of a saint, Juliana of Liege.

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