Corpus Christi: Procession of Love
Tomorrow is the Feast of Corpus Christi, celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, typically—in anglo-catholic circles—with a procession of the Blessed Sacrament. Fr Peter Groves reflects on the role of procession in Christian faith and life. This post is adapted from a sermon originally delivered at St Mary Magdalen’s in 2010.
If I'd like to say a brief word about processions. We don't have as many processions at St Mary Magdalen’s as I’d like. It would be wonderful to have a Corpus Christi procession outside for all to see in the broad light of day. The reason for this, of course, is that a procession is not simply a ritual of praise and worship, it is a witness to the gospel we proclaim. God with us, Jesus Christ come among us as the food and drink which gives us life, is something about which we ought to be shouting from the rooftops.
Procession is a word which belongs in our vocabulary of the divine, and because the Christian doctrine of God is a doctrine of processions: the Son proceeds from the Father, as does the Spirit. The Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son if you are a Western Christian, though I don't particularly want to dwell on that subject now. What I want to emphasise is the language of proceeding, of going forth, which belongs in a grammar of God. The reality of God is a reality of processions, of going out from oneself, of self-giving to another, a self giving of love which makes the other what it is, which defines its life.
This self giving God gives himself to us in the physicality of the incarnation. God goes out of himself to take upon himself our sin and our weakness. In the miracle of the Eucharist we enact that self giving, so that we are drawn into the perfect offering of the Son to the Father which is itself an action, a motion, a procession, a going forth of love from one to another.
The presence of Christ which we celebrate on Corpus Christi day is not something static, something limited to an object or a place. It is the presence among us of the eternal offering of the Son to the Father.What we celebrate in the eucharist is our being drawn up into the worship of heaven, our being enabled to share in the very life of God, a life of perfect self-giving in love, the life which we call Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the doctrine of the Trinity which we celebrated last Sunday, the doctrine of processions which teaches that God himself is a community of self-giving love.The miracle of the eucharist is the miracle of God’s creative act, because that love is poured out for us in the physical stuff of creation, the stuff transformed by God’s love into the bread of life and cup of salvation on which our true lives truly depend. The celebration of the eucharist is the telling over and again of the story of redemption:the story of that love lived out in a human life, offered once and for all in the whole of the life, death and resurrection of Christ, so that human life can at last fulfil its destiny and enjoy the communion with God for which it was created.
Communion with God is a sharing in the perfect love by which the Son proceeds from the Father and the Spirit unites Father and Son. Processions are fun and should be fun. But they are also important, basic to everything which we claim about God, and underlying all that we do to celebrate those earth shattering words: “This is my body, which is given for you.”