Category Archives: Catholic Weekly

Articles written by Father Flader

Pope Francis four years on

Pope Francis is the current pope

Pope Francis is now on his fifth year of his papacy. He replaced Benedict XVI four years ago.

Pope Francis recently celebrated the fourth anniversary of his election. What are we to make of his pontificate, which has been marked by both notable achievements and considerable controversy? I offer here a few thoughts which can help to focus our thoughts on this “pope of surprises”. It was sent recently to Catholic newspapers in answer to a question.

In the four years that Pope Francis been in office, I have heard all sorts of things about him: that he is a great pope, a liberal, a heretic or even that his election was not valid. What should I think about him and how should I react to all this?

 I too have heard all these remarks and I can understand how many people are confused over this pope, who has been described as a “pope of surprises”. How should we react?

First, we cannot question the validity of his election. Everything was handled according to the norms for papal elections, no one questioned the validity of the election at the time and we should not do so now. The Holy Spirit inspired the cardinals to give us the pope God wants for us.

Second, Pope Francis has done the world of good for the Church. From the beginning he endeared himself to the Church and the world by his smile, his outgoing manner, his simple lifestyle, his choosing to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae in the Vatican rather than in the papal apartments so that he could be closer to the people, his obvious love for the poor and marginalised, his appeal to mercy rather than the strict enforcement of rules, and so much more.

He is truly popular, not only with Catholics but also with many non-Catholics. When he became the first pope to open an Instagram account in March 2016 he broke all records, gaining over one million followers in under twelve hours. He was Time magazines man of the year in 2013 and many other publications have featured him on their front cover.

Pope Francis has given us some memorable teaching. His first encyclical, Lumen Fidei on the important virtue of faith, came out in June 2013 only a few months after his election. His Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium came in November 2013 and gave great impetus and practical indications for spreading the Gospel more effectively in today’s world, particularly through the joy of our life. Evangelisation, which is central to the mission of the Church – “the Church exists to evangelise”, wrote Pope Paul VI – is vital for the Church at the present time and Pope Francis has made it a central theme of his pontificate.

His second encyclical Laudato si’ on care for the environment, our common home, came in June 2015. It was widely acclaimed and pointed to our need to be responsible stewards of the planet God gave us. This issue too is important at the present time, but many critics seized on certain opinionable statements on which we are free to disagree with the pope in any case, and overlooked the core perennial teaching.

One of the biggest targets for the pope’s critics was his Apostolic Exhortation Amoris laetita on the family, which came in April 2016. The critics focussed on one particular footnote and a few other statements in Chapter 8, which seemed to open the door to giving Communion to the divorced and remarried civilly, and which have indeed given rise to great divisions among cardinals and bishops. But leaving those statements aside, Amoris Laetitia is a marvellous document on marriage, full of practical hints on how to help couples and families stay together and grow in love in these challenging times. Everyone should read it.

And what to say about the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which helped us experience God’s mercy particularly through the sacrament of Penance and to show more mercy to others?

Is the pope a liberal? You cannot apply political terms like this to any pope. They simply don’t apply. If to be a liberal is to be concerned for the poor, the sick, the elderly, the refugees, the marginalised and the environment, then yes the pope is liberal. But what could be more conservative or traditional than Pope Francis’ repeated references to the devil, to the need for confession, to devotion to St Joseph, Our Lady and the Eucharist, to upholding Catholic teaching on birth control, abortion and the impossibility of ordaining women to the priesthood?

And Pope Francis is certainly not a heretic. There is nothing to suggest that. He might be unclear at times but he is not a heretic.

What we should all do is heed his constant petition: “Pray for me”. If someone is worried about the direction the pope is taking on a particular issue, or is happy with what he is doing, we can all pray for him. That is the best way to help him.

Sydney Launch of Question Time 3

Question Time 3 cover

Question Time 3 cover

I am happy to invite you to the Sydney launch of my new book Question Time 3, the third volume of questions and answers on the faith published in The Catholic Weekly and other Catholic papers.

Newly ordained Bishop Richard Umbers, Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney, will launch the book at the Mustard Seed Bookshop, 3 Keating St, Lidcombe, on Thursday, November 17 at 7.30 pm.  If you are able to attend please RSVP the Mustard Seed on 9646 9000 and feel free to invite your friends. Supper will follow the launch. I look forward to seeing you there.

 

What is a Jubilee Year?

Jubilee year in rome

St Peter’s Basilica, Rome, focal point of many jubilees

Now that the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy is approaching, to begin on December 8, many people are wondering exactly what a jubilee year is and what the difference is between an ordinary jubilee year and an extraordinary one. Here is an answer.

Jubilee years have their origin in the Old Testament when, at the end of each cycle of seven years times seven, sometimes referred to as a “Sabbath’s Sabbath”, a special year of rest was proclaimed in which the land would be left fallow without being cultivated, slaves and prisoners would be set free, debts would be forgiven and the mercy of God would be particularly evident.

The jubilee year is described in the book of Leviticus: “And you shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall be to you forty-nine years. Then you shall send abroad the loud trumpet on the tenth day of the seventh month; on the day of atonement you shall send abroad the trumpet throughout all your land. And you shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty through the land to all its inhabitants; it shall be a jubilee for you, when each of you shall return to his property and each of you shall return to his family. A jubilee shall that fiftieth year be to you; in it you shall neither sow, nor reap what grows of itself, nor gather the grapes from the undressed vines. For it is a jubilee; it shall be holy to you; you shall eat what it yields out of the field” (Lev 25:8-12).

The very name jubilee in English seems to derive from the Hebrew word yobel, which in turn derives from yobhel, meaning ram, since the trumpet referred to in the book of Leviticus, the shofar, was made from a ram’s horn.

In the Church the jubilee year was first observed in the year 1300, when Pope Boniface VIII called for a holy year to mark 1300 years since the birth of Christ. On that occasion the Pope published a Bull in which he granted special indulgences for those who would go to Rome, confess their sins and visit the basilicas of St Peter and St Paul. Residents of Rome were to make the visits each day for thirty days, and visitors to the city for fifteen days.

Interestingly, Pope Boniface did not use the word jubilee in that Bull and he indicated that such a special year was to be celebrated every one hundred years thereafter. Nonetheless, before the middle of the fourteenth century St Bridget of Sweden and the poet Petrarch, among others, urged Pope Clement VI, who was then residing in Avignon, to celebrate a jubilee sooner. The Pope agreed and so the next jubilee year was held in 1350.

Rome and its major basilicas remained the focus of the jubilee, even though the Pope did not return to the city for it. Daily visits to the Basilica of St John the Lateran were added to visits to the basilicas of St Peter and St Paul in order to gain the indulgence. In the next jubilee, held in 1390, the Basilica of St Mary Major was added and since then visits to the four major basilicas have been one of the conditions for gaining the jubilee year indulgence. One of the features of jubilee years is the opening of a special door in the Roman basilicas, through which pilgrims pass by way of symbolising their greater access to God’s grace and mercy.

In 1470 Pope Paul II decreed that the jubilee should be celebrated every twenty-five years and this has been the practice ever since, even though in some years the jubilee was not held due to wars and other circumstances. Pope Paul also allowed people from other countries to gain the indulgence by visiting some designated church in their own country, especially the cathedral of each diocese, and this too has remained the custom.

In addition to these ordinary jubilee years there have been several extraordinary ones for special occasions, one of which is the present Jubilee Year of Mercy. Others were held in 1628 and 1629 to pray for peace, 1933 on the occasion of the two thousandth anniversary of Christ’s death, 1966 to celebrate the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council, and 1983 as a Holy Year of Redemption.

So the present Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy, which will begin on December 8, has a long history. It is a splendid opportunity to receive the mercy of God, especially through the sacrament of mercy, the sacrament of Penance, and to show mercy to others.

What is a Synod of Bishops?

With the Synod of Bishops now meeting in Rome from October 4-25, many people are asking what a Synod is and whether it can change Catholic teaching, for example on giving Communion to people who have been divorced and are now remarried outside the Church. Here is an answer to those questions, published recently in Australian Catholic newspapers.

Can a synod change Church doctrine?

Some of my friends have expressed the belief that the October synod of bishops in Rome will allow divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Communion. Is this possible? Also, what exactly is a synod?

 The short answer to your first question is no, it is not possible. The answer to your second question will explain why.

The synod of bishops is something relatively new in the Church, having been instituted by Pope Paul VI on 15 September 1965 in the Motu Proprio Apostolica Solicitudo. A month and a half later the Second Vatican Council’s Decree Christus Dominus on the Pastoral Office of Bishops spoke of synods and referred to Pope Paul’s document in a footnote (cf. CD, n. 5).

A series of subsequent documents gave norms for synods and finally the Code of Canon Law of 1983 summarised them in canons 342-348. Canon 342 tells us what a synod is: “The synod of bishops is a group of bishops selected from different parts of the world, who meet together at specified times to promote the close relationship between the Roman Pontiff and the bishops. These bishops, by their counsel, assist the Roman Pontiff in the defence and development of faith and morals and in the preservation and strengthening of ecclesiastical discipline.” As this canon says, the bishops in a synod assist the Pope “by their counsel” in his teaching role. They do not teach in their own right.

In the following canon we find a further answer to your question: “The function of the synod of Bishops is to discuss the matters proposed to it and set forth recommendations. It is not its function to settle matters or to draw up decrees, unless the Roman Pontiff has given it deliberative power in certain cases; in this event, it rests with the Roman Pontiff to ratify the decisions of the synod” (Can. 343). Again, the bishops’ role is to recommend, not to teach.

This gathering of bishops from all over the world is convened by the Pope to discuss the proposed topic. Some of the bishops are chosen by their respective bishops’ conferences, some attend because of the office they hold in the Church, and others are nominated by the Pope. Each bishop is given an opportunity to speak for a short, specified time on any aspect of the topic he chooses. The bishops also break up into small groups, normally according to their respective languages, to discuss the question. At the end of the synod they vote on a series of propositions which reflect their views, and these are given to the Holy Father for his consideration.

After the synod some of the bishops who took part are selected to prepare a draft of a document that the Pope might use in preparing his own document on the topic. This document, customarily in the form of an Apostolic Exhortation, is issued by the Pope himself and is a form of ordinary papal magisterium.

In recent times synods have been held approximately every three years. The last one, in 2012, was on the theme of the new evangelisation and was followed by Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii gaudium in 2013. The one before that on the Word of God was held in 2008 and was followed by Pope Benedict XVI’s Apostolic Exhortation Verbum Domini in 2010.

The present synod will be the fourteenth ordinary general assembly of the synod of bishops. There have also been extraordinary general assemblies, like the one on the family last year to prepare for the present synod, and also special general assemblies, like those of the bishops of the larger regions of the world to prepare for the Jubilee Year 2000.

It should be remembered that the present ordinary synod on the family is not the first one on this topic. The first one was held in 1980 and was followed by Pope St John Paul II’s Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio. In that document Pope John Paul made clear that those who are divorced and remarried civilly are to be welcomed into the life of the Church but they may not be admitted to Eucharistic Communion (cf. n. 84). Pope Francis will not change that teaching.

What we should all do is pray very much for the fruits of this important synod, which affects all of us very directly.

Same-sex marriage – yes or no?

The issue of redefining marriage to include unions of people of the same sex is very much in the news. Is this move something Catholics can support? What effect will it have on the understanding of marriage? What are the effects on children of having been brought up by two men or two women? I append here three of my recent columns in Catholic newspapers on the question.

Gay marriage – why not?

Now that gay marriage is in the news again, everyone is talking about it and many of my friends are in favour. Can you remind me of the reasons why the Church is opposed to it? Shouldn’t gay people be entitled to the same respect and rights as others?

Marriage is not just a “social construct”, a concept invented by man that can change with time at the whim or even the vote of the people. It is a reality deeply rooted in human nature and it has been in existence from the beginning. All civilisations have had the institution of marriage as the union of a man and a woman destined to bring forth children.

God created humans male and female and gave them an attraction that leads them to want to spend their lives together, expressing their love among other ways in the act of marital intimacy through which children are born into the world. This was God’s plan for the fulfilment of individuals and for the continuation of the human race. The Catechism of the Catholic Church sums it up: “The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life, is by its nature ordered toward the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring” (CCC 1601).

Marriage comes from God himself as the Second Vatican Council teaches: “The intimate community of life and love which constitutes the married state has been established by the Creator and endowed by him with its own proper laws… God himself is the author of marriage” (GS 48). Marriage between a man and a woman is written in human nature, as Aristotle observed hundreds of years before Christ: “Between man and wife, friendship seems to exist by nature; for man is naturally inclined to form couples – even more than to form cities” (Nicomachean Ethics 8.12).

The Australian Marriage Act 1961, in clarifying the terms used in the Act, gives us the traditional definition of marriage: “the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.” This definition has stood the test of time. It is founded on human nature.

We cannot change the nature of marriage by an act of parliament any more than we can change the nature of person so as to extend the term to dogs, cats or chimpanzees. Animals, by nature, cannot be persons. Two persons of the same sex, by nature, cannot call their union marriage. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman.

What is more, as we have seen, marriage is intended by God for the procreation and education of children. Love between a man and a woman naturally tends to bring children into the world. It is naturally fertile. Two people of the same sex, on the contrary, cannot bring forth children from their love. Their union is naturally sterile. If they have children by artificial means or they adopt them, these children will grow up without the complementary care of their natural father and mother, which is God’s plan for their well being. Indeed, studies have shown that children of same-sex couples do not fare as well as those of natural families.

But shouldn’t people with same-sex attraction be shown respect and given the same rights as others? They should always be shown respect, for they too are human beings, children of God and redeemed by Jesus Christ. And they can live together if they want and even commit themselves to remain together for life, but there can be no right to call that relationship marriage. Marriage, as instituted by God and written in human nature, is a union of a man and a woman.

If people of the same sex want legal recognition of their union, they already have access to it. For example, the New South Wales Relationships register, which commenced operation in 2010, provides legal recognition for a couple, regardless of their sex, by registration of the relationship.

Looking further down the track, if the definition of marriage were changed by law to include the union of two persons of the same sex, there is no reason why sometime later it might not be broadened further to include more than two persons or a relationship between persons and animals. The best way to destroy marriage is to call everything marriage. When everything is marriage, nothing is marriage. We must do everything possible to protect this institution.

Children of same-sex parents

It seems to me that children of same-sex parents must suffer in some way from not having a mother or father to nurture them and that this would be an argument against allowing same-sex marriage. Is this the case?

There are sociological studies that bear out the truth of what you say and there are also personal testimonies of the children themselves. In this column I will comment on one of those testimonies and in the next I will refer to the results of sociological studies.

Katy Faust was raised by a lesbian couple and is now married with four children. On 2 February 2015 she wrote an open letter to Justice Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court, urging the court not to redefine marriage to include the union of two persons of the same sex.

Knowing first-hand what it is like to grow up in a same-sex household and also what it is like to raise children in a natural marriage, she writes that “when it comes to procreation and child-rearing, same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples are wholly unequal and should be treated differently for the sake of the children.

“When two adults who cannot procreate want to raise children together, where do those babies come from? Each child is conceived by a mother and a father to whom that child has a natural right. When a child is placed in a same-sex-headed household, she will miss out on at least one critical parental relationship and a vital dual-gender influence. The nature of the adults’ union guarantees this. Whether by adoption, divorce, or third-party reproduction, the adults in this scenario satisfy their heart’s desires, while the child bears the most significant cost: missing out on one or more of her biological parents. Making policy that intentionally deprives children of their fundamental rights is something that we should not endorse, incentivize, or promote.”

She went on to say: “Now that I am a parent, I see clearly the beautiful differences my husband and I bring to our family. I see the wholeness and health that my children receive because they have both of their parents living with and loving them. I see how important the role of their father is and how irreplaceable I am as their mother. We play complementary roles in their lives, and neither of us is disposable. In fact, we are both critical. It’s almost as if Mother Nature got this whole reproduction thing exactly right.”

She says she has a great love for her mother and her partner, but observes: “If you ask a child raised by a lesbian couple if they love their two moms, you’ll probably get a resounding ‘yes!’ Ask about their father, and you are in for either painful silence, a confession of gut-wrenching longing, or the recognition that they have a father that they wish they could see more often. The one thing that you will not hear is indifference.”

With respect to studies showing that children of gay parents actually fare better than those raised by their biological father and mother, she comments: “If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out ‘even better!’ when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by ‘two moms’ or ‘two dads’ came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods. Does being raised under the rainbow miraculously wipe away all the negative effects and pain surrounding the loss and daily deprivation of one or both parents?

“Redefining marriage redefines parenthood. It moves us well beyond our ‘live and let live’ philosophy into the land where our society promotes a family structure where children will always suffer loss. It will be our policy, stamped and sealed by the most powerful of governmental institutions, that these children will have their right to be known and loved by their mother and/or father stripped from them in every instance. In same-sex-headed households, the desires of the adults trump the rights of the child. Have we really arrived at a time when we are considering institutionalizing the stripping of a child’s natural right to a mother and a father in order to validate the emotions of adults?”

This is powerful language based on personal experience. It deserves to be heard.

Studies on children of same-sex parents

A friend recently told me there are studies showing that children raised by same-sex couples actually fare better than those raised by their natural father and mother. Is this true?

Over the years there have been numerous studies to determine whether there is any difference between children raised by two persons of the same sex and those raised by their natural parents. As you say, some of these claim that the children fared better when raised by same-sex couples.

Common sense and a little experience of life would tell us that such findings cannot possibly be valid. Let me quote from the open letter of Katy Faust to Justice Kennedy of the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2015. Katy, who was raised by a lesbian couple, wrote: “If it is undisputed social science that children suffer greatly when they are abandoned by their biological parents, when their parents divorce, when one parent dies, or when they are donor-conceived, then how can it be possible that they are miraculously turning out ‘even better!’ when raised in same-sex-headed households? Every child raised by ‘two moms’ or ‘two dads’ came to that household via one of those four traumatic methods. Does being raised under the rainbow miraculously wipe away all the negative effects and pain surrounding the loss and daily deprivation of one or both parents?”

As regards the sociological studies themselves the American Psychological Association, in a 2005 Policy Brief, cited 59 studies by its members which found that not one of those studies found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents. But in an article published in the journal Social Science Research in July 2012, Professor Loren Marks of Louisiana State University analysed those studies and found that “not one of the 59 studies referenced in the 2005 APA Brief compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of married parents and their children.” He observed that only four of the studies met the APA’s own standards by providing evidence of statistical power.

Meanwhile, that same issue of Social Science Research published the results of the most  rigorous and methodologically sound study ever conducted on the issue. Carried out by sociologist Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin, it surveyed almost 3000 people between the ages of 18 and 39 from both heterosexual and homosexual relationships. The study found that the children of gay or lesbian couples fared worse on 77 out of 80 outcome measures compared with those from biologically intact families.

Among the most important findings were that children of homosexual parents were much more likely to have received welfare, had lower educational attainment, reported less safety and security in their family of origin, reported more ongoing negative impact from their family of origin, were more likely to suffer from depression, had been arrested more often and, in the case of women, had more sexual partners, both male and female.

Children of lesbian mothers in particular were more likely to be cohabiting, almost four times more likely to be on welfare, more than three times more likely to be unemployed, nearly four times more likely to identify as something other than entirely heterosexual, ten times more likely to have been “touched sexually by a parent or other adult caregiver”, more likely to have attachment problems related to the ability to depend on others, used marijuana more frequently, smoked more frequently, watched television for long periods more frequently and pled guilty to a non-minor offence more frequently. Children of lesbian mothers were 75% more likely to be in a same-sex romantic relationship and children of homosexual fathers three times more likely.

An article reporting these findings on the website of the Family Research Council by Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies, concluded: “The myths that children of homosexual parents are ‘no different’ from other children and suffer ‘no harm’ from being raised by homosexual parents have been shattered forever.”

These findings are important and they deserve to be taken into account when considering whether same-sex marriage ought to be legalised.

The feast of Mary, Help of Christians

On 24 May 2015 the Church celebrated the 200th anniversary of the feast of Mary, Help of Christians. The liturgical celebration was transferred to the following day, as the 24th was the feast of Pentecost. The following question and answer explains something of the background of the feast and the power of Our Lady’s intercession. It is question 129 in my book Question Time 1.

I am happy when we celebrate each year the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians on May 24. But I have always wondered why we make so much of this feast, which does not celebrate a great event in the life as Mary as do, for example, the feasts of the Divine Maternity of Mary, the Annunciation, the Assumption or the Immaculate Conception. Could you please explain why this feast is so important?

You ask a very good question, and the answer goes back a long way. I shall endeavour to answer it succinctly.

The title “Help of Christians” is an old one that forms part of the Litany of Loreto, which is often said after the Rosary. The Litany has its origin in Marian litanies in the early Middle Ages. In 1558 it was published as “The Litany of Loreto” by St Peter Canisius, and it was approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587.

In 1571, Pope St Pius V asked the Church to pray the Rosary to Our Lady, under the title Help of Christians, for success in the battle that the Christian navy, under the command of Don Juan of Austria, was waging in the Mediterranean against the Turkish navy. It should be remembered that Constantinople had fallen to the Turks in 1453 and, with control of the Mediterranean, the Turks were threatening Rome itself. Although heavily outnumbered, the Christian navy defeated the Turks in a hard-fought battle in the Gulf of Lepanto, off Greece, on 7 October 1571. The following year the Pope instituted a feast in honour of Our Lady on October 7, first called “Our Lady of Victories” and later “Our Lady of the Rosary”.

In 1683, when Vienna was besieged by the Ottoman Turks, Pope Innocent XI asked the Church to pray the Rosary to Our Lady, again under the title of Help of Christians. The battle against overwhelming odds began on September 8, when the Church celebrates Our Lady’s birthday, and it ended successfully four days later, on the feast of the Holy Name of Mary. Thereafter, the military might of the Turks was no longer a threat to Christendom.

In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte was proclaimed Emperor of France and began to persecute the Church. Pope Pius VII excommunicated him, but in 1809 Napoleon entered the Vatican, arrested the Pope and carried him off in chains to Fontainebleau where he was held prisoner for five years. The Pope managed to communicate to the Church his request for everyone to pray to Our Lady, Help of Christians for his release, promising Our Lady that he would institute a feast in her honour if the prayers were answered. Once again, with the help of the Rosary, the Pope’s wishes were granted. On 24 May 1814, Napoleon abdicated and on that very day the Pope returned to Rome. As his first official act he proclaimed the feast of Mary, Help of Christians, to be celebrated on May 24.

In 1844 the first Provincial Synod of the bishops of Australia, held in Sydney, proclaimed Mary, Help of Christians, the principal patroness of Australia. For that reason the feast has great prominence in this country, and is celebrated as a Solemnity, the highest category of feast. Australia’s mother church, St Mary’s Cathedral in Sydney, is dedicated to Mary the Immaculate, Help of Christians.

So there is much history behind the feast and every reason to thank Our Lady, Help of Christians, for her loving and powerful care for the Church, both the universal Church and the Church in Australia.

Devotion to St Joseph

Now that the feast of St Joseph (March 19) is upon us, I offer two questions answered in my column in the Catholic Weekly. The one on devotion to St Joseph is question 284 in my book Question Time 2, published by Connor Court in 2012, and the other was published more recently in the Catholic Weekly.

284. Devotion to St Joseph

Can you tell me something about devotion to St Joseph? Some of my friends have great devotion to him but I have never really managed to have much. Is this devotion something new in the Church?

It is only natural to have devotion to the one chosen by God from all eternity to be the husband of Mary, the Mother of God, and the guardian – or, as I like to say, the spiritual father – of Jesus, the Son of God. St Joseph, while a silent and rather inconspicuous figure in the Gospels – he is sometimes called “Joseph the silent” – thus had a very special role to play in the history of salvation.

Even though he was a descendant of the royal family of King David, Joseph was a simple craftsman. He must have felt overawed and even unworthy when faced with the responsibility of taking care of the Son of God and being the head of the Holy Family. He was undoubtedly the person who spent the most time with Jesus, working with him in his workshop and teaching him his trade. St Joseph was always docile to the will of God, responding immediately when God manifested his will to him on three occasions in dreams (cf. Mt 1:20-25; 2:13-15, 19-21).

The liturgy for the feast of St Joseph on 19 March uses Scriptural texts to highlight some of his many virtues. The Entrance Antiphon reads: “Behold, a faithful and prudent steward, whom the Lord set over his household.” The Prayer over the Gifts says that “Saint Joseph served with loving care your Only Begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary”. And in the Preface we read: “For this just man was given by you as spouse to the Virgin Mother of God and set as a wise and faithful servant in charge of your household to watch like a father over your Only Begotten Son, who was conceived by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Although one of the apocryphal gospels says that Joseph was an old man when he married Our Lady, we like to think of him as young and strong, living in complete continence with Mary by a special grace of God. It is not clear when Joseph died, although he is not mentioned in the Gospels at the time of Our Lord’s public life so it is probable that he died sometime before then.

Devotion to St Joseph developed very early in the history of the Church. It appears to have originated in the East at the beginning of the fourth century, particularly among the Copts in Egypt. Nicephorus Callistus relates that there was a beautiful chapel dedicated to St Joseph in the fourth-century basilica in Bethlehem built by St Helen, the mother of the Emperor Constantine.

In the West the name of St Joseph appears in local martyrologies of the ninth and tenth centuries, and in 1129 the first church was dedicated to him in Bologna. In the twelfth to fourteenth centuries, Saints Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Gertrude and Bridget of Sweden all had devotion to him.

In the fifteenth century, St Bernardine of Siena and St Vincent Ferrer had great devotion to St Joseph, giving rise to a great flowering of the devotion from then on. In the same century, John Gerson composed an Office of the Espousals of St Joseph, and during the pontificate of Sixtus IV (1471-84), his feast was added to the Roman Calendar, to be celebrated on 19 March.

The nineteenth century saw a new flourishing of devotion to St Joseph, especially among workers, and in 1870 Pope Pius IX solemnly declared him patron of the universal Church. In 1889 Pope Leo XIII wrote the encyclical Quamquam pluries promoting devotion to St Joseph and, on the centenary of this encyclical in 1989, Pope John Paul II wrote Redemptoris custos. In 1955 Pope Pius XII introduced the feast of St Joseph the Worker, to be celebrated on 1 May. St Joseph is the patron saint of the Universal Church, of carpenters, travelers, house hunters, and a happy death.

There is every reason to have devotion to this great saint, who has so much to teach us. If Mary was given to us by Jesus from the Cross to be our mother (cf. Jn 19:26-27), then St Joseph can be considered our father. The fourth commandment, “Honour your father and mother”, certainly requires that we honour Joseph and Mary, our spiritual parents.

St Joseph’s dilemma

I have always wondered about St Joseph’s reaction when he discovered that Our Lady was carrying a child which was not his. What were his options and why did he decide to send Mary away quietly? What does this mean?

St Matthew relates the events to which you refer: “Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly. But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your  wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ … When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus” (Mt 1:18-21, 24-25).

First of all, it is important to understand the marriage customs of that time. Mary and Joseph were betrothed, meaning they were considered legally married. After the betrothal it was the custom for the bride to continue living with her family for about a year, after which her husband would take her to his home. St Matthew tells us that Our Lady and St Joseph had not yet come to live together, so it was within that first year that Mary came to be with child. Joseph would have become aware of this mystery sometime after Mary returned from helping her kinswoman Elizabeth in the three months before the birth of John the Baptist (cf. Lk 1:39-56).

What were his thoughts? While we cannot know for certain because it has not been revealed, we can only imagine that Joseph would have been completely bewildered. On the one hand it was obvious that Mary was with child and the child was not his. On the other hand he would not have thought for one instant that Mary had had relations with another man. He knew her too well to think that. She was so pure, so innocent, so holy. Not for nothing does the Second Vatican Council call her “model of the virtues” (LG 65). All in all, still not understanding, Joseph would have believed that it was more possible for Mary to have conceived the child without a man than for her to have committed a sin.

What were Joseph’s options? Given that he and Mary were betrothed and they had not yet come together, if she indeed had carnal relations with another man she was guilty of adultery and both she and the man were to be stoned to death outside the walls of the city (cf. Deut 22:23-24). Clearly, Joseph would not have contemplated denouncing Mary and having her stoned to death.

But to remain with her and give the impression that the child was his would not have been proper either. Another option was to divorce her publicly, to give her a writ of dismissal, as permitted by the law of Moses (cf. Mt 19:8). But publicly sending away his pregnant wife before they had even come to live together was proclaiming to the world that she had done something wrong and subjecting her to public shame. This too was unthinkable.

The third option was simply not to take Mary home with him to begin their married life together. In this case Our Lady would not be rejected or dismissed, but rather simply abandoned by her husband. If anyone suffered public shame by this course of action it would be Joseph, not Mary. St Matthew tells us that this is what Joseph decided to do: “… her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to send her away quietly” (Mt 1:19).

While this was clearly the best of the three options in that it protected Mary’s reputation, it was still one which wrung Joseph’s heart. Not to be able to spend the rest of his life with the woman he loved and who loved him was something which would have been sheer agony for him.

We can thus understand his overwhelming relief when the angel appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 1:20-21). Overjoyed, Joseph obeyed and took Mary home with him. By publicly giving him the name Jesus, Joseph was making himself legally the father of Jesus.

Not for nothing does St Matthew call Joseph “a just man”. He is a saint for all to imitate, a model of holiness and of so many virtues.

The spirit of Advent

A fundamental aspect of the hope and expectation with which we prepare for the celebration of Christ’s birth in history and his second coming at the end of time is the spirit of penance. This is an aspect which is often overlooked. I recently answered a question on it in Catholic newspapers and here it is.

I know that Advent is a season of hope and expectation of the coming of Christ in history and at the end of time, but is it also a season of penance? We don’t hear much about this aspect, if indeed Advent is supposed to be a time of penance.

I agree that we don’t hear much about the penitential aspect of Advent, but we can be sure that it is still there in the mind of the Church.

This is seen most obviously in the colour purple, which is used for the vestments worn by the priest and for other decorations of the church. This colour is used in the two penitential seasons preceding the great feasts of the year: Lent preceding Easter and Advent preceding Christmas. On the third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete, or Rejoice, Sunday, the colour may be rose, suggesting a lessening of the penitential aspect as we pass the halfway point in our Advent discipline.

Moreover, the Vatican’s Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy (2002) says that Advent is a time of “conversion, to which the Liturgy at this time often refers, quoting the prophets, especially John the Baptist, ‘Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Mt 3:2; n. 96).

Indeed, it has been traditional in the Church since the beginning to have days or seasons of penance as a way of preparing for the big feasts. The history of Advent bears this out. In the fifth century Pope St Leo the Great called for fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays in the weeks leading up to Christmas. In 581 the Synod of Mac in present-day France called for fasting on the Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from November 11, the feast of St Martin of Tours, up to and including Christmas Eve, December 24.
When it was first celebrated, Advent began six Sundays before Christmas. The number was reduced to four by Pope St Gregory the Great (591-604). Some Eastern Rite Catholic Churches and the Eastern Orthodox Churches still celebrate a longer Advent, beginning on November 15, the day after they celebrate the feast of the Apostle Philip. Thus for them Advent, like Lent, has forty days and is sometimes referred to as the Little Lent. It is lived as a penitential season, known as the Nativity Fast or sometimes St Philip’s Fast, although the penance required is not as strict as that for Lent. In the Melkite Catholic Church the fast now begins on 10 December.

During this season the strict Eastern tradition requires abstinence from all creatures with a backbone, including mammals, birds and fish, and from all products made from these creatures, including milk, cheese, yogurt and eggs. In some traditions only one meal is allowed each day and this cannot be eaten before noon.

So it is clear that Advent is traditionally a penitential season like Lent. It is understandable that this should be the case. If we are to pray “Come, Lord Jesus”, as the liturgy invites us to do, we should make our soul more worthy to receive him. Like the Prodigal Son, we come before God in humility saying, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Lk 15:21). This sense of unworthiness, which we rightly feel, leads to the desire to purify our soul from sin and the effects of sin by acts of penance. It is as if we are cleaning out the stable of our soul so that Our Lord can find it a more worthy dwelling place on Christmas Day when he comes. To this end it can be helpful to choose one or more of our usual Lenten penances to live during Advent. In this way we are reminded that we must deny ourselves in order to prepare well for Christmas.

In addition to acts of self-denial, it is good to make a greater effort in our spiritual life too through such acts as attending Mass more often, setting aside regular times for prayer, reading the Scriptures or some book about Advent or Christmas, etc. And of course we should practise more acts of charity and almsgiving, which are so much a part of the spirit of Christmas.

Also important in living this spirit of repentance is receiving the sacrament of Penance, the great sacrament of mercy and joy by which we are forgiven our sins by God. There can hardly be a “Happy Christmas” without being in the state of grace and being embraced by the Father.

Is heaven real?

In these times of widespread lack of faith in God, many people wonder whether there is really life after death. I post here two answers to the question from my recent columns in Catholic newspapers. The second one relates the life-changing near-death experiences of Dr Eben Alexander, a U.S. neurosurgeon, and Gloria Polo, a Colombian orthodontist who was struck by lightning and “saw” the reality of life after death.

Is heaven real?
I have a friend who is very sceptical about life after death and would like some sort of proof that heaven is real. He says no one has ever been in heaven and come back to earth to tell us about it. What can I tell him?

When it comes to “proof” we have to be very careful. What we can give is strong arguments for the existence of life after death, but these may or may not convince the other person. It is the same with the existence of God, where in one sense his existence is staring us in the face in his wonderful work of creation, but this may not convince a sceptic or an atheist. The most convincing “proof” for the existence of life after death is arriving there and seeing that it really exists. But then it may be too late!
Coming back to your question, the following considerations may prove helpful. The first is that there are people who have been in heaven and have come to earth to tell us about it. The most important is Jesus Christ himself, who spoke often of life after death, of judgment, heaven and hell. But why should a sceptic believe that Jesus is God who has come to earth? After all, he was the son of a carpenter from Nazareth and he died crucified in Jerusalem.
Well, we have multiple testimonies about Jesus in some very ancient writings, written only some twenty or thirty years after his death. They are, of course, the Gospels. They tell us that Jesus not only claimed to be God but showed it by such remarkable feats as raising three people from the dead, curing a man born blind and prophesying his own death and resurrection, which came to pass.
St Paul too had a vision of heaven (cf. 2 Cor 12:2-4) and came back to tell us about it. He found heaven indescribably beautiful and could only write: “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Cor 2:9).
If the sceptic wants more recent “proof” of heaven from someone who has been there, we can tell him about Our Lady, who died in the first century and has appeared on earth numerous times since then and has brought about miracles that admit of no human explanation. One thinks of the image she left at Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531 imprinted miraculously on a cactus fibre cloak, which has baffled scientists as to its origin and preservation, not to mention some of the details on it. Or Mary’s apparitions in Fatima in 1917, where she told the three children several months beforehand that on October 13 she would work a great miracle. In fact on that day the miracle of the sun was seen by some 70,000 people. If there is no life after death or heaven, how is it that someone who died two thousand years before can appear on earth and bring about such prodigious works?
One can also speak about the numerous miracles approved by the Church, which came about in answer to prayers to deceased people. Every beatification and canonisation , with few exceptions, requires two authenticated miracles and some of these are truly remarkable. If there is no life after death, how is it that prayers to a person who no longer exists can have any effect?
And then there are the numerous testimonies of people who have died, or almost died, who have experienced the judgment and have seen heaven and hell. One of the most remarkable and well-known is that of Gloria Polo, a Colombian dentist who in May, 1995, was struck by lightning, suffered a cardiac arrest and was badly burned inside and out. She saw her lifeless body on a stretcher in the operating room. She had died in mortal sin and was taken by demons to hell to see what she deserved for her sins. Then she saw the terrible suffering of the souls in purgatory and finally her own judgment, in which she was condemned to hell. The sins that condemned her most included aiding and participating in abortion, receiving holy communion in a state of mortal sin, fortune-telling, and speaking evil of priests. She was given a second chance and came back to life on condition that she share her experience with others. She has done this all over the world and on the internet, writing her account in the book Struck by Lightning: Death, Judgment and Conversion.
Yes, there is life after death. There is a judgment, hell, purgatory and heaven and we should do everything possible to prepare ourselves for it. Now, before it is too late.

Near-death experiences
We often read of people who have seemingly died and then come back to life, who relate what they saw before they recovered. Can we take these accounts as credible evidence of life after death?

Near-death experiences are very personal and can be considered something akin to private revelations in the sense that they need not be believed by others, and they should be judged carefully on the merits of each one. Some are clearly more credible than others. Some are clearly not consistent with what the Church teaches on life after death while others present no problems.
Since even canonised saints have had visions of heaven, hell and purgatory, and some have had near-death experiences, we certainly cannot reject them out of hand. One example is that of St Josemaría Escrivá. On 27 April 1954, after suffering from a severe case of diabetes for ten years, he suddenly collapsed and appeared to have died. After ten minutes he regained consciousness and was thereafter completely cured of the diabetes, something which is medically inexplicable. While he lay there he saw his whole life pass by very quickly, as if in a film, and he was able to ask God to forgive his failings.
There are literally thousands of people who have reported similar experiences, and there are dozens of books currently available which record them. Two of the most well-known are those of Dr Eben Alexander and Dr Gloria Polo.
Dr Alexander, a neurosurgeon who has taught at various universities including Harvard Medical School, is the author of the best-selling Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, published in 2012. In it he relates how in 2008, while in an induced coma after suffering meningitis, he was taken into a state where he experienced what we would call heaven and he encountered God. Before that experience he could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with belief in God, heaven or even the soul as something different from the brain. His experience completely transformed him, and today he believes that true health can only be achieved when we acknowledge that God and the soul are real and that death is not the end of our existence but only the passage into a different form of life.
Dr Gloria Polo is a Colombian orthodontist whose life was transformed radically when she was struck by lightning in May 1995 while walking on the campus of the National University of Bogota with her 23-year old cousin, who was killed instantly. She went into cardiac arrest and her body was badly burned, both inside and out. Although she had been attending Sunday Mass, she had not been to confession since she was thirteen, she was using an intrauterine device for contraception, she had had an abortion and had paid for others to have them, and she lived a very materialistic, self-centered and ungodly life. What is more, she had told others that devils do not exist and even that God did not exist.
While her body lay on the operating table, she began to see devils coming after her and she found herself falling down a tunnel into hell, with people young and old screaming in pain and grinding their teeth. She saw that the sins that condemned her most included aiding and participating in abortion, receiving holy communion in a state of mortal sin, fortune-telling, and speaking evil of priests.
In that state, she also saw the great suffering of the souls in purgatory. Then she passed through a beautiful tunnel of light to a place of great joy and peace where she was able to embrace her deceased relatives. She also experienced her own judgment, seeing her whole life played out as in a movie with all her actions, good and bad, and the consequences of them. She understood how God regards sexual immorality, abortion and methods of contraception that cause abortions, as well as how he looked on her materialism, her excessive concern for what she wore and how she looked, and her lack of faith.
She was given a second chance in order to amend her ways and to tell others what she had experienced. She has written her account in the book Struck by Lightning: Death, Judgement and Conversion. While we are not required by the Church to believe accounts such as these, common sense tells us that we would be very foolish to ignore them.

750th anniversary of the feast of Corpus Christi

The year 2014 marks the 750th anniversary of the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi, otherwise known as the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, with its processions, Eucharistic adoration and emphasis on the Real Presence of Christ in this truly Blessed Sacrament. On this significant occasion I publish answers to questions on the topic first posted last year, plus a new answer on the history of Corpus Christi processions. They are taken from my books Question Time 1 and Question Time 2.

150. The feast of Corpus Christi

In the celebration of the Year of the Eucharist much emphasis was placed on the feast of Corpus Christi. I don’t have any problem with that because I am among those attend Eucharistic Adoration whenever I can. I was just wondering why the Church has a second feast, in addition to Holy Thursday, in honour of the Holy Eucharist.

As you say, the first feast of the Holy Eucharist is Holy Thursday, when we commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and the priesthood in the Last Supper. But because that feast is celebrated in Holy Week, in the Easter Triduum, the principal focus is the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ rather than the Eucharist itself. In part for this reason, we have another feast wholly dedicated to the Eucharist, this time emphasising the Real Presence: the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, more commonly known as Corpus Christi.

This feast owes its origin to the development of devotion to the Eucharist in the thirteenth century, and was first established in Liege, Belgium, in 1246, by Bishop Robert of Turotte. A call for the feast had been made by St Juliana of Cornillon, who in 1208 reported a vision in which she understood Jesus to be lamenting the absence of a particular feast in the Church’s calendar focused on his sacramental presence on the altar.

A key figure in the establishment of the feast for the whole Church was the archdeacon of Liege, Jacques Pantaleon. In 1261 he became Pope Urban IV and three years later he instituted the feast. The procession associated with the feast became popular in the fourteenth century and is now a traditional aspect of the celebration.

The feast owes much to the Eucharistic miracle that took place in Bolsena, Italy, in 1263. In that year a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped at Bolsena while on a pilgrimage to Rome. He is described as being a pious priest, but one who found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated host. While celebrating Mass over the tomb of St Christina in the church named for this martyr, he had barely spoken the words of consecration when blood started to seep from the consecrated host and trickle over his hands onto the altar and the corporal.

The priest was immediately filled with consternation. At first he attempted to hide the blood, but then he interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the neighbouring city of Orvieto, where Pope Urban IV was then residing.

The Pope listened to the priest’s account and absolved him. He then sent emissaries to conduct an investigation. When all the facts had been determined, he ordered the bishop of the diocese to bring the host and the linen cloth with the stains of blood to Orvieto. The Pope met the procession and, amid great pomp, had the relics placed in the cathedral. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still on display in the cathedral of Orvieto.

It is said that Pope Urban IV was prompted by this miracle to commission St Thomas Aquinas to compose the Proper for a Mass and an Office honouring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ. In any case, one year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV instituted the feast of Corpus Christi. It is St Thomas’ texts that are used today for the Mass and the Divine Office.

In August of 1964, on the 700th anniversary of the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi, Pope Paul VI celebrated Holy Mass at the altar where the holy corporal is kept in its golden shrine in the cathedral of Orvieto.

271. St Juliana and the feast of Corpus Christi

In your book Question Time you mention briefly that Juliana of Cornillon had something to do with the feast of Corpus Christi. Do we know anything more about her and her role in the feast?

As you say, when I wrote about Juliana in my book Question Time I ( q. 150), I mentioned that she had had a vision in which Jesus lamented the lack of a feast dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament. But there is much more, and the story of her life and her role in the institution of the feast is fascinating.

St Juliana of Liège, also known as St Juliana of Mt Cornillon, was born near Liège in Belgium in 1193. From her early childhood she had great devotion to the Blessed Eucharist. At the age of five, she and her sister Agnes were orphaned and entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns of the convent of Mont Cornillon, just outside Liège. There they worked for many years in the leprosarium run by the nuns.

When she was thirteen Juliana entered the Augustinians and went on to become the Superior of the convent. At the age of sixteen she had a vision of the Church under the full moon with a dark spot on it. She was given to understand that the spot signified the absence of a special feast in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. In a later vision Our Lord explained that he desired a separate feast in honour of the Eucharist, since at that time the only celebration was on Holy Thursday, when the Church considered especially his sufferings. He told her that he wanted the feast for three reasons: to confirm people’s faith in the Real Presence, to strengthen them in virtue by their love and adoration for the Eucharist, and to make reparation for the lack of respect shown to the Blessed Sacrament.

Jesus entrusted Juliana with the mission of promoting the new feast. Naturally, she felt frightened at the thought and kept the whole matter secret for many years, wanting to ensure that this was truly the will of God and not just her own imagination. The vision was repeated over the next twenty years and finally in 1230, when Juliana was elected Mother Superior, she confided the secret to her confessor, Canon John of Lausanne. He was Canon of St Martin’s basilica and had a great love for the Eucharist himself. He explained the idea to numerous theologians and bishops, many of whom received it warmly. Among them was Jacques Pantaleon, the Archdeacon of Liège, who later became Bishop of Verdun, then Patriarch of Jerusalem and finally in 1261 Pope, taking the name of Urban IV.

It was the Dominican Bishop of Liège, Robert Turotte, who, after some hesitation, accepted the proposal of St Juliana and in 1246 instituted the feast of the Blessed Sacrament in his diocese. It was to be celebrated on the Thursday after the feast of the Blessed Trinity. Other bishops later did the same in their own dioceses. When St Juliana died in 1258, the feast was not yet extended throughout the world, but a good friend of hers, St Eve, a nun at St Martin’s, took it upon herself to carry on where St Juliana left off. She persuaded the new Bishop of Liège to write to the Holy Father, Pope Urban IV, asking him to extend the feast to the whole Church. A few more years passed until the great Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena took place in 1263. The miracle was reported to Pope Urban who was residing in nearby Orvieto, and the following year he instituted the feast of Corpus Christi for the whole Church.

In his address on St Juliana on 17 November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI spoke of the importance of Eucharistic devotion: “Joyfully I wish to affirm that there is a ‘Eucharistic springtime’ in the Church today. How many people remain in silence before the Tabernacle sustaining a dialogue of love with Jesus! It is consoling to know that many groups of young people have rediscovered the beauty of prayer and adoration before the Blessed Sacrament. I pray that this ‘Eucharistic springtime’ may become increasingly widespread in parishes, and especially in Belgium, homeland of St Juliana”.

270. Corpus Christi processions

Can you tell me something about the history of Corpus Christi processions? I am delighted that Sydney once again has an annual procession and I would like to know more about how they came into existence.

The processions have a long history, and it is very much related to the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi in the thirteenth century. As you may recall from one of my earlier columns, (cf. J. Flader, Question Time I, q. 150), the feast was instituted in 1264 by Pope Urban IV following the Eucharistic miracle the previous year in Bolsena, Italy.

A priest who had doubts about the Real Presence was saying Mass in Bolsena, and had just pronounced the words of Consecration when blood started to seep from the host and trickle down over his hands onto the altar and the corporal. The priest interrupted the Mass and went to the nearby city of Orvieto, where Pope Urban was then residing, and told him what had happened. The Pope sent representatives to Bolsena to conduct an investigation. When this was concluded, he asked the bishop of the diocese to bring the host and the blood-stained corporal in procession to Orvieto. The Pope met the procession with great pomp and ceremony, and had the relics placed in the cathedral, where they are still on display today. This is undoubtedly the origin of the tradition of holding Eucharistic processions on the feast of Corpus Christi.

In any case, some 50 years later in 1311 Pope Clement V made Corpus Christi a feast for the universal Church, to be celebrated on the Thursday following the feast of the Blessed Trinity, and he declared that the celebration of the feast was to include a procession with the Blessed Sacrament. The processions soon became popular all over Europe. There are abundant records of the processions in England, for example, from the fourteenth century on, with the earliest recorded procession taking place in 1318. The Blessed Sacrament was carried beneath a canopy, often with rose petals strewn on the ground as the procession passed.

Numerous artworks throughout the Middle Ages depict the Corpus Christi procession. Corpus Christi plays soon came to be a traditional part of the procession. At first presented as pageants without spoken words, they later came to have actors speaking their respective parts. They were an important means of instruction in the faith for a people who were largely illiterate. The plays were produced by the various craft and merchant guilds of the town under the auspices of the Church and they depicted events from the Old and New Testaments. The whole town was involved, either in the production itself or as spectators, and visitors came from far and wide to see the plays and the procession.

The plays were performed in different ways. A common way involved a pageant presented on a moving horse-drawn wagon, similar to the floats in modern parades. The spectators could then stay in one place and watch the Blessed Sacrament pass, accompanied by the various wagons with their pageants. Another way was for the plays to be presented in different places along the route, requiring the procession to halt for the duration of each play. Later, in order not to delay the procession unduly, the plays were presented after the procession had passed. The spectators then moved from one location to the next in order to see all the plays. The texts of four different cycles of English pageants still exist, the York cycle comprising 48 plays totalling some 13 hours, and the Wakefield cycle 32 plays.

In Spain the feast of Corpus Christi was celebrated as early as 1280 in Toledo, and 1282 in Seville. It came to include magnificent processions, with the Blessed Sacrament carried beneath a canopy, accompanied by garlands of flowers, flags, banners and tapestries, with gun and flag salutes and sometimes fireworks, music and dances. From Spain the celebrations were taken early on to the New World. So what is now regaining popularity all over the world as a way of celebrating the feast of Corpus Christi has a history of some seven centuries.