By Linda Andrade Rodrigues, Anchor Correspondent
NEW BEDFORD, Mass. — Corpus Christi, the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, is the day in the Liturgical Year when the Church takes Jesus out to the people.
“For one in such a lofty position to stoop so low is a marvel that is staggering,” said St. Francis of Assisi. “What sublime humility and humble sublimity, that the Lord of the Universe, the Divine Son of God, should so humble Himself as to hide under the appearance of bread for our Salvation!”
Celebrated on the first Sunday after the feast of the Trinity, the feast of the Blessed Sacrament was established in 1246 by Bishop Robert de Thorte of Liege, France, and was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Urban in 1264. St. John Paul II took the traditional procession of the Eucharist out from St. Peter’s Square and brought it to the people, and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI and Pope Francis followed in his footsteps.
“Eucharist is the great mystery that takes place at every Mass, and this is the summit of our faith,” explained Father Edward A. Murphy, pastor of St. Anthony of Padua Parish in New Bedford. “The Church is asking us to go out with Jesus in the monstrance to the streets and reminds us that Jesus goes out to those who do not come to Him.”
Two Corpus Christi processions — beginning at 2 p.m., June 22, rain or shine — will unite the north and south end parishes of New Bedford in the devotion.
The Franciscan Friars, Sisters and Tertiaries of the Immaculate will lead the south end Corpus Christi procession, stepping off from Our Lady’s Chapel (600 Pleasant Street). They will take a circuitous route to Our Lady of Purgatory Church (11 Franklin Street), St. Lawrence Martyr Church (560 County Street) and the Missionaries of Charity Convent (566 County Street) They will return to the chapel for final prayers and hymns. After the final Benediction, the friars will host a reception.
Beginning at St. Anthony of Padua Church (1359 Acushnet Avenue) and accompanied by band music, the north end Corpus Christi procession will travel to St. Kilian Church (306 Ashley Boulevard) and Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church (136 Earle Street) before heading back to St. Anthony’s.
“At St. Kilian’s and Immaculate Conception, we will have Benediction on outdoor altars and conclude with the final Benediction outside of St. Anthony’s,” Father Murphy said.
Members of Church organizations and sodalities from throughout the parishes of the Diocese of Fall River will join the processions. While processing reverently, participants will profess their faith by praying the Rosary and singing Eucharistic and Marian hymns; and children dressed as angels will strew flower petals in front of the Blessed Sacrament, a European custom.
“This is a great way of expressing our faith in the true presence of the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament,” said Franciscan Father Maximilian Warnisher of Our Lady’s Chapel. “We can strengthen our faith, and whatever problems we have He can resolve as well.”
The Franciscans have held the Corpus Christi procession for 20 years, and Father Warnisher has participated in all of them except the first, which occurred the year before he was ordained. During the years he was assigned to the Connecticut friary, he made the trip to New Bedford to take part in the procession.
“We see the people kneel down in the street,” he said. “One girl who was going down (to kneel) pushed her parents down with her — a beautiful thing.”
A parishioner of St. Francis Xavier Church in Acushnet, Mary Cardoza said that her congregation participates in the procession every year.
“St. Francis Xavier has a big showing, and each year it seems to get bigger,” she said. “When we walk by, we see the people just stop whatever they are doing and do the sign of the cross. It is a powerful thing and such a witness to the city.”
Edwin Aldorando is the youth group coordinator at St. Kilian’s Parish and has served as an adorer at Our Lady’s Chapel, along with his wife and son, for the past five years.
“St. Kilian’s is committed to the Corpus Christi procession, and we have involved our youth group,” he said.
Processing behind St. Kilian’s Parish banner, they will wear light blue T-shirts with the words “St. Kilian’s Youth Group, New Bedford, Mass.,” on the front and an image of the Blessed Sacrament on the back. They will be joined by other parishioners, many of whom will pray in Spanish.
“It’s great to see more parishes are open to exposing the Blessed Sacrament, and that has a lot to do with the Franciscans having 24-hour exposure of the Blessed Sacrament and the Corpus Christi procession,” said Aldorando. “That’s the way Christ is changing the City of New Bedford.”
During the processions, people stop their cars and come out of their houses as Jesus passes by. Many bless themselves and kneel.
“It’s something very Sacred, special and peaceful as we walk through the streets with Jesus in the monstrance,” said Father Murphy. “We’re so blessed to live in a place and time where we can freely do this. I would encourage as many people as possible to participate in the beautiful processions.”
For more information about the perpetual Eucharistic Adoration program at Our Lady’s Chapel, stop by and speak to one of the friars or call 508-996-8274.