Live Well Moment: Two Women and the Feast of Corpus Christi

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“I am the living bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” 

We will hear those words from the Gospel of John Chapter 6 proclaimed this Sunday when we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi. But where did this feast originate and why do we celebrate it? Let me share with you stories of two women to highlight the history of this important day in the church calendar.

St. Juliana of Cornillon

Juliana lived in Belgium in the thirteenth century. When she was sixteen, Juliana had a recurring vision during Eucharistic adoration. In these visions, she saw a moon in its full splendor with a dark stripe across it. Immersed in prayer, the Lord helped her understand the moon to be the Church and the dark stripe to be the absence of a feast in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Very fitting for our current times. Therein, Juliana found her call: to plead for a feast in which believers would be able to adore the Eucharist and honor the Most Holy Sacrament.

Now get this, Juliana kept this a secret for about twenty years. 20 years! I would be hard-pressed to keep it a secret for twenty seconds! This is why Juliana is a saint, and I am still a saint-in-the-making.

Of keeping this close to her heart, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “What happened to Juliana occurs frequently in the lives of Saints. To have confirmation an inspiration comes from God, it is always necessary to be:

    1. immersed in prayer,
    2. to wait patiently,
    3. to seek friendship and exchanges with other good souls, and
    4. to submit all things to the judgement of the Pastors of the Church.”

So that’s what Juliana did. She had a spiritual alliance of sorts with two fellow sisters who adored with her, and  they involved the counsel of a highly regarded priest. The team together shared the inspired visions with their bishop who then instituted the first celebration of the feast in 1247. Pope Urban IV then extended the feast to the universal Church, and at his invitation St. Thomas Aquinas even composed the poems and sequence for the special liturgy; hymns that we still sing today such as Tantum Ergo!

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton

Now onto the second woman who you may know better: St. Elizabeth Ann Seton. She was a Protestant wife and mother to five, a convert to Catholicism and the first American-born saint. When Elizabeth’s husband became ill, his doctor suggested he travel to Italy to heal in the warm climate. In Italy, Elizabeth saw a Corpus Christi procession the streets. With the monstrance held high, she was driven to her knees by an invisible force. She felt in her heart she had truly seen God. This event was a turning point in her life.

Her husband died while the family was in Italy, and Elizabeth and her children found refuge in the home of an Italian family. Elizabeth observed their life of charity and hospitality and decided she wanted to emulate them in every way, which included converting to Catholicism.  On Ash Wednesday in 1805, she walked into St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, sank to her knees and prayed, “My God, here let me rest.”

While her heart may have rested there with her First Holy Eucharist, her hands remained active. Elizabeth and her five children returned home to the United States and Elizabeth began teaching in New York. Word got around about her gifts for teaching, and the Bishop of Maryland asked Elizabeth to start a school for poor girls. Her work includes founding the first Catholic school in the country. Later, she and 18 other women founded the Sisters of Charity.

Who knows what path Elizabeth Ann Seton’s life might have taken had she not been in Italy on the feast of Corpus Christi. Who knows what might have happened had Juliana ignored the Lord’s call to pave the way for the first Feast of Corpus Christi some 550 years prior.

Now on the Sunday after Trinity Sunday each year, the universal Church celebrates the Feast of Corpus Christi when we particularly honor Christ’s true presence in the consecrated bread and wine of the Eucharist.

“I am the living bread that came down from Heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  

Copyright 2020 Lisa A. Schmidt

Lisa Schmidt is a proud lifelong Iowan and an equally proud alumna of Iowa State University. #GoCyclones! Her roots serve as an inspiration to continually seek opportunities to help make Iowa a great place to live, work, pray, and play. In 2016, Lisa blended her skills for building community with her love for Jesus and founded The Well women’s ministry. Along with her husband Deacon Joel and their four children, the Schmidts are parishioners at St. Pius X in Urbandale, Iowa.