The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ
First Reading: Genesis 14:18-20
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 110:1-4
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 11:23-26
Sequence: Lauda Sion
Gospel: According to St. Luke 9:11-17
St. Juliana of Liege is probably not very high on the list of ‘most-known Catholic saints.’ Despite this fact, she holds the distinction of being the source of the celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or as it is now known – the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
St. Juliana lived in the first half of the thirteenth century in Belgium, which at the time was simply part of the Holy Roman Empire. An orphan, she was taken care of by the Norbertine sisters of Liege, and at the age of 13 she entered the order.
Juliana had a special devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and felt that the Church needed a day set apart in dedication to our Lord in the Eucharist. She began having dreams in which she saw a full moon that had a black line running through it. She later interpreted the moon as the Church – reflecting the light of Christ, as the moon reflects the sun, and the black line as the lack of a celebration of the sacramental Body of Christ.
At some point after her election as the prioress of the Norbertine monastery in Liege she told her confessor of her dreams. He took her seriously and spoke of the dreams to several high-ranking churchmen, including the Archdeacon of Liege, Jacques Pantaleon. Three years after Juliana’s death that archdeacon became Pope Urban IV. Remembering the humble nun from Liege, he established the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1264 – the first time that any pope instituted a feast to be celebrated by the entire Church.
One of the highlights of the liturgical celebration for this feast is the Sequence Lauda Sion written by St. Thomas Aquinas. It speaks of the belief that at the consecration the bread and wine are miraculously transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. Transubstantiation is the term used since the Middle Ages to describe this change, and it distinguishes the Catholic view of the Eucharist from that of other Christian groups. Aquinas wrote poetically of this teaching in the Lauda Sion, but also spent a good deal of energy explaining it in his theological writings.
Aquinas was, and still is, recognized as the great mind of the Middle Ages and his teachings have been incorporated into the official writings of Church councils and papal encyclicals, and Pope Leo XIII, in the 1879 encyclical Aeterni Patris, effectively designated him as the preeminent philosopher of the Catholic Faith. Yet without the influence of an obscure Belgian nun he would never have had this opportunity to influence the Church at the most basic level of prayer and liturgy. Fittingly, the line that we can draw from St. Juliana through Pope Urban IV to St. Thomas Aquinas is, unlike the line in the moon of Juliana’s dreams, one that helps to make the Church more fully reflect the light of Christ.