What Is the Feast of Corpus Christi?

The Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ

Pope Benedict XVI Elevates the Host at Mass in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Pope Benedict XVI celebrates mass and elevates the Host at Nationals Park April 17, 2008 in Washington, DC. Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Feast of Corpus Christi, or the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ (as it is often called today), goes back to the 13th century, but it celebrates something far older: the institution of the Sacrament of Holy Communion at the Last Supper. While Holy Thursday is also a celebration of this mystery, the solemn nature of Holy Week, and the focus on Christ's Passion on Good Friday, overshadows that aspect of Holy Thursday.

Facts About Corpus Christi

  • Date: The Thursday after Trinity Sunday. The date changes each year: Trinity Sunday is celebrated a week after Pentecost Sunday which, in turn, is celebrated 50 days after Easter. In the United States, the celebration takes place on the Sunday after Corpus Christi. 
  • Type of Feast: Solemnity
  • Readings: Exodus 24:3-8; Psalm 116:12-13, 15-16, 17-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; Mark 14:12-16, 22-26 The readings relate mainly to the Last Supper, and to the consecration of bread and wine; the final section (Mark 14:22-26) reads:
While they were eating,
he took bread, said the blessing,
broke it, gave it to them, and said,
"Take it; this is my body."
Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them,
and they all drank from it.
He said to them,
"This is my blood of the covenant,
which will be shed for many.
Amen, I say to you,
I shall not drink again the fruit of the vine
until the day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God."
Then, after singing a hymn,
they went out to the Mount of Olives.
  • Prayers: Short Novena for Corpus Christi; Anima Christi
  • Other Names for the Feast: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

History of the Feast of Corpus Christi

In 1246, Bishop Robert de Thorete of the Belgian diocese of Liège, at the suggestion of St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon (also in Belgium), convened a synod and instituted the celebration of the feast. From Liège, the celebration began to spread, and, on September 8, 1264, Pope Urban IV issued the papal bull "Transiturus," which established the Feast of Corpus Christi as a universal feast of the Church, to be celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday.

At the request of Pope Urban IV, St. Thomas Aquinas composed the office (the official prayers of the Church) for the feast. This office is widely considered one of the most beautiful in the traditional Roman Breviary (the official prayer book of the Divine Office or Liturgy of the Hours), and it is the source of the famous Eucharistic hymns Pange Lingua Gloriosi and Tantum Ergo Sacramentum.

For centuries after the celebration was extended to the universal Church, the feast was also celebrated with a Eucharistic procession, in which the Sacred Host was carried throughout the town, accompanied by hymns and litanies. The faithful would venerate the Body of Christ as the procession passed by. In recent years, this practice has almost disappeared, though some parishes still hold a brief procession around the outside of the parish church.

While the Feast of Corpus Christi is one of the ten Holy Days of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, in some countries, including the United States, the feast has been transferred to the following Sunday.

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ThoughtCo. "What Is the Feast of Corpus Christi?" Learn Religions, Feb. 8, 2021, learnreligions.com/corpus-christi-feast-body-blood-542468. ThoughtCo. (2021, February 8). What Is the Feast of Corpus Christi? Retrieved from https://www.learnreligions.com/corpus-christi-feast-body-blood-542468 ThoughtCo. "What Is the Feast of Corpus Christi?" Learn Religions. https://www.learnreligions.com/corpus-christi-feast-body-blood-542468 (accessed March 28, 2023).