“People magazine is a Bible without the Book of Job.”

The above quote is from Eve Tushnet’s review of Christopher Beha’s Arts & Entertainments, released just last month. I haven’t yet read it, but it seems that A&E is a freewheeling satire that, like much of Waugh’s early work, affirms the truth of human dignity by the via negativa. By contrast, Beha’s debut, What Happened to Sophie Wilder, is a no-holds-barred Serious Novel. Beha, a cradle Catholic* who later left the Church, is on record as saying that “faith became much more interesting to me once I didn’t have it,” and that Sophie Wilder is an attempt to provide a sympathetic portrait of a believer through the eyes of one who seeks to understand that belief from the outside. It seems that D. Z. Myers at Books and Culture has picked up on this and is declaring Beha as a Catholic novelist “with a literary project far more profound [than proselytism]—to display religion as inextricably woven into human life, or what the great Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins would have described as its ‘inscape.’” Do read the whole thing here. It’s not too much to say that Sophie Wilder had a profound effect on me; I’m still wrestling with whether it is that rare thing, a hagiography in literary fiction, or a startling inversion of the same. 

* Updated: an earlier version read that Beha was a convert, but this was incorrect. My apologies.

Hope For The Biblical Picture

noah

Having settled in my not-entirely-un-pew-ish seat, stolen various unhealthy morsels from my friend’s platter of popcorny goodness, tried to force the 3D-glasses to stick to my face, slouched myself to optimum comfort and mutually agonized over whether the film would be in Romanian with English subtitles or English with Romanian subtitles (don’t ask), the lights went down and verses from Genesis came up, buffed by dramatic percussion and violins.

Noah is a bizarre movie” reads the opening line of almost every review* you can find on the damn thing and you can’t really blame them. Genuine spiritual angst lies underneath the big-budget special effects: you have unresolved monologues on the nature of justice and mercy, armies of angry neighbours, golem-ish stone angels (sorry, can’t help the reference), a porous border between the sacrificers and sacrificed, wise old men, messages from God that confuse even His own prophet – oh, and sin. That awkward, uncomfortable, dirty-dirty word. In short, this is Darren Aronofsky being given the reins of a Hollywood blockbuster and the multi-million dollar budget that goes right along with it. Spoiler: almost everyone on the planet dies. Take that, Michael Bay**.

Some background could be pertinent.

Aronofsky, like most hefty products of our gradually post-christian culture, is God-haunted.*** His repertoire wouldn’t necessarily go over well when discussed over a church fundraiser but that’s part of what makes the whole thing so compelling. Take Pi, his first film, which is completely obsessed with the connection between God, mathematics and deterministic patterns (expressed via a paranoid man’s journey of escape from both wall-street toughs and a Kabbalah-lusty orthodox Jewish community (shot in glorious black and white)). Then there was the nightmare that is Requiem for a Dream with its dark, incessantly bleak fall into the intensely personal circles of hell belonging to a cadre of addicts.

2007′s The Fountain returned to the search for God and starred Hugh Jackman as a man whose search for a cure to his wife’s cancer just barely conceals an obsessive quest to cure death once and for all. In the film, Jackman also happens to be a 15th-Century conquistador. And maybe a spaceman hurtling towards a dying star in a bubble with the Tree of Life (which may or may not also be his wife).

Yup. I love it to pieces.

Yup. I love it to pieces.

His later, more popular works focused on the sacrifices of art – 2008′s The Wrestler and 2010′s Black Swan both circled around two performers (one on the rise, the other at the end of his rope) and their mutual self-destruction as they try to get at whatever truth, goodness or beauty lies on the other side of uncompromising commitment to art. These are deranged explorations of obsession, repressed sexuality, drug escapism and creative neurosis. And this is the man who returns, in the end, to the Bible for inspiration. Needless to say, there will be no hint of “Precious Moments” in this incarnation of the patriarch.

But this, I argue, is precisely what we need – we’ve become so used to expressing the stories of scripture in ways that pare them down and make them about as compelling/fierce as a colourful circus of tame lions. What keeps me out of most Christian bookstores are the shelves upon shelves selling ceramic statuettes of cute angels, cute apostles, cute parishioners and even cute trinities. We’ve allowed the Bible to pass into pop-kitch.

I don't want to know where this water came from.

I don’t even want to know where this water came from.

It’s easy to think of the rainbows and returning ravens and pairs of animals, but Aronofsky reminds us of the screams of the drowning, the uncertainty in the face of painful mission, the drunkenness (and resulting butt cheeks) of Noah, the range of innocence among the condemned. And again, the sin – the film was originally written as a French graphic novel titled “Noah: For the Cruelty of Man.” Violence and madness and sex and betrayal and divine wrath. These inescapable parts of our spiritual heritage.

Given some of the intense subject matter in the film I was pretty surprised at the positive response from most religious groups, both Jewish and Christian – it’s a sign that we’re moving into a place as a culture (and Christian subculture) that’s getting over the need for and constant falling-back-on black-and-white artistic metaphors of the spiritual battle.

Here's looking at you, Frodo.

Here’s looking at you, Frodo.

But it’s also a huge opportunity for connection – I mean, how are we supposed to relate to the non-orthodoxly God-haunted? What kinds of conversation can we expect ourselves to start wading through?

This is a big deal. While there’s never been a dearth of spiritually-inclined, challenging film out there (The Seventh Seal being a fantastic example), once Charleton Heston put down his tablets there weren’t a whole lot of mainstream movies that’ve had the guts to start asking big questions of the Christian tradition.

Except this one.

Except that one.

It’s pretty interesting, though, to contrast these two films – actually, what happens when Noah goes up against The Passion in the ring? If we start asking the question, “which film is better?” or “which one is more culturally important?” we can start getting into some pretty deep, murky waters. Just how different are these two works of art?

In a word: very.

In thirteen more words: it’s basically the same difference between “How Great Thou Art” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” One is a piece of worship and/or devotion while the other seeks to address, chronicle and ultimately validate humanity’s mess of a search for God in the midst of a batshit, shattered world. We can shout until the cows come home about which one is “better” and completely miss out on the fact that each film has an entirely different, and essential, mission.****

The Passion is an earnest, straightforward exploration of the salvific mission of Christ, told with a barely-held-back fire that occasionally breaks through the elegant cinematography (Satan writhing in hell, anyone?). It’s purpose: to praise God and convict us all of both His mercy and the price thereof.

But what about Noah? What’s this flick trying to do?

I remember us walking out of that Romanian picture house, wondering what exactly we’d just seen or what kind of ironic remark would put everything back into place but we didn’t have anything. The fierce earnestness took everybody aback and no one quite knew how to react. What does this story have to do with us, now? What does it mean when a God says He loves but destroys? When He saves one family but leaves a girl stuck in a bear trap to be trampled to pulp by marauders? When His messenger begins to think the completion of God’s will requires doing something gut-wrenchingly, proto-Abrahamically horrible? When he is prepared to do such a horrible thing? When his weak, agonizing inability to do it was God’s plan all along? When by saving even just one portion of the human race, the cycle of sin sets right back on it’s track? The same pain, the same cruelty, over and over again. Until Christ. And even afterwards.

The Passion strives to be a artistic approximation of the God-Man’s last hours. Noah broaches the human paradoxes of faith more boldly, more courageously and, Entish-angels notwithstanding, more realistically than perhaps any biblical film we’ve yet come across. Even The Passion never touched the pain of our many confusions in the face of God’s wider plan, our lack of immediate consolation.

I feel sorry for the poor marketing agent at Paramount who had to deal with this conundrum – I mean, how do you sell something like this? As a Heston-grade biblical epic? A blockbuster disaster movie? An antihero-wielding bit of revisionist spiritual fuzz? A 2+ hour long commercial for Green Peace and/or WWOOF? Oprah’s next Big Thing?

Among these, it also turned out to be a quiet blockbuster – easily earning back the hundreds of millions of budget cash (here in Mother Russia it was the 10th highest grossing film of all time) while not really making much of a buzz on the blogosphere or with the Greater Cultural Arbitors.***** Why, if it made that much money, is nobody talking about it?

Because, as mentioned above, it’s a bit of an oddball – a pop-yet-morally-earnest slice of spiritual turmoil without the constant, safe reassurance of the Almighty’s presence. Or, if not His presence, then at least confusion over the exact nature of what His goodness and/or mercy requires. It’s a film that somehow tries to span both the providence and punishment of the Am that Is with the casts of Gladiator, Harry Potter and Requiem for a Dream. The average moviegoing mind is certainly forgiven if things just don’t seem to add up.

But, all the flaws of the film aside (and there are many, gosh), maybe there’s part of us that responds to someone crazy enough to engage with some of the questions we might not feel like airing either in the church or in the office. How does one reconcile genuine faith to genuine doubt? Why is God there and then seemingly not? Why are His words so hard to interpret? Are we getting this wrong somehow? It straddles our deep, powerful religious tradition while being fully able to keep close the scandalously legitimate questions of the postmodern age.

Maybe, in the end, the reason why Noah is so important is that it’s messy. Here is a Noah who’s confronted with the fact that he thinks he must do something terrible in order to fulfill God’s plan but can’t go through with it. In his mind that’s a weakness – a lapse of faith, strength and drive. But in the end it proves to be the right thing and you can see in his eyes that he can’t make any of it fit together. His family is broken just as it begins its mission to bring life back to the world. He somehow feels abused and grateful. No one can answer for the girl left in the bear trap.

The film’s not afraid to leave the pieces where they lie, to acknowledge that, sometimes, we can’t just make things add up. In the midst of a religious sub-culture that sometimes places too much of a value on having an answer to everything, we’re all left with a moment to quake in the mystery of I Am. We’re not pressured to have the easy-bake response or expected to breeze over terribly complicated questions. We’re left with mystery. The mystery is left with us. My friends and I walked into the Romanian night not knowing what to say. And a rainbow stretches to cover every possible angle of sky.

*

*This one was Matt Zoller on behalf of rogerebert.com – a bit of a minor tragedy as I’m convinced that the recently-deceased Ebert was one of the few giants of modern criticism that could have really appreciated what Aronofsky was going for here.

**And George R.R. Martin

***I stole that term from somewhere but I can’t for the life of me recall where. It’s, like, my pick for word of the month.

****I don’t know if it’s the fact that North Americans in particular (sorry to my European compatriots) have just gotten comfortable with searching for the better/best thing (noble in its own right, awful when everything becomes a competition with space for only the one winner), but sometimes it leaves our particular set of cultural lenses less likely to admit the fact that sometimes two things can be act as compliments rather than UFC partners.

***** New Yorker, I’m looking at you.

 

Josh Nadeau currently lives in Russia and, when not teaching or writing, may be found winter cycling, hitchhiking or engaged in general shenanigans. He hopes, when he’s older, to maintain his sense of awe.

Celebrating a New Dappled Things

It’s been months and months of hard work. Now, we have the delight of sharing it with you: today we are officially launching our new website, new digital app, revamped blog, and new issue.

Kindle_fire_frontFrom the beginning, Dappled Things has been committed to showcasing works of contemporary art and literature that exhibit the best of the Catholic tradition in a way that engages, enriches, and challenges the modern world. We have always worked to embody the principles the guide us in the design of our website and print edition, and we hope that in this new design you can see echoes “Pied Beauty,” the poem that gave us our name, with its celebration of “all things counter, original, spare, strange,” that “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change.”

The ethic and aesthetic of the works we publish epitomize perhaps the antithesis of the pointless click-bait that characterizes much (most?) of the content for mobile devices. It is precisely for this reason that we are excited to enter the world of tablets and smartphones. We hope the new digital edition will be an oasis of the true and the beautiful that you can carry right in your pocket.

Digital subscriptions are available  for Apple, Android, Kindle Fire, Blackberry, and Windows 8 devices. The digital edition of DT features the same gorgeous art and writing as the print journal, plus rich media such as audio of authors reading their own work, music, and the occasional video. In the freshly-released SS. Peter & Paul 2014 edition, digital subscribers can enjoy Joseph O’Brien reading from his beautiful poem “Twelve.”

Kindle Fire Giveaway and Huge Discounts

To celebrate this launch, we are giving away 20 digital subscriptions and a Kindle Fire HD, as well as offering a 40% discount on print-only subscriptions and a 25% discount on print or print+digital subscriptions. Entering the drawing for prizes is easy and has no cost: all you need to do is “like” us on Facebook by clicking here, and then enter your name and email address. To take advantage of the subscription discounts, visit our Facebook page or Twitter account, where the coupon codes will be announced. These discounts make a digital subscription as low as $8.99, a print-only subscription $15, and a print+digital bundle $17.25! If you have ever wanted to subscribe to Dappled Things, now is the time to act.

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We hope you are as excited as we are about these new developments. We’d love to know what you think of the new site, so drop us a line in the comments box below.

A Book to Change the World

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In 1491, as Christopher Columbus was preparing to sail the ocean blue, Ignatius was born the youngest of 13 siblings. As the son of a wealthy family, he was sent to become a page to a nobleman in the Spanish royal court. He grew to love his life there very much. He loved it all, especially the gambling and the ladies and fighting people with swords in rituals of honor. He was brave but also reckless to the point of foolishly ambushing the priests of another family with whom he was disputing. In time, he was asked to put his military training to use and sent Pamplona to help defend against a French army. During the battle, his leg was struck by a cannonball and broken. The bone refused to heal and had to be broken and reset. Even after it healed, the bone remained crooked, causing the leg to be shorter than the other. He ordered it to be broken yet again and reset, all of this, mind you, without anesthesia! We are talking about a proud, courageous man. His leg did remain shorter and all his life Ignatius walked with a limp.

During convalescence, Ignatius asked that romance novels be brought to him to help pass the time. Instead, he was given a book on the life of Christ, Ludolph of Saxony’s De Vita Christi, also known as Mirror of the Life of Christ. First printed in the 1470’s, this devotional book encouraged readers of the life of Christ to imagine themselves vividly in the midst of the scene, not only reading about it, but meditating upon it as a first-hand witness.

As anyone familiar with Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises might recognize, De Vita Christi was highly appealing to Ignatius and formed the lines along which his own spirituality would later develop. Meanwhile, still in bed with a broken leg, he asked to read more about the lives of the saints. Their heroic manner of living and their courageous deaths for the faith fired his chivalric imagination. Finally he had found something worth the gift of a lifetime, noble enough for which to fight and die! Once on his feet again he traveled directly to the Altar of Our Lady of Montserrat and left his sword there at her feet, thus pledging his knighthood to Mary and the Church. The rest is history: the Spiritual Exercises, the founding of the Society of Jesus, Jesuit education, Jesuit missions to hostile cultures…all for the greater glory of God.

We might observe that the world was changed by a simple, seeming inadequacy in a Spanish library. There were no trashy romance novels to be found! Perhaps we may take from this the lesson that not all books are worth reading. Some are a waste of time. Some fail to live up to the noble purpose of literature to bring the human soul to perfection through truth and beauty. Maybe some books, even if very popular, ought not be in our home libraries. If Ignatius had been given the romance books he desired, it is likely that he would have remained much what he already was.

A more encouraging insight relates to the power of a single book. Perhaps many of us have never heard of De Vita Christi or Ludolph of Saxony, and yet his influence has helped to remake the world from top to bottom. Through the power of his writing, an aimless, romantic nobleman was shown a higher purpose for his knighthood. This was a book to change the world.

It has to be mezcal

The book’s already here but, of course, I’m out of mezcal. No, no, tequila won’t do. Some books call for wine, others for coffee, but when it comes to reading the work of Roberto Bolano (and books about his work), it has to be mezcal.

No mezcalThe book in question is Chris Andrews’, Roberto Bolano’s Fiction: An Expanding Universe, from Columbia University Press. Andrews is the translator of a number of Bolano’s works, including the sublime novella, By Night in Chile, and the excellent short story collection, Last Evenings on Earth. Andrews posits in the introduction to, An Expanding Universe, that translators are in a unique position to offer commentary and criticism on an author’s work, due to the demands of the translation process. That’s the draw of this new book: 300 pages of reflection from someone who has been both, “absorbed in,” and, “haunted by the quiet places,” of Bolano’s fiction.

And the mezcal? It fits nicely with the ambience of Bolano’s fiction. Reading Bolano can be a bit like sitting at a bar and talking to the guy next to you, who turns out to be the saddest, yet most interesting person you spoken to all week. For those who haven’t read Bolano, either of the works listed above are a great place to start, as they both showcase Bolano’s gifts as a storyteller: Last Evenings, is one of the most solid short story collections ever published, and By Night is a feat of technical brilliance (one he never felt the need to equal). If you’re feeling a bit more ambitious, then try The Savage Detectives, and bask in wonder at how he was able to nail so many diverse voices in the central section and yet still bring it all together into something that is all the more powerful because of its unconventional form.

Of course, all of this is sheer conjecture, the mutterings of a man who remembered the formula and diapers, but forgot the liquor. Here’s something more concrete, an exquisite excerpt from the short story, Mexican Manifesto, to whet your appetite:

“The baths at that hour seemed to enjoy, or suffer from, a permanent shadow. That is, a trick shadow, a dome or a palm tree, the closest thing to a marsupial’s pouch; at first you’re grateful for it, but it ends up weighing more than a tombstone.”

Only a poet could write prose like that. The way the words work on your mouth, like a sip of mezcal.

“The Future of the Catholic Literary Imagination”

Definitely of interest to Dappled Things readers: this conference to be hosted at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies. Titled eponymously with this post, “the goal” (says the conference’s website) “is to foster a dynamic, serious but never pious conversation about the relationship between faith and literature in the contemporary American culture.” (Which leaves me wondering: what is wrong with pious? – but of course the term is being used here in its Mystery-and-Manners sense of sugary, unctuous, unrealistically upbeat, not in its robust Latinate sense of filled with the sweetness of the love of God. One wants to be the latter but, yes, never the former.)

Plenary speakers are slated to include rockstars of the Catholic literary world like Ron Hansen, Dana Gioia, Tobias Wolff and Alice McDermott. They’ll be joined by an undisclosed number of “early career writers” (names? names?!) to discuss “ways in which Catholic literary life can be enlarged, enlivened, and refined to meet the needs of both our new century and a new generation of writers.” So exciting! We’ll be following this one for sure.

Tolkien like you’ve never seen him before

We talk a lot about Tolkien at Dappled Things, and with good reason. But if you haven’t seen these illustrations of The Lord of the Rings by Ukrainian artist Sergei Iukhimov, do treat yourself by clicking through to revel in their pure medieval goodness.

tolkien1

They are not exactly, as one of the hosting sites claims, like something out of a 13th-century text. Instead, imagine a cross between the art of Michael O’Brien and Daniel Mitsui, with a splash of surrealism.
Many visual interpretations of Tolkien have the misfortune of being a bit too on-the-nose and literal, if not swept totally into a World-of-Warcraft-esque melodrama (the recent Peter Jackson films knock at the door of the latter at certain points, though they have moments of great beauty and fidelity as well), or bland Kinkade-style escapism. By contrast, these illustrations stick close to the spirit of Tolkien’s own hand drawings (see here): whimsical, atmospheric, borrowing heavily from iconography, heraldry, and the manuscript tradition. You’re welcome!

tolkien2

Truly Common Ground

flag handshakeOne thing about Americans: we love a moral imperative. We care what our candidates think about taxes and economic policy, but we care more about their views on abortion, birth control, gay rights, religious freedom. Whether you subscribe to the catchphrase “Family Values” or “Marriage Equality,” we all expect our political theater to provide a moral compass. It’s a defining feature of our society of which we should be justly proud.

But it’s also deafening.

All you have to do is mention that someone’s rights might be in peril, and the decibel level of American voices instantly increases. Rights have been infringed; the law must intervene; justice must be done! Yes. Exactly. The problem is, when both sides see themselves holding the banner of Right, both sides raise their voices. Loving moral imperatives has given us quite a taste for shouting matches, too.

If you watched the parade of headlines about the recent Hobby Lobby Supreme Court decision, you know what I mean:

 

Hobby Lobby ruling shows Supreme Court gives corporations, not people, more rights (Christian Science Monitor)

Hobby Lobby Case: Religious freedom’s worth more than $35 (Fox News)

Hobby Lobby win at the Supreme Court could lead to more anti-gay laws (Huffington Post)

The Left Can’t Stop Distorting the Hobby Lobby Decision (Townhall.com)

 

When Americans get worked up about rights, semi-automatic verbal strafing clamors through our streets until it’s tempting to rename our parties the Crips and the Bloods. It is hardly a new phenomenon (go read the headlines from the Lincoln-Douglas debates), and every time it happens, some well-meaning voice of reason whimpers the same plea: we are all Americans, let’s find the common ground. What common ground?, I always wonder as I cover my ears.Positions so diametrically opposed cannot both be enshrined in law. We might try (Americans have a long history of convoluted compromise), but in the end, one side or the other must fall. We all know it. That’s why we care enough to shout.

…Which is the beginning–the outskirts, the hinterland–of truly common ground.

We care enough to shout.

What would happen if, instead of seeing each other as enemies to be vanquished, both sides found a way to see their fellow Americans–better yet, their fellow human beings–as people who care enough to shout? What if, no matter how ludicrous we find the other side’s supposed moral footing, we at least gave them credit for wanting to be moral? It would not make an opposing position seem any more right; the folks at Hobby Lobby still would not want to violate their religious beliefs, and the federal government still would not see sufficient grounds to excuse them from its healthcare laws. But might the timbre of public discourse change if both sides’ supporters found the courage to say, “You’re wrong, but I respect that you truly believe you are right”?

I know. You are not picturing mutual respect right now, but frozen hellfire and flying pigs. I am jaded enough that my own hypothetical scenario boggles my imagination. So forget trying to cram that sentiment into a presidential candidate’s mouth and try this instead:

What if you–yes, you–tried speaking those words? What if, the next time your old college roommate posts an article on Facebook with one of those inflammatory headlines, you resist the urge to run the debate through its same old gerbil-wheel circles and comment with, “Susie, you know I think you’re wrong, but I’ve got to hand it to you that at least you’re not shy about what you believe.” After all, what do you stand to lose except the protective armor of your own pride?

…Which leads me to the epicenter of truly common ground. It is, very simply:

Nobody is perfect.

One hundred percent. Unequivocally, it’s a description that fits every person–every nation, every party, every organization–on planet Earth. It’s an axiom we trot out frequently to excuse our mistakes. Even politicians are not afraid to use it when they need justification for some past wrong or change of heart. But what if, instead of waiting until we’re caught with a hand in the cookie jar to admit our weakness, we started all our debates that way?

My name is _____. I am not perfect. My party is not perfect. I do not have all the answers, but what I believe, I believe from my heart, and I am willing to act in the interest of justice. I am willing to learn.

Yes, the pigs outside my window are cavorting like the Blue Angels right about now. But if we do not have the courage to dream the impossible, it will never come to pass.

I am proud to be an American, to live in a land where we have the right to shout about our rights. Let us never be silent, or even soft-spoken, in the name of keeping the peace, for a peace without open discussion is not worth keeping. But I would suggest that it’s time to temper our American pride and become pioneers of another great virtue: American humility.

What might our headlines look like then?

 

 

Big Changes Coming Soon

I’m excited to report that there are some big changes coming soon to Dappled Things.

As editors, we are committed to making DT an ever more effective medium for enriching and thinking about the culture at large, and to this end we wish to make the magazine as accessible, interesting, and enjoyable as possible. Therefore, during the coming weeks, we will be introducing three important initiatives that we are very excited about:

1) Dappled Things for your tablet and smartphone: thanks to a generous grant from Our Sunday Visitor InstituteDappled Things will be available as an app on the Apple iTunes Newstand, as well as for all other major platforms through the Pocketmags app. Digital issues of the magazine will feature the same excellent writing and art that appears in our printed editions, plus added bonuses such as video and audio. The SS. Peter and Paul 2014 edition, due out next week, will feature Joseph O’Brien reading his poem “Twelve.”

2) A redesigned website: we want to make DT’s website more beautiful and friendly to readers. We are putting together a new design we hope will immediately declare to visitors, in a visual way, the values that animate our work. You can expect a bigger role for our blog Deep Down Things, as well as more fresh content every week.

3) A non-fiction prize: our fiction prize was such a success, that we are following up with a prize for non-fiction, paying $500 to the winner. We have yet to iron out some final details, but we will be announcing it officially in the coming weeks. The prize will mean more opportunities and recognition for our writers, and even better content for our readers.

Visit us next week to experience the new DT. Please let us know what you think when the new design is unveiled!

Taking the Eucharist to the Streets

On June 15, 2014, Pope Francis invited Romans and visitors to join the upcoming Corpus Christi Mass and procession on Thursday June 19, on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi[1] . The observance of the Feast begins with a Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran, which is the Cathedral where the pope officiates as Bishop of Rome. A procession then follows the Mass with the Blessed Sacrament exposed in a gold and jewel-studded monstrance that is carried under a canopy. The procession wends its way a mile and a half to the Basilica of St. Mary Major, where it ends with a final Benediction. The Mass in honor of the feast and the procession through the streets of Rome between these two very impressive major basilicas take place in the evening, and those who have been fortunate enough to participate say the Mass is beautiful, and the candlelight procession is stunning.

Corpus Christi Procession Through the Streets of Rome

Corpus Christi Procession Through the Streets of Rome

Timing Is Almost Everything

In most countries, the Feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated on the traditional date of the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Pentecost. In the United States, Canada, and parts of Spain, the bishops have transferred the Solemnity of the Feast of Corpus Christi to the following Sunday.

The official title of this feast is the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ (Solemnitas Sanctissimi Corporis et Sanguinis Christi), but the feast is commonly referred to as Corpus Christi. Where it is celebrated on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi is a holy day of obligation and it is also a public holiday in many predominantly Catholic countries, including “Austria, Brazil, Bolivia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Colombia, Croatia, Dominican Republic, Haiti, East Timor, parts of Germany, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Panama, Peru, Poland, San Marino, parts of Spain and Switzerland, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Trinidad and Tobago”[2].

At individual churches and oratories where the pre-Vatican II (pre-Councilar) rites are observed, the Solemnity is often celebrated on the traditional date on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, but it also may be celebrated on the following Sunday by these groups, because of pastoral considerations. At a growing number of locations, Corpus Christi processions are being made after the Mass of the feast, whether the Mass is in the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Form, and whether the feast is observed on the traditional Thursday or transferred to the following Sunday.

Just in the San Francisco Bay Area alone, the following randomly selected examples illustrate some of the very different ways that the feast may be observed.

  • The Mass for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi is being celebrated as a sung High Mass in the Extraordinary Form without a procession at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland on Thursday the 19th. On following Sunday, the 22nd, the Solemnity will be celebrated with two Masses at the same church, one in the Ordinary Form and one in the Extraordinary Form and both will be followed by Eucharistic processions.
  • Across the Bay, Star of the Sea Church in San Francisco had advertised a Solemn High Mass to be offered on Thursday the 19th, followed by a Eucharistic Procession on the “Streets of San Francisco.”
  • In Palo Alto on the San Francisco peninsula, the St. Ann choir will sing Josquin Des Prez’s polyphonic Mass setting, Missa Pange lingua, at an Ordinary Form Mass in Latin on Sunday, June 22, at St. Thomas Aquinas Church, followed by a procession of the Blessed Sacrament.

eucharistic_procession
Why does the Church take the Eucharist to the Streets?

Corpus Christi processions bring the Blessed Sacrament out from the church buildings into the world, because the Church wants to share this immense gift of God with everyone. St. Francis of Assisi, Pope Francis’ namesake, had this to say about the Eucharist, “For one in such a lofty position to stoop so low is a marvel that is staggering. 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!”

“The feast of Corpus Christi is one time when our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament is exposed not just to faithful Catholics but to all the world. This is a time when Catholics can show their love for Christ in the Real Presence by honoring Him in a very public way. It is also a wonderful way in which we can show our love for our neighbors by bringing Our Lord and Savior closer to them. So many conversions are a result of Eucharistic Adoration experienced from inside the Church. How many more there would be if we could reach those who only drive by the church in worldly pursuits.”–Real Presence Eucharistic Education and Adoration Association

When in Rome, Do As the Polish Do

In many countries, elaborate Corpus Christi processions have been held for centuries and are still being held today in cities and in towns. But for about a hundred years, in Rome, Italy, the center of Roman Catholicism, these processions were only held within the confines of St. Peter’s Square, which is within the boundaries of the autonomous Vatican state, not technically part of Italy at all.

In 1982, Pope St. John Paul II, remembering the elaborate processions through the streets of his native Poland, brought the Corpus Christi procession out of St. Peter’s Square and back to the streets and the people of Rome. His successors, Benedict XVI and now Francis continue the Roman Corpus Christi processions to this day. “Pope John Paul wanted the Blessed Sacrament carried into the city, where the people lived, as they did in Poland.”
Remembering Corpus Christi with Pope John Paul II–Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades, “Today’s Catholic News,” posted May 28, 2013.

Polish Corpus Christi Procession with Infant of Prague Statue

Polish Corpus Christi Procession with Infant of Prague Statue

Vatican II Did Not Downplay Eucharistic Adoration, Said Pope Benedict XVI

In a 2012 CNS article titled, “Vatican II did not downplay eucharistic adoration, pope says,” Pope Benedict XVI clarified a mistaken impression held by many that “eucharistic adoration and Corpus Christi processions are pietistic practices that pale in importance to the celebration of Mass.”

Celebration and adoration are not in competition, the pope said. “Worshipping the Blessed Sacrament constitutes something like the spiritual environment in which the community can celebrate the Eucharist well and in truth. …

“It is true that Christ inaugurated a new form of worship, one tied less to a place and a ritual and more to his person, but people still need ‘signs and rites,’” the pope said. In fact, without its annual Corpus Christi procession, “the spiritual profile of Rome” would change.

Corpus Christi Procession
St. Thomas Aquinas and the Liturgies of Corpus Christi

When Pope Urban IV added the feast of Corpus Christi to the Church’s liturgical calendar in 1264, he asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the liturgy. St. Thomas wrote the famous Sequence (a poem that precedes the Gospel) for the Mass of day, the Lauda Sion Salvatorem (Sion, Lift Up thy Voice and Sing). St. Thomas is widely known for his brilliance, but he is perhaps less known for his devotion to the Blessed Sacrament. He was even seen levitating before the Blessed Sacrament in prayer.

Lauda Sion Salvatorum

Sion, lift thy voice and sing:
Praise thy Savior and thy King;
Praise with hymns thy Shepherd true:
Dare thy most to praise Him well;
For He doth all praise excel;
None can ever reach His due.

Special theme of praise is Thine,
That true living Bread divine,
That life-giving flesh adored,
Which the brethren twelve received,
As most faithfully believed,
At the Supper of the Lord.

Let the chant be loud and high;
Sweet and tranquil be the joy
Felt to-day in every breast;
On this festival divine
Which recounts the origin
Of the glorious Eucharist.

As described in Corpus Christi: Our Debt to St. Thomas Aquinas by Stephanie A. Mann, which was posted at Catholic Exchange on June 7, 2012: “St. Thomas also wrote a hymn for Vespers: Pange Lingua (Sing, tongue, the mystery of the glorious Body), from which we have the Tantum Ergo (Down in Adoration Falling) verses sung at Benediction. … His hymn for Matins, Sacris Solemniis (Sacred Solemnity), includes the great Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) meditation … From the third hymn, for Lauds, Verbum Supernum Prodiens (Word Descending from Above), we take the other Benediction hymn, O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim).

“Finally, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a hymn of Eucharistic thanksgiving, Adore Te Devote (Devoutly I Adore Thee).”

Adoro Te Devote

Godhead here in hiding
Whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows,
Shape and nothing more,
See, Lord, at Thy service
Low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder
At the God Thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting
Are in Thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing?
That shall be believed;
What God’s Son has told me,
Take for truth I do;
Truth Himself speaks truly
Or there’s nothing true.

On the cross Thy Godhead
Made no sign to men;
Here Thy very manhood
Steals from human ken:
Both are my confession,
Both are my belief;
And I pray the prayer
Of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas,
Wounds I cannot see,
But I plainly call Thee
Lord and God as he;
This faith each day deeper
Be my holding of,
Daily make me harder
Hope and dearer love.

In his 2003 encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, Pope St. John Paul II praised St. Thomas Aquinas as “an impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist,” and rightly so.
St. Thomas Aquinas from  by Carlo Crivelli


[1] EWTN has currently scheduled broadcasts of the three hour Holy Mass at St. John Lateran and the Eucharistic Procession to the Basilica of St. Mary Major for Thursday 06/19/2014, 1:00 PM ET and Friday 06/20/2014, 12:00 AM ET. Click here for local times, go to
[2] Corpus Christi (feast), From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,