Adapted from an article by Fr. José Miguel Marqués Campo
Spain is blessed with a deep Catholic soul. Yes, despite the gradual apostasy of Western civilization. Yes, even despite the unhappy post–Vatican II “reforms.” And yes, despite even the ever accelerating and ever deepening quagmire in which the Church finds herself of late.
The Archdioceses of Toledo (Castilla–La Mancha), Granada, and Valencia are especially renowned in their Corpus Christi festivities, most notably the monstrances used in the most solemn processions in the streets of these cities.
It was in the Year of Our Lord 1263 when Pope Urban IV instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi by publishing the bull “Transiturus Hoc Mundo,” extending it throughout Christendom. Its celebration was fixed on the first Thursday after the Octave of Pentecost which is why it does not have a fixed date and varies between 21 May and 24 June (in some Novus Ordo calendars nowadays it is commemorated the following Sunday), celebrating a solemn procession from that moment, at the sound of cloistered bells rung within the churches.
This papal bull was later confirmed by Pope Clement V at the General Council of Vienne in 1311 and by Pope John XXII in 1317. With this, the feast of Corpus Christi became, along with Easter and Christmas, the third of the great liturgical events of the year.
To celebrate the feast in a fitting way the Spanish bishops in these above-mentioned cities still promote today the creation of this beautiful procession that starts off at the cathedral. The Most Blessed Sacrament mounted on a golden throne, and over which in smaller towns altar boys sometimes hold a tasseled canopy, travels the streets of the city followed by the clergy and religious. In front of the Blessed Sacrament all the little children who have made their first Holy Communion that year lead the procession, the girls in their pretty white dresses and the boys in smart suits, scattering the ground with rose petals that they take from baskets they carry in honour of where Our Blessed Lord sacramentally present in the Holy Eucharist will tread. A lively official band usually takes up the rear of the procession. In fact nearly all the population of the city takes part, some following behind and others lining the streets where the procession passes by. A continuous chorus of prayers, songs of praise, tinkling bells and devotional acclamations from the participants accompanies the procession from start to finish.
The night before the celebration the neighbourhood’s residents had cleared the streets where the procession was going to pass, lined them with sweet-smelling herbs, grasses and aromatic herbs as a tribute, and decorated their houses by hanging typical Spanish mantillas and crocheted quilts from the balconies. Those who watch the procession from there shower down flower petals upon the Blessed Sacrament when it passes by.
The Corpus Christi procession has a long history in Spain. After it was suspended by Pedro, King of Castile, for sixteen years due to threats of war, in 1372 under Cardinal Jaime de Aragón, bishop of the diocese, grandson of King Jaime II and cousin of Pedro “the Ceremonious,” the festivity resurfaced again, taking a boom and solemnity, adding music to the feast (with instruments of the time). They also joined the numerous medieval guilds that existed, with their flowing flags and banners, and with members of each guild carrying an eight-ounce candle.
Such was the splendour of the procession that in the year 1401, Blanca of Aragón repeated it. King Martín “the Humane” and Queen Juana of Sicily came to witness it, and later, in 1414, during the coronation of the King of Aragón, Fernando of Antequera, wished that it be represented in Zaragoza, and in 1415, even Pope Gregory XII attended. In 1427, it was requested by King Alfonso “the Magnanimous,” in 1466 taking place in the presence of King Juan II of Aragón, and in 1481 — some eleven years before the taking of the last Moorish bastion in Granada, thus ending in 1492 the nearly eight-century-long Reconquista — the procession was celebrated in the presence of Their Catholic Majesties, Isabel I of Castile, “Mother of the Spanish Americas,” and Fernando II of Aragón.
After the brutal Spanish Civil War (1931–1939) — Satan’s cruel revenge against Spain’s deep Catholic soul and worldwide missionary history — the pro-Franco side in Valencia, not taking into sufficient consideration local Valencian customs and traditions, accented only the national religious dimension of the Corpus Christi feast. In the 1960s, some Valencians restored the more ample local cultural traditions that were present in the beginnings of the procession of Corpus Christi, with all its original splendour.
¡Adorado sea el Santísimo Sacramento del Altar! ¡Viva Jesús Sacramentado!
Adoremus in æternum Sanctissimum Sacramentum!