The Solemnities of June

Corpus Christi and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

The Last Supper, by Juan de Juanes (1562).

This June is a very solemn month. There are six solemnities on the liturgical calendar: Pentecost Sunday, Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi, the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, and Sts. Peter and Paul, Apostles. The first four are movable feasts, scheduled according to the date of Easter each year: Pentecost Sunday, 50 days after Easter, Trinity Sunday, a week after Pentecost Sunday; Corpus Christi, the Thursday after Trinity Sunday (usually moved to the Sunday following, in the U.S.); and the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Friday after Corpus Christi. The Birth of St. John the Baptist is a fixed feast: June 24th. In Quebec, his feast is celebrated with parades and festivities since he is the patron saint of that Canadian province. The Solemnity of Sts. Peter and Paul is on June 29 which, this year, falls on a Sunday.

Pentecost, 10 days (or so, depending on the U.S. diocesan observance of the Solemnity of the Ascension, 40 or so days after Easter) after the Ascension of our Lord, celebrates the fulfillment of his promise to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles. Trinity Sunday follows Pentecost Sunday as a further meditation on the mystery of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Solemnity of Corpus Christi heralds the coming of the long liturgical season of Ordinary Time by focusing our attention on the Holy Eucharist.

But why does the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus follow the Solemnity of Corpus Christi? The late Fr. John Hardon, S.J., proposes that the personal devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus flows from the summit and the center of our Catholic faith, the Holy Mass, and that devotion to the Holy Eucharist, the Real Presence of Jesus, leads us to love his Sacred Heart. But before we meditate further on that mystery, let’s consider the special liturgies of these two Solemnities.

The great scholastic philosopher and theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, wrote the liturgy for Corpus Christi when Pope Urban IV added the solemnity to the universal Church’s liturgical calendar in 1264. He provided a great sequence, one of the great poems chanted or recited before the proclamation of the Gospel. At one time, the Church had many sequences for different feasts and Masses (including the Dies Irae in the Requiem Mass), but now we have only three: Victimae Paschali Laudes (Christians, to the Paschal Victim) for Easter Sunday; Veni Sancte Spiritus (Come, Holy Spirit) for Pentecost, and Lauda Sion Salvatorem (Sion, Lift Up Thy Voice and Sing), for Corpus Christi.

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; a hymn for Matins, Sacris Solemniis (Sacred Solemnity), which includes the great Panis Angelicus (Bread of Angels) meditation, best known in the setting by Cesar Franck, and a third hymn, for Lauds, Verbum Supernum Prodiens (Word Descending from Above), from which we take the other Benediction hymn, O Salutaris Hostia (O Saving Victim). He also wrote a hymn of Eucharistic thanksgiving, Adore Te Devote (Devoutly I Adore Thee). Each hymn provides great doctrinal statements of the truths of the Incarnation, the Paschal Mystery, and the Eucharist, while expressing devotion to Jesus Christ as Lord and Redeemer.

The first liturgy for the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was written by St. John Eudes, the 17th-century promoter of the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary (the memorial for the Saturday following the Solemnity). He emphasized, as Pope Benedict XVI pointed out in a General Audience during the Year of Priests in August, 2009, a “path of holiness” that was “founded on steadfast trust in the love that God had revealed to humanity in the priestly Heart of Christ and in the maternal Heart of Mary. In those times of cruelty, of the loss of interiority, he turned to the heart to speak to the heart, a saying of the Psalms very well interpreted by St. Augustine. He wanted to recall people, men and women, and especially future priests, to the heart by showing them the priestly Heart of Christ and the motherly Heart of Mary.” Pope Benedict’s mention of the “priestly Heart of Christ” hints at the Eucharistic aspect of the Sacred Heart.

Fr. John Hardon expands on this hint, noting that the timing of these solemnities indicates there’s a connection we should understand. In an article titled “Devotion to the Holy Eucharist Advances Devotion to Jesus’ Person,” he articulates the connection, which I’ll outline here in his words, although I’d urge reading the whole article:

  • Once the words of consecration have been pronounced by a validly ordained priest, what used to be bread and wine are no longer bread and wine. … There is now, on the altar, Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, full God and full Man.
  • Since the Eucharist is simply and unequivocally Jesus Christ, then he is present in the Eucharist with the fullness of his humanity, and this means also with his physical, human heart.
  • When, then, we speak of the Real Presence, we imply that part of this reality, which is Christ, is the heart of flesh and blood that … Christ has in the glorified body he now possesses (in Heaven) since the resurrection.
  • This means that the heart of Christ is in our midst, because Jesus is in our midst.
  • We have in the Holy Eucharist, not only the physical Christ in his human and divine natures, and, therefore, his heart of flesh substantially united to the Word of God. We have in the Eucharist the effective means by which we can show our love for God, since it is not just our own affections when we unite them with the heart of the Eucharistic Christ.
  • By our use of the Eucharist, that is, by our celebrating the Eucharistic Liturgy, and by our reception of the heart of Christ in Holy Communion, we receive an increase of the supernatural virtue of charity. We are thus empowered to love God more than we would ever be able to do otherwise, especially by loving the people whom he graciously—though often painfully—places into our lives.

Fr. Hardon’s explanation of the connection between these two solemnities, these two devotions to the Holy Eucharist, and to the Sacred Heart, reminds us again of the tremendous richness of our Catholic Faith. For all of us, it will take a lifetime to meditate on the mystery of God’s love for us, loving the world so much that he sent us his Son—and his Son loving us so much that he left us his Sacred Body and Blood, and his Sacred Heart, to sustain us on our journey to eternal life with him in Heaven. When we pray the Mass, we experience and celebrate this mystery. When we are sent from the Mass (Ite, missa est), we live it.

Stephanie A. Mann About Stephanie A. Mann

Stephanie A. Mann is the author of Supremacy and Survival: How Catholics Endured the English Reformation (Scepter Publishers, 2009). She based this article on a talk she has given at the Bishop Helmsing Institute in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Missouri, and at St. Paul's Parish-Newman Center on the campus of Wichita State University, her alma mater. She resides in Wichita, Kansas, is a member of Blessed Sacrament Parish, and blogs at www.supremacyandsurvival.blogspot.com.

Comments

  1. Assigned to MACV as III Corps Senior Medical Advisor, I arranged my affairs to allow my presence at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, noon Dec. 8, 1970. Surprisingly, only a few Americans were present. It was not a Holy Day of Obligation in Vietnam. My disappointment was lifted when I was at the US Hospital in Quang Tri with regards to a blood (for transfusion) utilization meeting, the week before Christmas. I was able to visit the Basilica of Lavang. This was a site of Marian Apparitions and Eucharistic Congress in more peaceful times. The Basilica was demolished when US forces were pulled out and VC moved in. In 1975 Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan was arrested by the Communist Government and imprisoned for 13 years, nine of them in solitary confinement., then finally exiled in 1991. His reflections were presented in 1997 on World Youth Day in Paris , then published as “Five Loaves and Two Fish”. I treasure the ability to attend daily Mass, and participate in the Eucharist. When a Priest cannot make a scheduled MASS, please sing the Panis Angelicus and make a spiritual communion. Be brave: if you find yourself alone in a chapel, with Christ in the tabernacle, sing the Panis Angelicus anyway. Ted.

  2. This is my first visit to the site. Looks easy to travel. My age is 76 so it will keep my mind active. While a student at Georgetown in DC, a number of my professors were Jesuits. What great teachers! Never boring, and I kept awake. And they always gave me good grades.
    My early years were spent at Saint John’s Atonement Seminary under the Graymoor Friars. So many are now gone, R.I.P. Just lost Alban, a teacher of French. He was stationed in London at the information center. Had lunch with him. Owen died, latin teacher.
    Pope Francis is the best pontiff in years, and I have lived thru the years of Pius XI, XII, and several more. What a man, common sense. I knew when I saw the bird sitting on top of the funnel of the Sistine Chapel, that we were in for a treat. May he have many years ahead!