By Jay Nies
Members and friends of St. Joseph parish in Westphalia took part in an outdoor procession of the Most Blessed Sacrament after Mass on Sunday, June 3, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.
They accompanied the Most Blessed Sacrament from the church to three elaborately decorated altars of repose — in the churchyard, on a porch across the street, and at a 19th-century log cabin on the grounds of the Osage County Historical Society.
The procession combined movement, community, prayer, worship and public witness with the gift of warm, clear weather.
This was one of several “Corpus Christi” (Body of Christ) observances held in parishes throughout the diocese to mark the feastday and give public witness to the belief in and worship of Christ and His total gift of self in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
Among them were: Our Lady of Lourdes in Columbia; St. Bernadette in Hermitage; St. George in Linn; St. Pius X in Moberly; Immaculate Conception in Montgomery City; Sacred Heart in Rich Fountain; St. Lawrence in St. Elizabeth; St. Thomas the Apostle in St. Thomas; and Sacred Heart and St. Patrick in Sedalia.
The purpose of this centuries-old tradition is to give public witness to the Real Presence of Jesus Christ — Body, Soul, Spirit and Divinity — in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
“O Sacrament Divine!”
In Westphalia, verses of the Communion hymn, “Gift of Finest Wheat” could be heard outside the church as the bell struck the quarter-hour.
After the Communion Prayer, a cross-bearer and two candle-bearers led the procession.
Father Anthony Viviano, pastor of St. Joseph parish and of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Folk, carried the Blessed Sacrament under an embroidered canopy known as a baldacchino, held up by four rods carried by parishioners.
Second-graders who recently received their First Holy Communion followed, along with the rest of the congregation.
They sang “Praise to the Lord,” “O Sacrament Most Holy” and “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” as Fr. Viviano bore an ornate monstrance containing the Most Blessed Sacrament to the three altars of repose.
One of the altars came from the chapel of the convent that used to stand next to the school.
At each location, Fr. Viviano led the congregants in adoration and prayer, followed by blessing the people with the Eucharist.
He proclaimed a Scripture passage from Chapter 6 of the Gospel of John, in which Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. … I am the living bread which came down from heaven.”
He led a Litany of the Body and Blood of Christ, followed by a prayer:
“Lord Jesus Christ, we ask that Your blessing be upon Your Church, so that Your people, Your ministers may serve You in the most august sacrament of the altar with ever deeper reverence and love, that untied with You, Who are Bread of Life, we may live with You in heaven, You Who live and reign forever and ever. Amen.”
The observance of the solemnity dates back to the 13th century, when God inspired St. Juliana, a Belgian nun, to promote belief and reverence for the Real Presence of Christ in the Most Blessed Sacrament.
The first “Corpus Christi” procession in Westphalia took place over 100 years ago. Parishioners at that time asked God during the procession for a bountiful harvest, upon which their livelihood depended.
In those days, the whole town was decorated for the procession, with the priest offering Benediction at altars of repose set up on nearby front porches.
The tradition in Westphalia carried over into the 1950s. It was reinstated in modified form in 1998, and in 1999 included one of the original altars.