I recall vividly our first Corpus Christi procession. We were new converts then, recently received into the Catholic Church at the Oxford University chaplaincy. Our regular parish at that time was the ‘Oratory,’ a small but vibrant island of holiness nestled under Oxford’s dreaming spires, a church where Cardinal Newman preached and the priest-poet Gerard Manley Hopkins once served.
On the way to the Oratory in the morning we would pass the Eagle and Child, Lewis and Tolkien’s pub, just steps from our flat, and a few blocks south of the church, along St. Giles Street. Those were sweet days for Anna and I, and from those first years of our Catholic life little remains sweeter in my recollections than that first Corpus Christi procession, complete with brass band, banners, and a handsome young priest bellowing out the rosary as we wound our way through cobblestone streets.
This Sunday some of our younger children experienced their first Corpus Christi procession, here on Jasper Avenue, in Edmonton. What will my children recall from Sunday, I wonder?
I have no doubt it will prove as memorable as was our first Feast. Just like ours, ladies were dressed in sun hats and flowing dresses, children jostled for a better view of the front, and onlookers gazed as incense and the choir’s Latin chants perfumed their familiar street; beautiful too in the memory of our children will be sounds of the lusty singing that the seminarians threw out at us from the back of the line; beautiful too in the memory of our children will be our pause for adoration in front of a hospital lined with infirm grandfathers and great-grandmothers, hunched over in their chairs, eyes sparkling with joy.
Did they notice the gold embroidered canopy that sheltered our Lord from the noon sun? Did they recognize that among the faithful twenty nations were represented on our walk? Surely they would have observed that Pilipino mother and her children at the corner who kept craning their necks to watch us pass, or the middle aged runner who changed his course so he could get a better look, following us for blocks, stretching and wondering, no doubt, for what end our happy crowd sang? Jesus came once upon the stunned shepherds of Bethlehem; this Sunday he came again to shoppers of Jasper Avenue.
Such memories do not quickly pass. More than half a century after his childhood had vanished, Pope Benedict XVI still recalled in detail the processions he knew as a boy in Bavaria.
I can still smell the carpets of flowers and the freshness of the birch trees; I can recall the decorations on all the houses, the banners, the singing; I can still hear the village band…I can hear the firing of guns by which the local youth celebrated their own joie de vivre while, at the same time, saluting Christ as a head of state, as the Head of State, the Lord of the world, and welcoming him to their streets and into their village. The perpetual presence of Christ was celebrated on this day as though it were a state visit in which not even the smallest village was forgotten.
Yes, not the smallest village, nor even the busiest street in Edmonton.
– Dr. Ryan N.S. Topping is vice-president and academic dean of Newman Theological College in Edmonton.