The Corpus Christi Canopy Preserved and Handed Down


My home parish of Saint Agnes in Saint Paul, Minnesota has done a superb job over the years preserving the custom of a beautiful annual Corpus Christi procession.  This is an event that serious Catholics cherish, something they look forward to each year, something their children remember for the rest of their lives.  The event draws faithful from even neighboring parishes, some whom drive a great distance.  This is because Saint Agnes has a reputation and is renowned for its sacred liturgy and the preservation of the vibrant liturgical life of the Roman Church.  

Saint Agnes is also one of a few parishes in the US that has maintained, without interruption, this noble custom - even during the dark days of pontconciliar confusion when many traditions such as this were abandoned and familiar liturgical visuals like the processional canopy were rendered obsolete and discarded in impudent haste.  This impertinent dumping of the Corpus Christi procession and its comforting trappings was the direct result of a false exegesis of Vatican Council II, partly fueled by the secular media and the modernizing spirit of the age.  

Of course no where did the Council renounce beautiful processions and due honor given to our Eucharistic Lord.  Progressive church leaders fell for the trap and in the years since have abandoned untold treasures of liturgical arts.  The overall result was a deleterious effect on all liturgical celebrations.   It is nice to see these time-honored devotional customs and symbolic ways of honoring Our Lord returning once again, after a hiatus in some places of over fifty years.  Recognition of the importance of preserving these traditions has indeed been a distinctive hallmark of our age of restoration.     

The ceremony of the Corpus Christi procession bears testimony on its surface to the divinity and kingship of Christ.  Keep in the mind the feast goes back to the year 1246 in Belgium and by order of Pope Urban IV it was extended to the universal Church in 1264.  In the praxis of liturgical arts through the centuries, this venerable custom of the canopy is one that stands out, one of the most recognizable and universal and best remembered by children in adulthood.  It makes a strong impression upon all who see it, including bystanders who may know nothing of the Eucharist.  The canopy soars into the realm of the imagination and its value becomes immeasurable as a teaching instrument that resonates with the memory.  

This much is certain, the canopy is an instructive and authentic teaching tool for the faithful and clergy, and inspires intense devotional fervor among the parish community, feeding the flames of Eucharistic piety for young and old.  Before the late 1960's every parish had such a canopy and it would have been unthinkable to omit (let alone cancel or forbid) the annual procession on the FĂȘte-Dieu ("Feast of God"), as it is refereed to in France or Corpus Domini as it is referred to in Italy.  

This canopy in the image is from the US, made in the 1940's with beautiful white silk textile fabric and blue orphrey intended to originally match a solemn vestment set.  I overheard one parent giving instruction to their little children after the procession, invoking the imagination and stating the canopy represents in some ways the remarkable burial cloth of Christ that is preserved in Turin, Italy, "the most hallowed relic of Christendom."  The whole scene brought to mind the passage from Dostoevsky's 1869 novel where a Christ-like hero, Prince Myshkin says, "I belive the world will be saved by beauty."  This is said not in reference to just any beauty, but specifically the beauty of Christ.   







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