Corpus Christi Procession in Middlesborough in 1937
EWTN News reports that the man behind organising the recent 'ad limina' visits of America's bishops to Rome, British born Mgr. Anthony Figueirdo, says that Pope Benedict has called on the U.S. Catholic Church to help rescue and revive Christian culture.
"The Holy Father spoke of the challenges in marriage, in family life, in growing secularization, in education, but I think there was a common theme amidst all the challenges: that where God does not exist, where he is taken out of culture, civilisation itself begins to disintegrate."
Over the past six months Msgr. Figueiredo has led the organisation of 15 visiting delegations from the US consisting of 258 bishops.
'The most important part of the Ad Limina visit is not so much the administrative tasks, even though these are important, but really to come here and to pray,' he said.
It was therefore one of Msgr. Figueiredo's key tasks to make sure that each delegation were able to say Mass at Rome's four papal basilicas. That included making pilgrimages to the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul.
He was also the point-man with the Vatican when arranging Papal audiences for each of the delegations. These meetings, he said, allowed the bishops 'to be confirmed in the mission that is entrusted to them, which is really an apostolic ministry given them by the Holy Father himself.'
'If God is taken out of the equation, this is what the Holy Father was saying, then the human person has no human dignity,' he said, 'and we can do with the human person whatever we feel should be done to him or to her regardless of him or her being made in the image and likeness of God.'
Bringing the Faith back not so much just into the public square but into the public culture is a constant theme of Pope Benedict. It struck me that public display has a role to play in this, in allowing people to take part and to mark the passing of time with a public event that everyone can take part in. This week the Holy Father is once again calling people to take part in the Blessed Sacrament Procession for Corpus Christi this Thursday (yes - Thursday!) in Rome. Having taken part in the procession last year, I know that it is both a very public and very moving event, one that elicits popular turnout and support from the great and the good to the balconies of ordinary apartments along the way being decorated for the procession to pass by.
It struck me that the Queen's Jubilee celebrations we have witnessed over the past few days here in Britain have had a similar role and feel to them. The celebrations themselves are not all that the monarchy is about but enabling a shared sense of belonging and participation, for those there and those watching on television, says that what the monarchy stands for still has huge popular support and the very act of celebrating it brings people together and enhances the institution.
In the Church, we have in the last forty years shied away from such public displays. Too emotional, too old-fashioned, too triumphal, alright for Mediterranean peasants but not for us sophisticated types. Yet the Jubilee celebrations, with their spectacle and the keenness to take part exhibited by so many people, would point to a desire for just the sort of celebration that a Blessed Sacrament Procession or a May through the streets would fulfil. Bringing a public display of faith to the streets and a means of engaging with some aspect of the Faith from those who wouldn't normally come to church.
Having also been at the Bravade in St Tropez again recently, the same atmosphere was present. Certainly many tourists come to see it but the whole town is involved in its preparation throughout the year and taking part is seen as a great privilege while the menfolk involved all come to a monthly Mass for the saint at his altar in the parish church. The St Tropez Bravade is spectacular but every little town in that area has its own Bravade. The Faith is embedded still in the culture.
How wonderful it would be to see a major Blessed Sacrament Procession at every cathedral or at the centre of every major city. Even the spectacle of the Olympic Torch, which after all is no more than a giant lighter, seems to bring people out onto the streets and surely we still have enough confidence in the faith to believe we have more to offer than that.
We are offering a Corpus Christi High Mass here at St Catherine's this Thursday at 7pm and, weather permitting, an outdoor Blessed Sacrament Procession at the end of the 10am Mass on Sunday.