By Celine Klosterman
SUGAR CREEK — For generations, Catholics have gathered outside St. Joseph Church amid green, rolling hills and farmland for an annual celebration honoring the Eucharist.
About 70 people braved rain June 25 to take part in the 156th procession through the church’s cemetery on the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, also known as the Feast of Corpus Christi. Father Scott Lemaster, pastor of Ss. Mary & Joseph Parish, carried a monstrance behind parishioners who sang hymns and held banners bearing images of the Eucharist. While walking to outdoor chapels for a Gospel reading, prayer and benediction, many Catholics took some of the same steps their grandparents and great-grandparents had.
“It makes you think of your family who did this before you,” parishioner Doris Lawrence said. She recalled donning a white dress and a crown of flowers decades earlier to take part in the procession as a child, as nine flower girls did in Saturday’s celebration.
“I think we need to hang on to some of these old traditions,” said Donna Roling, Lawrence’s cousin and a fellow parishioner. “This feast isn’t celebrated everywhere anymore.”
The feast’s origin dates back to the early 13th century. Then, Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège, who was later canonized a saint, reported seeing a vision of a moon with a dark spot symbolizing the lack of a feast honoring the Blessed Sacrament. In 1264, Pope Urban IV ordered the annual celebration of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday.
Catholics later began holding processions to commemorate the institution of the Eucharist and offer a public witness of faith. Ss. Mary & Joseph Parish’s procession was among a few that took place in the Diocese of Davenport last weekend.
Preparations for the event bring the entire parish together, Roling said. Families collaborate to decorate the same outdoor chapels their ancestors decorated, and students including Traci Trenkamp and Abby Fuegen were instrumental in helping with chapel cleanup, Roling added.
In his homily during Mass before the Sugar Creek procession, Fr. Lemaster reminded Catholics of Jesus’ words in John 6:51: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.”
That statement confused Christ’s followers, some of whom quarreled and left him after hearing it, Fr. Lemaster noted. If Jesus had spoken metaphorically, he would’ve offered a clarification to stop them from walking away, the priest said. But Jesus didn’t.
Having received the Lord in the Eucharist, Catholics are to process, to go forward, to where he leads them, Fr. Lemaster said. The pastor’s words echoed a homily that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, offered on the Feast of Corpus Christi in 1978.
Fr. Lemaster noted the importance of kneeling before the Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, which parishioners did as incense burned in St. Joseph Church following the procession.
“This is for the honor and glory of God,” Roling said.