The Beginnings: St Juliana of Liege
The solemnity of Corpus Christi dates back to the Middle Ages. From the tenth to the fourteenth centuries, the Church was working at developing a language that could adequately express her belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. In the midst of this debate, in the first half of the thirteenth century, St Juliana of Liege, a Norbertine nun from Belgium, developed a great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and petitioned bishops and even the Pope for the establishment of a feast day in its honour. Her petitions gained traction and eventually culminated in the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena-Orvieto. The miracle occurred thus:
A Universal Celebration: The Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena-Orvieto and St Thomas Aquinas
In 1263 a German priest, Peter of Prague, stopped at the Italian town of Bolsena while on pilgrimage to Rome. He was, by all accounts, a pious priest, but one who, perhaps precisely because of his deep reverence for God, found it difficult to believe that Christ was actually present in the consecrated Host. While celebrating a Mass at Bolsena, having barely spoken the words of Consecration, Peter was astounded to observe blood seeping from the consecrated Host, over his hands and then onto the altar and corporal. Confused, Peter initially attempted to hide the blood, but soon realised the significance of the miracle that had occurred. At that time, the Pope, Urban IV (who, prior to his election had been a supporter of St Juliana’s devotion to the Blessed Sacrament), was residing at the nearby city of Orvieto. Leaving the Host and corporal in Bolsena, Peter travelled to Orvieto for an audience with the Pope. Pope Urban listened to the priest’s account and set his conscience at ease with absolution. He oversaw an investigation into the purported miracle and, when all the facts were ascertained, ordered the bishop of the diocese to bring the Host and blood-stained corporal from Bolsena to Orvieto. With archbishops, cardinals and other dignitaries in attendance, the Pope met the procession and, amid great ceremony, had the relics placed in the cathedral. This is revered as the first Eucharistic procession. The linen corporal bearing the spots of blood is still reverently enshrined and exhibited in the Cathedral of Orvieto. Prompted by this miracle, Urban IV began the process for the establishment of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. He commissioned St Thomas Aquinas to compose the texts for a Mass and Divine Office honouring the Holy Eucharist as the Body of Christ. On year after the miracle, in August of 1264, Pope Urban IV introduced St Thomas’s compositions to the Church and, by means of papal bull, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. We make an effort to incorporate these texts into the weekend liturgies.
When the Irish bishop Daniel Mannix was installed as Archbishop of Melbourne in 1913 he envisioned the establishment of a national Australian seminary, similar in many ways to his alma mater, St Patrick’s, Maynooth. The Pope, however, encouraged the establishment of regional and diocesan seminaries. Archbishop Mannix, of course, obeyed. The regional seminary for Victoria and Tasmania was founded at Werribee Mansion in 1923. Deeply convinced that Eucharist was the bedrock of priestly life, Archbishop Mannix named the new seminary Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ. The seminary’s crest reflects this Eucharistic identity, consisting principally of the medieval Eucharistic image of a pelican feeding its chicks with its own blood. Further, the seminary drew its motto from one of St Thomas Aquinas’ famous Eucharistic hymns, Adoro te devote. The motto, De te vivere, is part of the second line of the fifth verse of this hymn, and means To live from you. A special motet constituted by this verse was composed for this seminary by a visiting New Zealand-based organist in gratitude for the hospitality we offered him. The motet is yet to premiere.
The celebration of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, our patronal feast day, is one of the great events of our seminary year. It is a day primarily organised by the seminarians, supported by the staff. We have marked the day in special way for at least a decade. In 2010, to coincide with the Year for Priests, and thanks largely to the efforts of now-Fr Nicholas Pearce (then a deacon), the seminary held its first Eucharistic procession through the streets of Carlton. That year, we also held a very successful open day on the Saturday of the weekend. With the ordination of Fr Nicholas Pearce, Fr Michael Romeo took over the planning of the weekend in successive years.