INTERIOR OF THE CATHEDRAL OF LIEGE
The institution of Corpus Christi as a feast in the Christian calendar resulted from approximately forty years of work on the part of Juliana of Liège, a 13th-century Norbertine canoness. Juliana de Cornillon, between 1191 and 1192 in Liège, Belgium, a city where there were groups of women dedicated to Eucharistic worship. Guided by exemplary priests, they lived together, devoting themselves to prayer and to charitable works. Orphaned at the age of five, she and her sister Agnes, were entrusted to the care of the Augustinian nuns at the convent and leprosarium of Mont-Cornillon, where Juliana developed a special veneration for the Blessed Sacrament.
She always longed for a feast day outside of Lent in its honour. Her vita reports that this desire was enhanced by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon having one dark spot, which signified the absence of such a solemnity. In 1208, she reported her first vision of Christ in which she was instructed to plead for the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi. The vision was repeated for the next 20 years but she kept it a secret. When she eventually relayed it to her confessor, he relayed it to the bishop.
Juliana also petitioned the learned Dominican Hugh of St-Cher, and Robert de Thorete, Bishop of Liège. At that time bishops could order feasts in their dioceses, so in 1246 Bishop Robert convened a synod and ordered a celebration of Corpus Christi to be held each year thereafter.
Jacques Pantaléon of Troyes was also won over to the good cause of the Feast of Corpus Christi during his ministry as Archdeacon in Liège. It was he who, having become Pope with the name of Urban IV in 1264, instituted the Solemnity of Corpus Christi on the Thursday after Pentecost as a feast of for the entire Latin Rite, by the papal bull Transiturus de hoc mundo. This was the first papally imposed universal feast for the Latin Rite.
While the institution of the Eucharist is celebrated on Holy (Maundy) Thursday, the liturgy on that day also commemorates Christ’s washing of the disciples’ feet, the institution of the priesthood and the agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. So many other functions took place on this day that the principal event was almost lost sight of. This is mentioned as the chief reason for the introduction of the new feast, in the Bull “Transiturus.” For this reason, the Feast of Corpus Christi was established to create a feast focused solely on the Holy Eucharist.
Three versions of the office for the feast of Corpus Christi in extant manuscripts provide evidence for the Liège origins and “voice” of Juliana in an “original office”, which was followed by two later versions of the office. The version in BNF 1143 is a revision of an earlier version found in Prague, Abbey of Strahov MS D.E.I. 7 and represents the work of St. Thomas Aquinas following or during his residency at Orvieto from 1259 to 1265. This liturgy may be used as a votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament on weekdays in ordinary time. The hymn Aquinas composed for Vespers of Corpus Christi, Pange Lingua or another eucharistic hymn, is also used on Holy (Maundy) Thursday during the procession of the Blessed Sacrament to the altar of repose. The last two verses of Pange Lingua are also used as a separate hymn, Tantum Ergo, which is sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. O Salutaris Hostia, another hymn sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, comprises the last two verses of Verbum Supernum Prodiens, Aquinas’ hymn for Lauds of Corpus Christi. Aquinas also composed the propers for the Mass of Corpus Christi, including the sequence Lauda Sion Salvatorem. The epistle reading for the Mass was taken from Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 11:23-29), and the Gospel reading was taken from the Gospel of John (John 6:56-59).
As Bishop of Corpus Christi I wrote to the Bishop of Liege when I heard that that Diocese was going to celebrate the 750th anniversary of the start of the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi and asked if the Diocese of Corpus Christi could be part of the celebration. He wrote back and with evident enthusiasm welcomed such participation. And so it happened that I led a large pilgrimage of Corpus Christi people to Liege and we became a prominent part of the celebration. It was a glorious pilgrimage. After the celebration we toured Belgium and reveled in the wonderful history of the Church in that very Catholic country.
It is therefore with great sadness that I now witness the destruction of the faith in Belgium. Read on!
What’s Wrong with Belgium?
I first visited Belgium in 2004 to attend a theology conference in Leuven. The conference Mass was the most bizarre liturgical experience of my life. It did not take place in any of the many churches in Leuven but in the conference room itself. Part of the ritual took the form of watching a video of the September 11 attack on the twin towers while listening to mood music. One of the participants from Holland was dressed in a folk costume and looked like a member of the band The Village People. There was also a Nigerian priest who was treated like an idiot because he expressed respect for Cardinal Arinze. I took some flak for being critical of the culture of modernity and one polite person apologized to me by saying, “you see, around here people think of you as an ally of Joseph Ratzinger”!
My overall impression was that Leuven was like a town that had been hit by a neutron bomb—the kind of bomb that kills people but leaves buildings intact. All the Gothic buildings remained—the outward symbols of a once vibrant Catholic culture were still on view as tourist attractions—but the people who worked within the buildings seemed not to be the original inhabitants, but another people who had moved in after some terrible cataclysm and were ill at ease with what had gone before. Our Lady, the Seat of Wisdom, and Patroness of Leuven, appeared marginalized.
A few years later I attended another theology conference, this time in Krakow. A Belgian professor delivered the keynote address in the hall of the Polish Academy of the Arts and Sciences. He veered off topic and gave a rousing oration in favor of the projects of the culture of death (eugenics, euthanasia, a tax on babies etc). He even argued that anyone who opposed contraception should be convicted of a criminal offense. Not all the conference participants were supporters of Humanae Vitae, but they were completely shocked that such an anti-life and totalitarian speech could be given in the hall of the Polish Academy just a couple of hours drive from Auschwitz. What stunned the participants was the closeness of the ideology of the speaker to that of the Nazi ideologues whose specters (metaphorically speaking) still haunt the streets of Krakow. A quick Google search revealed that the illustrious academic had been Jesuit educated in Antwerp and was a product of the University of Leuven. A more recent Google search revealed that last year he ended his life by being given a lethal injection in the presence of his children. He at least had the virtue of practicing what he preached, but I wondered how someone who was Jesuit educated in the 1930s could end up in such a spiritual state. In an interview given not long before his death he said that religion is nonsense, a childish explanation for things that science has yet to fathom. At some moment in his life he had bought the Feuerbachian critique.
Last year one of the worst songs in the entire Eurovision contest was the entry from Belgium. It was called “Love Kills.” The refrain of the song was:
Waiting for the bitter pill
Give me something I can feel
‘Cause love kills over and over
Love kills over and over
Whatever this means exactly it’s a radical inversion of the normal juxtaposition of love with life and generativity. Other countries offered the usual assortment of Eurovision styles, some heavy metal, some punk, a few soft ballads, but the Belgian entry stood out as something very dark and creepy, a culture of death pop song.
Poor King Philippe is now in a position of having to decide what to do about the fact that his government has voted in favor of euthanasia for children. Many hope that he will follow the precedent of his saintly uncle King Baudouin who in 1990 abdicated for a day rather than have his name on pro-abortion legislation. At the time King Baudouin rhetorically asked: Is it right that I am the only Belgian citizen to be forced to act against his conscience in such a crucial area? Is the freedom of conscience sacred for everyone except for the king?
The hospital in Brussels where sick children are to be “put down” is named in honor of Queen Fabiola, the widow of King Baudouin. Presumably she doesn’t want her name associated with an institution that gives lethal injections to children. Perhaps she will withdraw permission for the use of her name from the hospital?
What went wrong? How can a nation that is even nominally Catholic do this? Can all this be pinned on the theology of Edward Schillebeeckx and his colleagues who wanted to correlate theology to the spirit of the times, to accommodate Catholicism to modernity? Or is the causality much more complex? Why is Belgium in so much worse a state than even France or Germany?
In the wake of this parliamentary decision bloggers from across the English Channel are suggesting that the British defense of Belgium in World War I was a huge waste of life and time. If the Belgians really desire a culture of death they could have settled for Prussian domination a century earlier and saved the rest of the world a whole lot of trauma.
King Baudouin and Queen Fabiola may not have been able to protect the Catholic culture of Belgium from the zeitgeist of the 1960s but at least they took an unambiguous stand against it. Some battles can’t be won politically, only spiritually, and sometimes the political victories follow decades and even centuries of spiritual preparation. For example, historians now say that the decade of the Great Novena (from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s) was the spiritual, intellectual and even logistical preparation for the emergence of the Polish Solidarity movement in the 1980s.
The current predicament in which King Philippe finds himself is but another moment in a battle which began sometime in the 1960s when Belgian intellectuals decided that the Catholic faith had passed its use-by date. Let’s pray that King Philippe has the courage to stand in solidarity with his late uncle, and all those throughout the world who believe that human life is sacred. Let’s hope that he looks as this from the perspective of eternity.
Sophia Institute, Holy Spirit College, or the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts.
Professor Tracey Rowland is Dean and Permanent Fellow of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne). She earned her doctorate in philosophy from Cambridge University and her Licentiate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical Lateran University in Rome. She is the author of Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II (2003), Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (2008) and most recently, Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (2010).
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“If the Belgians really desire a culture of death they could have settled for Prussian domination a century earlier and saved the rest of the world a whole lot of trauma.”
Compare the evolution of German abortion laws over the 20th century (yes, even including Communist-Marxist East Germany) to those of the UK and USA. East and West Germany were slow to catch up with the barbaric abortion practices introduced by both American and Britain. Clearly, the culture of death which exists in the western world today comes from these barbaric countries, not “Prussia” (Prussia ceased to exist over 40 years before WWI).
You might direct this piece to the Bishop of Rome. Under his authority, he has the wherewithal to begin the serious renewal and re-evangelization of the people of Belgium. It can begin with assigning courageous bishops who approach the faith with zeal. I do not recall one Belgian bishop speaking out against euthanizing children.
Lastly, let’s remember that first they murder the pre-born, then they murder the children. Then they will come for those who do abortions and who came up with the euthanasia idea. Did not the revolutionaries in 18th c France have their turn on the guillotine?
Under the Concordat of 1827, Belgian bishops are elected by the cathedral chapter of the diocese or archdiocese. Even though the Concordat was abrogated in 1833, these provisions continue in force.
The Holy See can, of course, quash an election, but prefers to rely on quiet diplomacy, for the scandal would be considerable.
A similar practice prevails in some of the German and Swiss dioceses.