Corpus Christi, which in Portugal is known as the Body of God or Dio de Corpo de Deus, commemorates the Last supper the day before Jesus was crucified. The holiday is celebrated the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, which is 60 days after Easter.
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History of Corpus Christi
The holiday was not celebrated in Portugal until 1246 when the Bishop of Leige instituted the feast in his diocese. A Belgian nun who became St. Juliana dreamed repeatedly of a full moon with a black spot over the church. She believed that the vision was sent to her by Christ with the moon representing the calendar and the spot the lack of a festival to celebrate the Eucharist, the holiest element of the church. By 1264, Pope Urban IV, who was formerly the Bishop of Leige, extended the feast throughout the Catholic church. During the reign of King Afonso III, the holiday was celebrated with a feast of worship, but in 1317, Pope John XII instituted a processional rite as well as Mass that included the Blessed Sacrament, Solemn Vespers and a Sermon.
Corpus Christi was made an obligatory feast by Pope Clement V in 1311 and, in 1551, the Council of Trent declared the festival as a “triumph over heresy,” which meant that when it was celebrated, the church was victorious over heretics who denied that the consecrated wafer was the Body of Christ.
Celebrations and Traditions
In Portugal, Corpus Christi is a major religious celebration, both on the mainland and in the Azores. In Ponta Delgada, a flower-petal carpet is created which is almost three-quarters of a mile long. Highly-ranked church officials and those who have received communion for the first time walk on the flower carpet under an embroidered canopy. The canopy is designed to protect the Host from the sun. The male first communicates are dressed in dark suits with scarlet capes while the girls are dressed in white dresses with lacy veils. A bishop, dressed in gold and silver threaded vestments, raises a silver monstrance, an open or transparent vessel that holds the consecrated Host representing the “Body of Christ.” The crowd drops to its knees and the setting sun provides a beautiful purple, rose and gold background.
Throughout Portugal, processions travel through towns, carrying the “Body of Christ” which is treated with reverence, ceremony and adoration. In some villages, the procession starts at one church and ends at another while in other areas the procession begins and ends at the same church. Corpus Christi includes a service with certain hymns and prayers that encompass the doctrine of the Eucharist.