Corpus Domini Needs Your Explanations!

Baptized Lutheran and raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, I am not well versed in Catholic Liturgical ritual – I need you and your comments to round this out for me.  What!? You said – how could this nice Italian girl not be Catholic?  Mio nonno refused to let anyone go to the Catholic Church because the priest was boinking the area wives.  Grandpa conducted mass in the house!    Enough about me, let’s talk about Corpus Domini!  it was 9:00 PM and the sounds of bombs bursting in the air still surrounded us.  No need to duck and cover this is the end of the Corpus Domini Processione.  Hundreds of Pontelandolfese went to mass at 6:00 PM and at 7:20 started processing through the hilly streets –  stopping at small alters around the town.

Alter

Thanks to http://www.duomofirenze.it/feste/corpusdomini_eng.htm:

Every year, sixty days after Easter, the Church celebrates “Corpus Domini”: a religious solemnity in honor of the Eucharist (the ‘body’ – corpus – of Christ in the sacramental sign of bread): an observance that first developed in Italy the thirteenth century and in 1263 was extended by Pope Urban IV to all of Christian Europe. In Florence as elsewhere, from that period the feast has been celebrated in solemn fashion, with a majestic procession in which the Eucharistic bread is borne through the city streets in a glass container know as a ‘monstrance’, which allows people to see the consecrated bread wafer. This procession acquired ever greater importance with the passage of time.

Here is what I saw that was so interesting – these are the rituals I want you to talk about!!

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Note the Satin Drapes.

1. Driving down to the piazza we saw women hanging out what looked like their best lace tablecloths, satin bedspreads, fancy linen sheets etc.  Check out the first photo – see some on the right.  These things were waving like banners in the wind. At first we thought it was laundry but Jack remembered reading that when Henry the 8th came to a village everyone had to hang out their best fabrics to honor his coming.  In Bar Elimar I asked our friend Gennaio why the piazza was festooned with lace and he said it was an ancient ritual to celebrate the king – in this case Jesus.  What do you know???

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Flowers on EVERY Street Light, Column, Pole.

2. We also saw that yellow wild flowers were tied in bunches on every single upright thing leading into town.  Wild flowers – yellow – ANY IDEAS?  This morning I asked my favorite barista, Marilina, and she said because they are wild and always in bloom this time of year.  That makes them free.  What is YOUR TAKE??

3. All of the children who last week celebrated their first communion were leading the procession.  The boys were tossing rose petals and the girls were sporting flower crowns and looked like the promised vestal virgins.  Since this event celebrates communion it makes sense that the children were involved – but how come the tossed flower petals????    4. Are exterior alters set up in American towns?  A big one was set up in front of the cemetery – which I thought made sense – tombs – rising up – celebration of second coming etc.  Is the cemetery always part of the procession?

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This is outside the cemetery.

5. Is this celebrated in the USA with processions etc?  Are there the sounds of bombs bursting and fireworks?? Today’s regional newspapers were full of pictures and stories of the processions in towns all over Compania.

Come on folks – fill in the blanks for me and everyone else that doesn’t know.  Let us have popping comment conversations.  THE FIRST PERSON TO POST A COMMENT GETS A BIG VIRTUAL HUG FROM ME!

Procession – Celebrating Corpus Domini

Petals tossed by white robed cherubs.
Petals tossed by white robed cherubs.

I walk down the cobblestone hill through crushed rose petals tossed at me by sweet young girls in flowing white robes – their hair festooned with crowns of flowers.  Birds are singing and the cadence of soles on pavement stirs me.  Instinctively, my inner muse comes to life and I begin to move my arms in the fluid style of Isadora Duncan or Ruth St. Denis. POP – POP POP- ZZZEEEEE –  I hear the pop and feedback of the sound system and then the rhythmic reading of Mons. Giusseppe Rosario Girardi,  the Pontelandolfo parish priest.  Whoops, I remember where I am – processing to celebrate Corpus Domini (Corpus Christi) and I start behaving like the good woman I am.

To celebrate Corpus Domini  the parish of San Salvatore in Pontelandolfo (Arcidiocesi di Benevento) and many parishes across Italy had a mass on June 2nd followed by a procession.     My cousin called and suggested I come to mass and participate in the procession.  I didn’t know what to expect.  The last Pontelandolfo procession I walked in women were barefooted – silly me not understanding enough Italian at the time thought they were barefoot to protect their expensive shoes from the harsh cobblestone streets – not reliving the pain of Christ.  My Italian has improved a lot since then but I still wasn’t sure what I was in for.

The past week I went to mass in this same Baroque style building and the church wasn’t full.  Of course, folks do have multiple masses at three different churches to choose from, so it is difficult to assess the strength of the Catholic Church  The Corpus Domini mass was held in the church in which my grandmother was married.  It was first built before 1500 (Romanesque) and then destroyed totally in an earthquake in 1688 and up and running ten years later.  Paolo Collection (33)Inside, the church is divided into  three naves with incredible paintings – but we’ll save the church/art tour for another post.   I love going to the church and imagining nonna on her wedding day or holding her children at the baptismal font. I can feel the presence of my history in these stone walls and sense the eyes of my family looking at the incredible art.  Yeah, yeah,  I am rambling.

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The alter is amazing!

Back to this particular mass – it was packed.  There was barely standing room.  A group of young girls sat in the front wearing white robes and garlands of white flowers in their hair.  At first I thought the boys I saw enter in white robes were alter boys but there were too many of them.  I found out later  that the children who had their first communion either one or two weeks earlier always get to lead this procession.  The sounds of the service surrounded me.  The choir, accompanied by guitar, overwhelmed the naves and primary space with sweet music.  The priest didn’t have such success with the microphone system which tweaked with feedback and growled irregularly.  However, everyone participated verbally in the mass – this really surprised me.  Even the children maintained a sense of decorum.  I hadn’t a clue as to what was being said but the magic of every voice – without the aid of a missal – responding and singing was chilling.  During those brief periods when I attend church, everyone clutches a book and reads along.   One of the young women told me that even as children they didn’t look at a book to learn responses. Little kids actually listened in church and mimicked their parents to learn the  responses, prayers and creeds.

When the mass was over, I hung back to take a picture of the alter to show you.  The little guys in white were all lined up holding candles and also waiting for the space to clear.  I didn’t know how the procession worked and – well oops – my presence may have gotten them in a bit of trouble over a missed cue. As I quietly went to the front of the church – to the nave on the left and lit a candle for my nonna – I heard of chorus of sweet young voices say “hello, hello”.  I turned and with big smiles and candles waving, six charming elementary students that I had been a guest English teacher too were happily demonstrating their vebal prowess.  A quick rebuke from an elder and they stopped smiling and started down the aisle.  I snapped my picture and also headed for the front of the church.

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Piazza in front of the church – note the girls in white to the right.

I’m guessing there were well over two hundred people waiting to walk in the procession.

Procession started from the front steps of Chiesa Madre del S.S. Salvatore.
Procession started from the front steps of Chiesa Madre del S.S. Salvatore.

Six men carried a golden canopy out of the church and stood poised on the church steps.  Under canopy is a gilded cup holding the host.  The beautiful young girls stood in two parallel lines, holding baskets full of flower petals. Young members of the church held up the portable speakers and microphones.  One young woman  started reading and the priest slowly came down the steps.  The young girls tossed flower petals on the ground.  The priest walked through and the congregation followed.

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This is the alter of San Donato, who along with Sant’ Antonio, is the patron saint of the village. He merits a huge festival in August here and in places around the world – like Montreal and Waterbury CT – where people from Pontelandolfo have gone.

Little alters are permanently placed around the village.

As we all walked up and down the hills of the town, the readings were broadcast through portable speakers and everyone was contemplative.

If you go to You Tube you can see quite a few Corpus Domini processions.  I felt I would be the ugly American if I pulled out a video camera to record the event.  OK, I did sneak a few photos on my phone – —

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Silently we walked up and down the village lanes.
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Two sets of young people carried the portable speakers. One pair was in the front and one in the rear.