We are fortunate that we still have an outdoor procession in honour of the Blessed Sacrament in Ryde at a time when many parishes no longer experience this unique way of worshipping Our Lord n the Holy Echarist. This public manifestation of our belief in the Real Presence was the focal point and highlight of every parish before Vatican II. The procession, usually held on the Sunday after Corpus Christi would includ the First Holy Communion children followed by many the Catholic societies walking together; most notably the Guild of the Blessed Sacrament and the Children of Mary. The late Fr. Robert, (Prior of Quarr Abbey). used to recall the processions in the past, which tested the endurance of most as they went “across the fields, through the woods and along the coast before returning to the abbey church“. St. Mary’s in Ryde has a long tradition of Processions. They started in the town in 1869 and went around the adjacent streets. The Town Commissioners stipulated at the time that there must be no singing in the streets, so the words of the Pange Lingua fell silent as the procession reached the church door and started again when people re-entered the church! These processions went along the High Street, down Star Street, into Warwick Street and up St. John’s Road before turning right again into the High Street and back into the church. They lasted until the late 1960s. Sadly times have changed and a town centre is no longer a suitable venue to process with the Blessed Sacrament, but fortunately the garden next to the St. Mary’s can still be used and it is here that a small procession forms for the traditional Corpus Christi adoration of the Blessed Sacrament while the Tantum Ergo and Adoremus are sung and the usual devotions recited in honour of the Blessed Sacrament. (See St. Mary’s web site www.stmarysryde.org for photographs). There is some evidence to suggest that such processions (although in limited form) are thankfully, making a return.
Such public processions in honour of the Blessed Sacrament appear to have had their origin in the 11th century as a reaction to the doubts about the Real Presence expressed by some in the previous century. It is in this context that we see the introduction of the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament after the consecration during the Mass and the carrying of the Blessed Sacrament in procession. Upon the Norman conquest, this and other acts of devotion were introduced into England by the Benedictines. It is however later on that we find a great flowering of Eucharistic devotions especially with the introduction of the feast of Corpus Christi.
Speaking at a Day of Recollection in Ryde in 2004, Fr. Andrew Southwell reminded those present that at the heart of all devotion there must be a desire to worship and adore Our Lord in a reverential, devotional and faith-filled way. “This is made clear by the early Fathers of the Church who exorted the faithful to treat the Blessed Sacrament with the utmost reverence and respect. We also have evidence of liturgical ritual in which the Pope reverenced the Blessed Sacrament as he approached the altar at Mass. The sacred host was shown to him in order for him to decide if some needed to be consumed. Some of the clearest examples of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament are cases in which the Pope, bishops and priests carried the sacred host with them on a journey. They prayed to Him in the Blessed Sacrament as they travelled so they must have really believed that He was present with them.
It is in the 13th century that we see these public devotions increasing. This was attributable in large measure to Corpus Christi devotions. It was Pope Urban IV who encouraged universal acceptance of the feast of Corpus Christi and he asked St. Thomas Aquinas to write the Offices and the Mass for the feast. So the Votive Mass of the Blessed Sacrament was written by St. Thomas Aquinas himself. The growth of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the Middle Ages was associated with the popular desire to see the sacred host. Could this not be associated with the people at the time of Our Lord to see Him and to draw closer to Him in a tangible way“?