Feast of Corpus Christi (in London)

Two members of the Island Catholic History Society attended a special event at Corpus Christi Church, Maiden Lane, London in May, 2018, which included the Forty Hours Exposition and a Corpus Christi Procession. The church, near Covent Garden, has now been officially designated as the Westminster Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament by Cardinal Vincent Nicholls. Veronica Nevard of Ryde contributes this report of the ceremonies.

This year the Feast of Corpus Christi was marked in a very special way in the heart of London. The Church of Corpus Christi in Maiden Lane, Covent Garden was opened in 1874 by Cardinal Manning (the first Church in England since the reformation to be given the dedication of ‘Corpus Christi’). He wanted the Church to be specifically devoted to the adoration of the Blessed Sacrament as an act of reparation for the sins against the Holy Eucharist during the Reformation and since.

The present Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, expressed his wish that the Church should be restored as a fitting shrine to the Blessed Sacrament and, for the past four years, under the direction of the Parish Priest, Fr. Alan Robinson, and with the help of patrons, sponsors and many skilled craftsmen, it has undergone a transforming restoration. The slate roof was renewed, underfloor heating installed and for the first time, disabled access was provided. The brick walls of the Sanctuary were gilded and seven Sanctuary Lamps were hung, restoring the original designs and replacing those ripped out in the 1990s. New chandeliers hang from specially designed angel brackets. The original statues have been restored and there are new statues: one of Padre Pio and another of St. John Vianney, (appropriately standing outside the Confessional where a priest is always ready to hear Confessions for the 30 minutes preceding each Mass).

A week of Eucharistic celebrations was planned, culminating in the decree by Cardinal Nichols raising the Church to the dignity of Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament. The first Forty Hours for many years opened on 29 May. An annual event in the Church for many years and still in the memory of some, are the magnificent flowers brought by the stall holders when the Flower Market was still in Covent Garden. Forty Hours was closed on 31 May by Right Reverend Abbot Hugh Allan, O. Praem., Apostolic Administrator of the Prefecture of the Falkland Islands and Ecclesiastical Superior of the Mission, sui juris, of the islands of Ascension, St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha. Abbot Allan is Prior of the Norbertine Community in Chelmsford. One of the particular characteristics of the Norbertine Order is devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

Thursday 31 May was the Feast of Corpus Christi according to the Traditional Calendar and was to be marked by a Pontifical High Mass at the Faldstool, celebrated by the Abbot in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. While the Abbot vested for Mass the choir and congregation, with great fervour, sang ‘Sweet Sacrament Divine’, the well known hymn, written by Fr. Francis Stanfield while he was parish priest of Corpus Christ in the early 1880s.

On Friday evening, the seldom seen ‘Rite of Erection of the Stations of the Cross’ took place. Historically, this could be done only by Franciscans but Blessed Paul VI extended the rite to any priest receiving the faculties to do so from his bishop. Cardinal Nichols granted Fr. Robinson this faculty for that day.

The Stations were designed by the late Arthur Fleischmann for St. Aidan’s Church in East Acton. The set now hanging in Corpus Christi are bronzed casts of the originals, kindly donated by the sculptor’s widow who was present in the congregation for their blessing and incensing. Olive wood crosses were commissioned to be made in the Holy Land. As Father approached each station he was presented with a cross which he kissed and returned to the server who hung it on the wall above the station. A short meditation was read before passing to the next station. The ceremony concluded with the singing of ‘Te Deum’ and a blessing with a relic of the True Cross. The Solemn Erection attaches a Plenary Indulgence to all who pray the Way of the Cross at Corpus Christi Church, under the usual conditions.

In celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, on the preceding Saturday, the Right Reverend Bishop Robert Byrne, C.O. presided at Solemn First Vespers in the afternoon and celebrated a Pontifical Vigil Mass in the evening.

On Sunday His Eminence, Vincent Cardinal Nichols arrived to celebrate the Pontifical Mass of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, (Ordinary Form). After his homily, Rev. Jon Stogdon, one of the two deacons assisting (the other was Rev. Craig Aburn, one of Fr. Glaysher’s permanent deacons in Aldershot), read a brief history of the church followed by the decree establishing the shrine: ‘At the request of the Parish Priest, for the spiritual benefit of the Diocese and the glory of God, I hereby raise the Church of Corpus Christi, Maiden Lane, to the dignity of Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Sacrament.’

The organ fanfare which followed cleverly incorporated a reprise of ‘Sweet Sacrament Divine’.

After Mass, the Cardinal carried the Monstrance with the Blessed Sacrament in procession, followed by the faithful, out of the Church and up Southampton Street to the Piazza. (See photos- above and below). It was a sunny Sunday lunch time and crowds of tourists and others were enjoying an al fresco lunch or being entertained by the musicians and acrobats. We processed through them singing ‘Adoro Te Devote’ and other Blessed Sacrament Hymns, with heartfelt enthusiasm. The Cardinal remarked afterwards how many onlookers seemed bemused, some irritated but many faces lit up as they saw a public demonstration of faith. A few knees were bent as Christ’s presence on the street was recognised.

After the splendour of the liturgy, supported by a well trained, relaxed team of servers, the lavish decoration of the Sanctuary and the rich repertoire of the talented choir, one cannot be left unaware that nothing is too beautiful, too extravagant, too elegant for the worship of the Blessed Sacrament. As the Cardinal and Father Robinson reminded us, the work of the shrine now begins. Henry Manning, while still an Anglican, watched a Corpus Christi procession in Belgium and remarked ‘this is the way they [Catholics} demonstrate their belief in the Incarnation of Jesus. May Corpus Christ Church in Maiden Lane be a witness to Catholic truth and devotion and may it attract many visitors to pray for the needs of the world.