WE can be fairly sure the day will be bright, warm and sunny for The Corpus Christi Procession.
Every June since 1926 the procession is held in honour of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Eucharist and the weather is, almost always, nice for it.
The Cork Eucharistic Procession was first held as a result of a suggestion made by C.K. Murphy, a Cork solicitor at the time.
He considered a public procession could be a means of uniting factions which caused bitterness and heartbreak during the Civil War (1922-1923).
Up to just a few years ago, only men were allowed to walk in the procession. Women and children crowded the pathways behind barriers, to watch and share in the prayer and Benediction. The day summons up special memories for me of a time when priests and altar servers men and boys, in their thousands, walked in procession from their respective parishes, bearing banners, singing hymns, reciting the Rosary. The women and children tagged along on the sidewalks or went on ahead earlier to gain a good viewing spot. Patrick Street was best.
I remember, as a very small child, with Eileen, my sister, squeezing through the masses, with a little push from my Mom, to get to the edge of the footpath. There, sitting on the kerb, we had a great view as the main procession came from the Cathedral in the north side of the city. From my enviable little spot I could see the civic leaders and dignitaries, in the colourful regalia of their status, walking behind the city Mace-Bearer, the priests and brothers from St. Mary’s Pope’s Quay. Men and boys from various parishes in the Cork diocese pounded the roadside in respectful rhythm, reciting prayers or singing the hymns played solemnly by the different brass bands that interspersed the Parish groups. Members of the Red Cross in their navy uniforms kept pace prepared to give First Aid if needed. I loved being able to see the colourful, braided banners held aloft at the head of each group and the many priests, altar servers and religious brothers in such big numbers marching past me.
I remember the moment when a quiet came over the throngs, the singing of the men and the booming of the bands stopped, hearing only the softened shuffle of the thousands of shoes and a whispered “It’s coming” from some people about me. Young though I was I realised the sacredness of what was happening. I could see the top of the white square canopy in the near distance. As it came nearer I saw the gold Monstrance (the sacred vessel) held aloft by the Bishop beneath the canopy. I knew, as my faith had taught me that the white host in the monstrance was The Blessed Eucharist, Jesus Christ Himself, the Bread of Life. Altar servers walking before the canopy scattered rose petals on the ground. Looking on I was in awe of it all.
The Blessed Eucharist was carried to the specially erected altar, raised high on Daunts Square on the Grand Parade. Thousands of people milled around as close as they could get to the altar. A guest speaker gave a homily. Then, as the Bishop raised the Monstrance in benediction the dense congregation all along Grand Parade and Patrick Street fell on their knees and the Army Band trumpeted a worshipful salute. A short quiet followed. Then the massed populace sang:
“Faith of our fathers living still
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword.
How sweet would be their children’s fate?
If they like them could die for thee?
Faith of our fathers’ holy faith,
We will be true to thee ‘til death.
We will be true to thee ‘til death.”
There were a few lines of this hymn that caused a bit of a problem in articulation for some. But it was always sung out with great gusto and sincerity to end this demonstration of faith, belief in Christ and his Church.
“If dey, like dem could die for Dee?
Fayet of our Fawders’ holy fayet,
We will be true to Dee ‘til det,
We will be true to Dee ‘til det.”
All throughout the city altars were created in shop windows and in the windows of homes for the procession day. Bunting and flags also were hung in every area whether the procession passed by there or not. It was always a very special day of celebration and honour of the Blessed Eucharist.
When I was young it never crossed my mind as unfair discrimination that only men processed. Sure if every man, woman and child walked in the procession it would have gone all day and well into the night. However, as I grew up I felt rebellious irritation at our being relegated to the side lines. I resented being pushed roughly back behind the barriers, by the arm-banded, high-handed, male officials, if we tried to sneak a little closer to have a better view of everything.
Corpus Christi Processions are now held in towns and cities throughout Ireland every year but the Cork one is still the biggest. Participating crowds have dwindled but the Feast of Corpus Christi still is a big occasion for the expression of our faith. Men and women process together now and gather around the altar on Daunts Square. Catholic immigrants swell the crowds around Patrick Street and Grand Parade. An air of reverence is tangible as the Sacred Host is raised in Benediction and ‘Faith of Our Fathers’ is still heartily and faithfully sung as the afternoon celebration ends.
Faith is a gift. It cannot be taught, though it can of course be instilled.
Our daily lives, especially when we were young, were saturated with the knowledge and practice of what our Catholicism meant. Being a gift the faith journey we were on was forming our minds and opening our hearts to this gift and to its Giver. It would never have been explained thus. Sadly, many of my associates missed out on this extraordinary Gift of God and struggle through their lives without the courage, peace and focus of faith.
DETAILS OF THIS YEAR’S PROCESSION
This year’s Eucharistic Procession will be held on Sunday June 3, 2018.
An invitation has been offered to the various Catholic groups to walk in the procession, including the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the Sick Poor Societies, SHARE, the Legion of Mary, the Pioneers and others.
Once again this year it is planned to broadcast the entire Daunt’s Square ceremony live on www.corkcity.ie/tv from 3.45pm.
The 2018 procession will commence one hour later than normal, due to the Cork City Marathon.
Participants in The Eucharistic Procession will start assembling in the grounds of the North Cathedral at 3.30pm. The procession will leave the North Cathedral at 4pm and proceed down Roman Street, Upper John Street, along Camden Quay, St. Patrick’s Bridge and St. Patrick’s Street en-route to Daunt’s Square. Meanwhile, the religious ceremony begins in Daunt’s Square at 3.45pm.
The rosary will be recited by Master of Ceremonies, Rev. Fr. Ben Hodnett, C.C., Frankfield/Grange. Hymns and sacred music will be performed by the Choir of the Church of the Incarnation, Frankfield, under the direction of Mr Seán O’Neill. This year, Ms. Jessica O’Connell will be guest soloist.