About Me

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I am a medievalist and an adjunct college instructor in the humanities at Union College. My research includes medieval theologies of history, text/image relationships in visionary and mystical texts, and the writings of the twelfth-century Doctor of the Church, St. Hildegard of Bingen. I am also a translator of medieval Latin and German texts, especially as relate to my research. I completed a Master's in Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame in 2010, a Fulbright Fellowship in Germany in 2008, and a B.A. in Classics and German at Boston College in 2007.

Friday, May 23, 2008

In Festo Corporis Christi

Some of you may recall the superlative-laced description I sent out as an email two years ago of the Corpus Christi procession held in the little town of Eichstätt in Bavaria, where I was studying at the time. Though I was led to believe then that the glittering performance, attended by the whole town, was an especially heightened peculiarity of the deep Catholic traditions in that town (called, by many, the “most Catholic town in Germany”), I discovered yesterday that it is rather a custom among all of the (what Anglicans would call “high church”) Roman Catholics in Germany.

Münster being a far larger city than Eichstätt, there were multiple celebrations of the Feast of Corpus Christi yesterday morning; I chose, as has been my wont throughout my time here, to join the high festivities of the Pontifical Mass at the Cathedral, which began at 8:30. As was the case in Bavaria, here also the Mass was specially attended by the honor guards of the various Societies, Sisterhoods and Brotherhoods, Guilds and Clubs of every shape and kind, all dressed to their German nines and with banners and flags and penants unfurled; the men of these guards (each society represented by their banner bearer and two attendants, girded with sabers and all) stood at attention throughout the Mass at either side of the Sanctuary, their banners dipping only to reverence the Eucharist at the Consecration and Communion.

So, at the end of the Mass, the procession began to form, as great (indeed greater in some respects) as that long parade in Eichstätt. It was led, as is customary, by the Crucifer, bearing a spectacularly gilded late-medieval processional Cross, and his attendants; these were followed by the Honor Guards and then the Cathedral Choir; next came the acolytes and then the nuns of the Klarissenkonvent (a convent specially attached to the Cathedral); these were followed by the extra clergy in attendence and then the Canons of the Cathedral Chapter, distinguished by their purple scapulars. Finally came the Thurifer leading the Sacred Ministers, in the midst of whom, decked out in cope and humeral veil, came the Bishop carrying the monstrance, his attendants and chaplain in tow. These then were followed, first by the resident Knights of Malta, and finally by the congregation itself. The following is a video of the great train as it passed me in the pew [NB: I apologize for my singing in the first part of the video; I’ve been struck with quite the head cold for the past few days; needless to say, once I realized my horrible inability to sing on key with such an impediment, I ceased my mangling of the tune]:

Soon after the Knights of Malta passed, we joined the great throng and passed slowly out the north portal of the Cathedral, singing hymns as we went (the entire order of the procession, including all of the hymns, is printed in a special 35-page booklet). While two years ago I had thought that the red-and-gold hangings that adorned the procession route were an homage to the heraldic colors of the town of Eichstätt, I realize now that they are, in fact, an intergral part of the liturgy of the procession, for our route yesterday was also lined with red and gold banners.

We made our way around the north side of the Cathedral, and finally came to a stop at the first of the processional altars, erected outside north side of the Cathedral’s apse. The Bishop settled the Holy Body in its monstrance upon the altar, and we commenced the ritual that was to be repeated at each of the three succeeding altars. First, the Deacon would read a passage from the Gospel detailing in some way the theology of the Eucharist and of the Incarnation (the Gospel at the fourth and final altar being the first fourteen verses of the Gospel of St. John, for example). Then, the Cathedral Choir would sing one of the traditional Latin Hymns appointed for the Corpus Christi procession; next, a cantor would sing the intercessions, to which the assembly would respond, first with “Erbarme dich unser” (“Have mercy on us”) after each call to Christ, and then with “Wir bitten dich, erhöre uns” (“We beseech thee to hear us”) after each petition. Finally, the Celebrant would cense the monstrance, and then, taking it up in his hands from the Deacon, offer the benediction. Finally, the procession would reform, and, singing still more hymns, move to the next altar.

The second altar was only a short way from the first, and it was there that I captured the following video of the Choir singing the Hymn:

The words of the hymn, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas, can be found, together with translation, here (the Choir only sang verses 1-2 and 6.)

After the rituals of Gospel, Hymn, Intercessions, and Blessing were repeated, we proceeded to the third altar, and then again to the fourth. At last, we returned, accompanied by the peals of the Cathedral’s bells in fanfare, to the Cathedral, where the festivities were to conclude. First, we sang antiphonally with the Choir the Te Deum, the congregation singing their parts according to the traditional chant, and the Choir their parts in beautiful polyphony. Finally, we sang the traditional Tantum ergo, and, after a final benediction, a rousing final hymn, “Ein Haus voll Glorie schauet” (“Behold, a house of glory full”) by Joseph Mohr (of “Silent Night” fame”), a tune that I’m almost certain I’ve sung in English before, though at the moment, I can’t seem to place the words.

Finally, I should note that, though the largest celebration seemed to belong to the Cathedral, other parishes had their own festivities scheduled. The Pfarrgemeinde of the Innenstadt, that is, the Parish of the inner-city, comprising the congregations of the Churches of St. Ludgerus, St. Lambertus, St. Aegidius, and St. Martin, held their High Mass at the Martinikirche at 9 o’clock, and then went in procession to altars at each of the other churches of the parish, as well as to an altar set up along the Prinzipalmarkt (Münster’s “Main Street” that leads to the Lambertikirche); one could hear the singing of their procession along the Prinzipalmarkt at the same time as the Cathedral’s procession was turning from its final altar back to the Cathedral. In fact, I caught up with their procession after I left the Cathedral, and discovered that their canopium was even more lavish than the Cathedral’s!

Finally, I would like to offer a note to my faithful readers, to whom I have promised a report (with photos!) of my time last week spent at the Abbey of St. Hildegard. I have not forgotten my promise, but have found myself otherwise occupied; I shall nevertheless attempt to get such a report composed and posted in the coming days—despite the chronological disorder so ensured by its posting after this current report.

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