Corpus Christi Mass, procession at Shrine draw faithful from across Archdiocese

By Elizabeth Fisher
Special to the CS&T

DOYLESTOWN – Despite her ballerina-length white cotton dress, 16-year-old Kierstin Abbott fell to her knees on the flagstone-decked balcony of the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown. She was following the example of hundreds of pilgrims who had traveled Sunday, June 26 to the shrine for Mass and a eucharistic procession to mark the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

Cardinal Justin Rigali, who celebrated the Mass, also led the outdoor procession with prayers and hymns. Carrying the gold monstrance containing the consecrated host, he walked under a silk canopy accompanied by the shrine’s choir, several other priests and religious, and a long line of about 1,500 people including hundreds of children.

In the tradition of publicly celebrating Corpus Christi, the Cardinal stopped at three outdoor altars to offer prayers and a Eucharistic blessing. Three times, the sure-footed genuflected, the elderly struggled to their knees, and participants using wheelchairs bowed their heads.

Having responded to the Cardinal’s invitation, dozens of children who had recently received their First Holy Communion came to the shrine wearing their first Communion finery. The day was especially poignant for Kierstin because, until recently, she “just didn’t prepare” to receive the sacraments.

“Now I did, and to me, this means that whatever you do in life can be forgiven and, at the end of life, you can be in heaven with God,” she said as she and her mother, Martella Richardson, and her grandmother, Mary Ann Abbott, exchanged tearful hugs.

Kierstin, a member of St. Stanislaus Parish in Lansdale, silently dedicated the Mass and procession to her late grandfather and her late uncle, both of whom had, in life, encouraged her to receive the sacraments and practice her Catholic faith. Kierstin’s grandmother called it an answer to prayer.

“Now, it’s done,” Mary Ann Abbot said, as she choked back emotion.

Earlier in the day, the congregation that packed the pews of the main church for Mass heard Cardinal Rigali speak about the importance of understanding that Jesus is truly present in the Eucharist.

The Cardinal pointed to the eight verses in Sunday’s Gospel where Jesus made it clear that the bread and wine He blessed were in fact His body and blood, as He urged His apostles to follow His example.

Cardinal Rigali reminded the congregation that everything Jesus did on earth – including the breaking of the bread – was meant to prepare the apostles to carry on His mission after His ascension.

“He promised that He would never leave us; He would never abandon us,” instead, He would send the Holy Spirit to strengthen us, the Cardinal said.

He told the parents of the communicants that just as they gave life to their children, they set an example of faith by giving their children spiritual life through the sacrament of the Eucharist. “That is why the Church is so proud to have the children come back to celebrate this wonderful gift,” he said.

Hannah Bone, 9, of Coatesville, said the chance to attend Mass at the invitation of the Cardinal was “really nice,” and it gave more meaning to receiving holy Communion.

An elderly man sat on a bench outside the visitors’ center, sipped water from a plastic bottle and reflected on the Eucharist.

“This kind of [event] reminds us what keeps us in the Church, and that is the meaning of Communion,” he said. “It’s not a memorial; it’s really Jesus.”

But for Beata Tusciora and her husband Peter, frequent visitors to the shrine, the Corpus Christi liturgies were a goodbye.

The Tuscioras have lived in Queens, N.Y., for 10 years, visiting Czestochowa because of their devotion to the Blessed Mother and to Blessed Pope John Paul II. But this week, the couple and their children, Lauren, 17 months, and Victoria, 5, will return permanently to their homeland, Poland.

“We wanted to be here for Corpus Christi because it’s our farewell visit,” she said. “We’re going back for good, and our children will get to experience Poland and our family there. But we’ll miss being here.”

In his remarks after the procession, Cardinal Rigali expressed his hope and belief that the Eucharist will serve to renew the lives of the children and their families.

Public celebration of the feast of Corpus Christi began in Belgium in 1246. In 1264 Pope Urban IV established the feast day for the Church worldwide.

Elizabeth Fisher is a freelance journalist and member of St. Mark Parish in Bristol.