The Feast of Corpus Christi in the Church of England's calendar falls on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday – a movable feast depending on the date of Easter. The words are Latin, and mean ‘the body of Christ’, and the longer name for the feast is ‘day of thanksgiving for the institution of Holy Communion'. It is only relatively recently that the day has featured in the calendar of the Church of England, and it is celebrated almost exclusively by Anglican churches of a ‘High Church’ flavour, although marked by great festivity and colourful processions in Roman Catholic countries.

At St Faith’s in recent years, a feature of our celebrations at the High Mass of Corpus Christi has been the blessing of the eucharistic ministers of St Faith’s and St Mary’s for their work in sharing the sacred elements of the eucharist with our congregations. Our pictures show this very special ritual as carried out on Corpus Christi day, 2013 – May 30th, as members of the team were blessed and greeted.

After the service, more conventional wine (and a cool glass of Pimm's No.1!)
was enjoyed at a celebratory party at the back of church.

Corpus Christi - Signs and Symbols

The pictorial symbolism of Corpus Christi is interesting, especially the representation of the pelican. The bird is shown in stylised form with its beak to its breast, often with blood dripping from a chest wound, which is seen falling into the mouths of its nesting young.  As such it is taken as symbolising Christ’s sacrificial blood in the eucharist nourishing the people of His Church.

The image was well known in mediaeval times, and is portrayed in bestiaries with the heraldic title of 'the pelican in her piety' or 'a pelican vulning (wounding) itself. It  features more than once in Shakespeare’s plays, notably in King Lear when the old monarch castigates his ungrateful children as ‘pelican daughters’ – feeding off their parents and draining their life blood and in Hamlet in the phrase 'the kind, life-giving pelican'.  There are several possible explanations for this belief. One lies in the behaviour of the mother bird plucking its breast feathers to line its nest, and exposing a raw patch, mistaken for blood. Another refers to a diseased patch sometimes found on pelicans’ breasts; yet another that it arises from the pelican’s actions in pressing its beak to its pouch to extract stored food for its young. The most extreme version of the legend has the pelican killing its young then, after three days, bringing them back to life with its blood: the parallel with Christ’s death, resurrection and the sacrifice of the eucharist is obvious.

Both the editor's old Oxford college of Corpus Christi (whose crest is reproduced below between two other symbolic representations) and its Cambridge namesake have the pelican as their symbol - and there is a public house near Bridgend in South Wales intriguingly entitled 'the pelican in her piety'. The pelican is the symbol of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service!


The Way of Faith index pages
(featuring the major feasts of the Christian year and their celebration at St Faith's