The darkened streets of Montreal came alive June 8 with the annual Corpus Christi procession, the first to take place in four years due to pandemic restrictions. Peter Stockland

Corpus Christi takes to Montreal streets again

  • June 14, 2023

Montreal Catholics again made their presence real in the heart of the city June 8, heeding Archbishop Christian Lépine’s call to make Christ the heart of their world.

“The Eucharist is at the centre of our spiritual life, because Jesus Christ is at the centre,” Lépine told worshippers packed into Mary Queen of the World Cathedral before they took to darkened city streets for a candlelit procession to honour the Blessed Sacrament. “Do we place Christ at the centre of our lives, our family, our community, our parish?”

Following the Mass of the Solemnity of the Blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, concelebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Alain Faubert and more than 15 diocesan priests, clergy and laity flooded out onto René-Levesque Boulevard, the east-west axis of the downtown core.

Lépine, 71, flanked by members of the Knights of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem and the Knights of Columbus, carried the monstrance aloft for the duration of the kilometre-long walk.

Police estimated the crowd at 1,400 people. Members of different religious communities, including the Missionaries of Charity and the Congregation Mater Dei, were visible in their distinct habits. Unsurprisingly in ethnically diverse Montreal, every race, colour and national origin seemed represented.

It was the first time in four years for the procession, which had become a fixture on Montreal streets after event organizer Fr. Peter Sabbath first proposed a eucharistic procession for the celebration of the Great Jubilee in 2000.

Though many parish communities walk the streets around their churches on Corpus Christi Sunday, two decades ago there was nothing in Montreal that reflected Pope St. John Paul II’s desire for the Eucharist to be taken to urban streets. In 1982, the late pope moved the Corpus Christi Mass and Procession, traditionally celebrated in St. Peter’s Square, to one that began at the Basilica of St. John Lateran and ended with Benediction at the Basilica of St. Mary Major, 1.5 kilometres away.

“I had studied in Rome for many years and that is what the Holy Father had done,” Sabbath told The Catholic Register.

Sabbath suggested a Mass at Notre-Dame Basilica in Montreal’s Old Port, and a procession that concluded with Benediction at St. Patrick’s Basilica. Though no one knew exactly what to expect, how many people would attend or how it would be received, it ended up being “the biggest event of the Jubilee Year in Montreal.”

“The place was jammed, people kneeling on the floor at St. Pat’s, people were just blown away,” Sabbath said.

Over the years, the procession attracted an average attendance of 1,500-2,000. It has evolved and grown, and a few years ago the start shifted from Notre-Dame to Mary Queen of the World.

This year’s event, the first since COVID restrictions were implemented in 2020, was a simple affair. In a cash-strapped diocese there was no budget for speakers, printed booklets or the flat bed truck on which the archbishop and the monstrance had once traveled. In another hiccup familiar to all Montrealers, construction prevented St. Patrick’s Basilica being the endpoint of this year’s procession.

The faces in the crowd, and the spontaneous singing that erupted in waves along the way, showed neither the lack of the extras nor the change in route could dampen the joy of being back in the streets of Montreal with the Blessed Sacrament.

The event concluded with Benediction on the steps of the cathedral. After Lépine and the congregation traded the Divine Praises and the Tantum Ergo was sung, applause broke out. One older lady, with a lilting Island accent, summed up the evening: “Well, that was a real good one. Night-night.”

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