On Sunday 2 June—the solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Jesus (Corpus Christi)—more than 1,500 people walked together along Drummond Street and through the Carlton Gardens on a crisp, clear winter’s afternoon, praying and singing, in a powerful public display of Christian faith and devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

Each year, Corpus Christi College, the regional seminary of the dioceses in Victoria and Tasmania, hosts a Mass at Sacred Heart Church in Carlton for the solemnity, and from there a Eucharistic procession winds its way through the surrounding streets and gardens.

This year, before the procession set off at 2.30pm, there was standing room only in the church as Archbishop Peter A Comensoli celebrated Mass.

The homily was delivered by Fr Joseph Vnuk OP, who began by reflecting on the Eucharistic hymns of St Thomas Aquinas, observing that when we consume the Eucharist, ‘we are turned into what we consume: we become more and more like Christ’.

What is happening in this Eucharist does not stop when we go out the doors; it goes on, and the unity we establish with each other continues.

Exploring what it might mean when we carry the Blessed Sacrament through the streets, he said, ‘If we are following Christ in procession, maybe it is a sign of the way we follow Christ in our lives.’

Moving together in a procession, he said, is a sign that we are publicly following Christ and ‘that once we have left the church, what is happening in this Eucharist does not stop when we go out the doors; it goes on, and the unity we establish with each other continues.

‘So as long as we keep Jesus as the focus and as the active one in our procession,’ he said, ‘we open ourselves to the transformation that Jesus brings.’

As the procession set off from the church, accompanied by hymns played by a lone piper and by the MMG (Maltese) Concert Band of Victoria, the stillness of the day was matched by the peaceful, reverent spirit of all those who had travelled from every corner of the Archdiocese for this special event in the Church’s calendar.

While the procession this year was to end at St Patrick’s Cathedral with participants joining a service of Vespers, concerns about the ability of the procession to safely cross the busy Victoria Parade and Nicolson street intersection resulted in a last-minute adjustment to the procession route.

Participants instead remained in the Carlton Gardens until about 4pm, many on their knees before the Blessed Sacrament, singing and praying the Rosary in a moving and powerful display of public devotion that drew the curious attention of many passers-by.

Viv and Magda and their two daughters came from Templestowe Lower to participate in the Mass and Eucharistic procession. They had participated last year and were keen to return. Originally from New South Wales, they said participating in their local Corpus Christi procession has become a family tradition over the years, ‘so it was good to join in the Victorian side of the procession,’ Viv said. ‘It’s wonderful.’

Viv observed that such processions perhaps used to be a more common sight on the streets of large cities, and that now for some people there might be some trepidation and ‘maybe a bit of embarrassment’ about public displays of faith. But he believes walking in a procession is a powerful witness. ‘Our Lord’s grace is obviously everywhere in the world,’ he said, ‘but it’s nice when it’s manifested and focused around a procession.’

Magda agreed. ‘It’s just nice to see everyone praying, kneeling down,’ she said. ‘It’s nice to see a lot of devotion to the Eucharist.’

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Magda (second from left) and Viv (right) with their daughters and Fr James Baptist (centre) and seminarian John Vespa (second from right) at the conclusion of the procession.
It’s beautiful to see a lot of people—families and kids—and a lot of hope for the future.

Francesco also attended the procession with his family, making the trip into the city from Altona Meadows. ‘One of our family’s friends just entered the seminary and sent us an invite on WhatsApp,’ he explained. ‘A few others responded, and we collected a few families from the parish. We usually pray together and decided to all come along.’

Francesco was not disappointed he came, saying the experience had been ‘very rich and intense. It’s beautiful to see a lot of people—families and kids—and a lot of hope for the future.’By following the Blessed Sacrament, he said, ‘we show to everybody in the street an image of us following Christ during our life every day.’

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Francesco said the experience of walking in the procession was ‘very rich and intense’.

Perhaps the newest Catholic in the procession was nine-week-old Benedict, who had been baptised just the previous week. New parents Martina and Will, who live in Caroline Springs, came along with Benedict and with Martina’s parents, Zeny and Rudi.

It was the perfect opportunity, Martina said, to introduce their new son to ‘the family of God, the universal Church in Melbourne’ and to celebrate the richness of the Catholic faith ‘as a big family in public’.

People were coming and going, very curious about what’s going on, and it was a great witness.

Will explained that when they heard about the procession, they thought, ‘Well, we’ve actually never gone to that … We’re obviously a new family—the little one got baptised last week—so we thought this would be a really great opportunity to celebrate as a family, but then also come together for the solemnity of Corpus Christi.

‘You know, our faith is obviously a very personal, intimate relationship that we have with God,’ he said, ‘but this is one of the few opportunities that we actually get to celebrate it. We weren’t able to celebrate it in St Patrick’s, but the beauty of that is that we were able to celebrate it in a very public way in a park. People were coming and going, very curious about what’s going on, and it was a great witness in that respect.’

The Mass at Sacred Heart was a highlight of the day for both Will and Martina, who enjoyed watching Benedict’s reactions to the liturgy. ‘He loved the music and seeing the clergy walk in. I think that was pretty powerful,’ Martina said. ‘And to see the church full with people, it just shows that the Church is thriving more than ever.’

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Baby Benedict was accompanied on his first Eucharistic procession by his parents Martina and Will (centre), and grandparents Rudi (left) and Zeny (right)—three generations publicly bearing witness to Christ.

Abbie made the trip in from Wheeler’s Hill in the south-east suburbs, and her friend Vitale came in from Reservoir, in the north of Melbourne, meeting up with a group of their friends for the Mass and procession.

For Abbie, participating in the procession was all about the Eucharist. ‘It’s a big part of our faith—we love the Eucharist, which is Jesus present in the sacrament … It was something I just had to go to.’

Vitale was also excited about the opportunity the procession provides for ‘people out on the streets’ to ‘witness what we are, what we are faithful to, who we’re devoted to’.

Abbie agreed that the procession gives people who might not be familiar with the Church ‘an idea of what this community is like, that we’re not so secluded in our faith and it’s something that’s open to everyone, that everyone has a chance to know who Jesus is.’

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Abbie and Vitale.

This year, the Corpus Christi Mass and procession marked the culmination of Fiat—A Weekend of Prayer, which had begun the previous Friday, on the feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, and brought parishes and communities across Melbourne together in prayer.

Banner image: The Blessed Sacrament is reverently carried through the Carlton Gardens.