By KATIE BORKOWSKI
WILLEY – On the Feast of Corpus Christi, Deacon Dave Prenger posed the question, “Was Jesus crazy?”
“His followers thought so when he told them they had to eat his flesh and drink his blood,” he pointed out, during his homily on June 18 at St. Mary Church in Willey. “It must have sounded like some kind of pagan ritual. Have you ever wondered what you would have done when Jesus said this?”
Deacon Prenger noted that most of Jesus’ disciples walked away because his claim was “so outrageous.”
“Because of Jesus’ command to eat his body and drink his blood, we are able to celebrate this great Feast of Corpus Christi,” he said. “As many of you probably know, Corpus Christi is Latin for the expression ‘Body of Christ.’”
When trying to thank Jesus for the miracle of the Eucharist, Deacon Prenger suggested showing reverence when receiving Jesus in holy Communion and by “our joy after receiving Jesus.”
“We could make it a point to never, ever pass up the opportunity to attend Mass and receive Jesus’ body and blood,” he said.
The Willey parish has been celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi with a procession for more than a century and this year was no different.
Father Tim Johnson, pastor at St. Mary’s, placed the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance for the procession. Before Father Johnson processed out of the church with the monstrance, the congregation knelt and Prenger incensed the monstrance.
Once the priest exited the church carrying the Blessed Sacrament, he stood and walked under a canopy, carried by four men. Those processing in front of the canopy were an altar server carrying a cross, an altar server carrying a book, four first Communion students, Prenger with the incense and two men carrying lanterns. Behind the canopy were two other men carrying lanterns followed by the congregation.
The procession traveled to three chapels in the cemetery. The first chapel houses the pieta. The second depicts the crucifixion. The altar that was in the chapel in St. Mary School is in the third chapel. Between each of the chapels, the congregation recited the rosary.
Upon arriving at each chapel, Father Johnson placed the monstrance inside and Prenger incensed the monstrance. Prenger recited petitions at each of the chapels and the congregation responded, “Lord have mercy.” The procession concluded in the church with Benediction.
Sue Riesselman has been attending the Corpus Christi procession her entire life. She doesn’t know exactly when the procession was initiated at St. Mary’s because there isn’t anyone still around who would know.
“The cornerstone on the building is 1910 and that is when the basement was completed and the first Mass was held here,” she said. “In 1911, everything else was finished. Because of the information we have about the monies they used and what they were purchasing, statues, altars and Communion rails, I am assuming that’s when they purchased all of the beautiful equipment for Corpus Christi – the lanterns and the canopy.”
Riesselman found it exceptional that the lanterns, the canopy and the same procession route has been used for decades.
“It makes the procession so special to think there is still that dedication, devotion, bond and family from here today that we had over 100 years ago,” she said.
However, the ancestors of the parish, Riesselman explained, would have walked in a different order than they walked on June 18. In the past, it would have been the priest leading followed by first communicants, the choir, single women, single men, married couples and everyone had a position they were in.
“It wasn’t just fall in line like we do today,” she said. “It is fun to see the little people run from the back to the front because they want to see what Father is doing.”
Riesselman credited the parish’s Ladies Guild, which has a procession committee of women who help prepare for the feast day.
“They are wonderful women who are always willing to volunteer regardless of what their schedule is,” she said. “Mary Schreck was the catalyst to get things rolling. She makes sure everyone is called and positions are put into place. She makes sure we have canopy carriers and lantern carriers.”