Every year, between the end of May and the end of June the feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated. The exact date differs each year as it is determined by the date of Easter. But usually the feast is celebrated on the Thursday following Pentecost. In Latin Corpus Christi means ‘The Body of Christ’, it is a celebration of the Eucharist, the transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. The feast itself has been celebrated since 1246 and was first promoted by a Belgian Nun, St. Juliana of Liége.
Traditionally this feast was celebrated by a procession which usually took place the Sunday after the feast day. This procession often evokes many memories of the community coming together and celebrating regardless of age or status. It was a huge event and often the most memorable catholic custom. Many shops and houses in the locality would have been freshly painted, flowers put outside and often bunting in the papal colours would have been erected. After the last Mass on Sunday the Priest would put the Blessed Sacrament into a lunette, which was a circular glass vessel. The lunette would then be placed within a monstrance.
A monstrance is often a highly decorative vessel which is used to exhibit and display relics or in this case the Blessed Sacrament. Outside people took their places, the altar servers lead the procession holding candles. They are then followed by four men who held a canopy, this would have been used to protect the priest from the weather and elements. The priest would then walk holding the monstrance high for everyone to see. Walking alongside the priest were the girls in their communion dresses, often with baskets of petals which they would throw in the path of the Priest and the Sacrament.
They were then followed by members of the public. Once the procession route was complete, they would all return to the church for the final blessing.Even though the tradition of the procession has declined it is still a yearly occurrence in some towns and villages around Ireland and remains a traditional annual custom.Pictured below is a communion dress dating to the 1960’s. Traditionally the dress is white as a sign of purity like the christening robe. Girls would have worn veils as it was traditional for women to cover their heads when entering a church. Dresses usually conformed to the modesty standards which were expected in the church, so sleeves were common and it was usually quite simple in design.
Why not pop in to Tipperary Museum and this this dress for yourself!