By Cian Molloy - 31 May, 2018
Pope Francis is breaking with the custom followed by his two predecessors, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, of celebrating Corpus Christi in St John Lateran’s, the cathedral church of the Bishop of Rome, a custom followed since 1979.
The Pope is off to the seaside this Corpus Christi weekend, as he is breaking with recent tradition and making a pilgrimage to the coastal town and resort of Ostia, 30 km from Rome, to celebrate Sunday evening Mass there.
This is a break with recent Corpus Christi tradition in the Vatican. In 1979 Pope John Paul II started a custom for the Bishop of Rome to celebrate the feast day in his own cathedral church, St John Lateran’s, followed by a procession to the Basilica of St Mary Major.
This is not the first time that a Pope has celebrated a Corpus Christi Mass at this location: It was Paul VI’s habit to celebrate the feast day in a different one of his parishes every year, so he celebrated Mass on that day in Ostia in 1969.
Liturgically, the Feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated on the Thursday following Trinity Sunday, but where the Thursday is not a holy day of obligation the observance is on the following Sunday.
If you like puns, Ostia is a pleasing place for celebrating the Feast of the Body and Blood of Our Lord. The town’s name comes from the Latin word for ‘mouth’, as this coastal town lies at the mouth of the River Tiber, 30 km from Rome, but in modern-day Italian the word ‘Ostia’ is the word used for the Eucharistic host.
Today, Ostia is Italy’s most populated civil parish (if you don’t include the Mestre district of mainland Venice). The population in Ostia increases significantly during the summer, when it is a holiday destination for many Romans. Thanks to its coastal location, in the summer Ostia usually feels significantly cooler than Rome. However, yesterday, Tuesday, the temperature was 28 °C in both locations.
After the Pope celebrates an open-air Mass outside the Church of Santa Monica al Lido di Ostia, the congregation will process to the Shrine of Our Lady of Bonaria.
The Church of Santa Monica is named after the mother of St Augustine, who died in Ostia in 387 while returning back to Africa following her son’s conversion to Christianity. The local seafaring community pray to Our Lady of Bonaria, or Our Lady of Fair Winds.