Corpus Christi – A grateful celebration of walk with Jesus in the neighbourhood of the seat of the Archdiocese of Lagos. The Archbishop excitedly expresses the joyfulness of all for being able to perform the traditional walk with Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. Owing to the lockdown from COVID-19 last year, the faithful were not able to perform the annual end of the Church year traditional celebration.
A life time desire of every Catholic Child to be a part of the procession of the Holy Eucharist through the streets of Lagos (Popo Aguda) to St Gregory’s College grounds. Flashback circa -1964. My first adornment of the of the red and white with a basket of shredded petals of red, green, and purple plants kissed and spread across the road as confetti that the “Bonfi”, a vaulted canopy of red and gold damask which shields and protects the Christ in the Monstrance in the hands of the frailed diminutive Archbishop Leo Hale Taylor.
The four pillars of the canopy made of black shinny ebony wood being carried in turns by gentlemen in black morning suit, white shirts, with black bow ties and a red satch from right to left (Brothers of the Catholic Friendly Society No 3619). Behind the canopy are the Papal Knights of the Church, with their swords drawn; then led by Mr. Gabriel Estsie Dotsie.
They were not referred to as Sir’s, men in cream, green and black martial uniforms. T he procession train, usually about a hundred boys and girls in white dresses and lacy veils are preceded by Alter boys as acolytes, then the Choir, and various Society groups in a kaleidoscope of colours, (not aso ebi).
Boys and teachers of St Gregory’s College will meet the cortege at the turn from Obalende Road unto St Gregory’s College Road and will march along with the Archbishop unto the grounds of the college. This year was so wonderfully special owing to the inactivity of the past year.
In front of the Bonfi, are two incensers who were altar servers with a priest who refills the incense whenever the canopy stops to bless a decorated altar in front of homes as Jesus passes by. The traditional route then was Oil Mill Street, to Igbosere Road through Moloney; or later Bamgbose Street through Lewis Street when the traffic direction changed from right to left in 1972; or Tokunboh Street which was the only street with a decorated median donated by Governor General Glover; through Cow Lane to Igbosere Street.
Many families come together from various parts of Lagos to put up their altars. I remember new statutes were sent from abroad to be blessed at Corpus Christi. Families would join relatives or friends whose homes were on the route for that year. It was an experience every Catholic and non-Catholic children look forward to every year. We were informed that the pupils of St Gregory’s College had their own Corpus Christi procession before the Archdiocesan party arrived.
Which was why the students were not part of the welcoming party of Jesus on their College grounds. In those days, Solemnity Archbishop of the celebration starts with the chants of Litany of the Saints which was very traditional to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross of Jesus Christ.
In 1938, during the launching of the construction of the present Cathedral, there had been rainfall for almost a week, the programme was going to be disrupted by the heavy thunderstorm; parishioners gathered before the altar in the Pro – Cathedral and prayers were being said for the storm to go away. A few moments after the recitation of the Litany of the saints, the sky started clearing up, and shortly after was hot rays of sunshine.
Since then, the Cathedral adopted the Litany of the Saints before any celebration. (which we don’t do again), and to be re-assured of the eff icacy of the Litany, there was a year, the Vicar Capitular led the procession carrying the Monstrance and the rain was so heavy, the canopy was not helpful; they had to return to the Cathedral with the cape covering the monstrance. It was realized later that, the preparatory prayers left out the Litany of the saints.
At the college grounds, the host students would welcome the faithful with singing of Hymns to charge the spirit f illed grounds as Jesus in the Blessed sacrament arrives. Hymns, recitation of the Holy Rosary, litanies and lovely holy and subliming chimes of the bells announcing the presence of Jesus Christ.
At the grounds of St Gregory’s College, the choir opens the coming into the grounds by the cortage with that famous Hymn-poem described by GK Chesterton as the most important Catholic Hymns ever written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the service of Benediction; O’ Salutaris hostia (O saving victim) Tantum ergo (therefore, we before Him bending), Verbum supernum prodiens (the Heavenly word proceeding forth). With that and the almost total silence except for the chimes of the clinging bells…. These days, Solemnity reverberates Brigade drums, holy acrobatics and sometimes, a very exotic dancing pleasing pharaohs, as in the King and I.
A good laugh and happy feelings of joyful celebrations, but the Solemnity should be solemn. I pray and hope in my lifetime to experience again that child-like feeling of…. The presence of Christ Jesus walking with the faithful at Corpus Christi…. Amen.
• Seyi Martins is a former General Manager of Metro FM 97.7, Lagos.