Incense and bell chimes permeated the humid June air during the annual St. Mary Mokena Corpus Christi procession. After being reduced in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions, the beloved tradition returned amidst an atmosphere of prayer and sacred music.
Following the 11:00 AM Mass on Sunday, June 6th, Father Dindo Billote and Father Mark Bernhard processed the Blessed Sacrament outside, followed by the choir, bell ringers, First Communicants, and parishioners. The procession stopped for prayer and Adoration at three altars on the parish grounds before advancing to the old St. Mary Church on Wolf Road. A police escort blocked traffic as around 100 faithful marched in prayer.
The Solemnity of Corpus Christi honors the True Presence of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist. Although this is a fundamental Catholic belief, Father Bernhard mentioned in his Corpus Christi homily that many do not accept it.
“When polled, 75 percent of Catholics don’t believe in the True Presence of the Eucharist, and 80 percent of people 40-years old and younger don’t believe,” cited Father Bernhard. “On this Solemnity of Corpus Christi, where we acknowledge Jesus’ True Presence in the Eucharist, let’s not tolerate ambiguity.” He went on to describe how belief in the True Presence can be restored by understanding that the Mass is not merely a communal gathering but a Holy Sacrifice. Furthermore, he emphasized the vital importance of properly receiving the Eucharist in a state of grace.
As always, a key component of the procession was the sacred music. Normally, all four church choirs sing during the procession, but this year’s Covid restrictions only allowed for the Pacek Family St. Casimir Chamber Choir to participate.
“The importance of sacred music in relation to the Solemnity of Corpus Christi has always been very special and a large part of the holy celebration here at St. Mary,” said Anna Pacek, Director of Sacred Music at St. Mary Mokena.“This year was different because we were still not allowed to invite all of our choir members back, so all of the beautiful sacred music for the Corpus Christi Mass & Procession this year was performed by members of the Pacek Family St. Casimir Chamber Choir.”
Young and old marched in the procession. There were even a few First Communicants who ceremonially tossed flowers along the route. “The procession was a powerful experience!”, said Brandon Kuboushek, who attended with his family. “Praying and singing with a large group of people while processing with the Eucharist down the street was moving and special for our whole family.”
Father Dindo Billote, who had previously expressed how difficult it was to go several months during the pandemic without seeing parishioners, was elated. “People were joyful to be out, to be out of the pandemic in a way,” he said. “It was really a joyous event because we were able to process around the church to the different altars and enjoy fellowship, which we haven’t been able to do in this way for a long, long time.”
Despite the joy, a bittersweet air hung over the procession as this was Father Mark Bernhard’s last major event at St. Mary before he becomes pastor at Notre Dame Church in Clarendon Hills. In addition to helping carry the monstrance during the procession, he led the congregation in Benediction at the old church.
Following the procession, the parish hosted a small ice cream social outside the old church and coolers filled with refreshing water awaited the hot and thirsty parishioners as they exited. Thankfully, this was the first year the attendees could cool off in the old church with air conditioning recently having been installed.
Any discomfort caused by weather could not detract from the joy brought by processing with the Blessed Sacrament, however. “When we have Jesus in His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity fully present to us in the Eucharist, it is a re-presentation of His Last Supper when He gives us Himself forever,” said Father Billote. Hopefully, this fact was not lost on all those who came to pray and worship on that scorching hot day.