Today is the Feast of Corpus Christi, commemorating the institution of the Holy Eucharist. The feast has been celebrated since the 1200s, originating largely because of the urging of St. Juliana of Mont Cornillon who had a vision of the Church as a full moon having one dark spot, signifying the absence of such a solemnity at that time.(1)
One of the blessings of working in Catholic mission hospitals is that you are often able to attend Mass regularly. St. Martin de Porres Catholic Mission Hospital in Njinikom, Cameroon, has a chapel in the center of the hospital grounds where Mass is said especially for the patients and staff there. The first time I did a short-term medical mission at the hospital with Mission Doctors Association, I asked a ward nurse when Mass was at that chapel. She looked at me as if she was a bit embarrassed for me for asking such a question and politely answered, “Mass starts when the priest gets here.” Yes…of course….I knew that.
I am used to Masses which start exactly on time and generally do not vary more than 5 minutes in their duration. I have an app on my phone which tells me when I travel where the nearest churches are when the masses are, and how long it will take me to get there at my current speed. It is so much different to enter a world where going to Mass can involve washing your good clothes in the river the day before and hanging them in a tree to dry, walking for perhaps hours in the dark to get to church, and knowing that Mass will start when the priest is able to get there. It is a world where everything is harder, including going to Mass.
Anyway, I went to the Chapel and Mass did indeed start when the priest arrived. I sat on a little 3-legged stool at the back of the chapel and watched the patients coming for Mass, some walking with great difficulty. As I looked over the small chapel filling with patients suffering from their broken bones, wounds, and various medical illnesses, the question which silently posed itself was “When will I get the surgery I need?”, “When will my illness be treated?”. The answer, of course, was “When a doctor gets here”.
Dr. Tim Cavanagh
1. Mershman, F. (1908). Feast of Corpus Christi. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved May 24, 2022 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04390b.htm