Joseph Pronechen is staff writer with the National Catholic Register since 2005. His articles have appeared regularly in a number of national publications including Columbia magazine, Faith and Family, Catholic Digest, and Marian Helper. His religion features have also appeared in Fairfield County Catholic and in one of Connecticut’s largest news dailies. He holds BS and MS degrees and formerly taught English and courses in film study that he developed at a Catholic high school in Connecticut. Joseph and his wife Mary reside in Connecticut.
Sunday, June 2, is the feast of Corpus Christi, also called the feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.
Do you know about the Corpus Christi Rosary, a devotion that beautifully brings together Eucharistic meditation and Marian devotion?
The Corpus Christi feast has been around since Sept. 8, 1264, when Urban IV decreed its annual celebration for right after Trinity Sunday.
The Rosary had been revealed to St. Dominic and practiced since early in the same century. But no one tied them together.
Fast-forward to the 20th century and the birth of the Corpus Christi Rosary, when several important events converged.
Father Stanley Smolenski composed this Rosary, centering on five important Eucharistic mysteries in the 1980s, but just for private devotion.
Then it was semiforgotten by 2002, when he co-founded the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina — Mother of Joyful Hope in Kingstree, S.C., where he continues as the shrine director.
That same year, Blessed John Paul II released his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae (On the Holy Rosary). Then, on Holy Thursday 2003, the Pope issued his encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (On the Eucharist in Its Relationship to the Church), which concludes with a chapter entitled “At the School of Mary, Woman of the Eucharist” in which he describes Mary’s perfect relation to Christ in the Eucharist as a model for the Church.
In his encyclical, John Paul II expressed his desire to “re-awaken amazement and gratitude” in this sacrament — “amazement should always fill the Church assembled for the celebration of the Eucharist.”
“He spoke on the universal level,” Father Smolenski explains.
Then John Paul II gave the answer to who could best help us rekindle Eucharistic amazement in his last chapter, titled “At the School of Mary, ‘Woman of the Eucharist.’”
He wrote: “If we wish to rediscover in all its richness the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we cannot neglect Mary, Mother and Model of the Church. ... Mary can guide us towards this most holy sacrament because she herself has a profound relationship with it.”
Father Smolenski points out how Pope Benedict XVI, in his November 2010 talk, brought this to the diocesan and parochial level, saying: “I would like to affirm with joy that today there is a ‘Eucharistic springtime’ in the Church. ... I pray that this 'Eucharistic springtime’ may spread increasingly in every parish.”
Everything was now in place at the shrine, because “when people asked me to help them form a Eucharistic spirituality,” says Father Smolenski, “that’s when I brought the Corpus Christi Rosary out from the private to the public level.”
It answered both Holy Fathers’ wishes to engage in the New Evangelization by rekindling Eucharistic amazement in the School of Mary.
Father Smolenski formulated this Rosary with five Eucharistic mysteries. Bible verses form the meditations for each Hail Mary in the decades.
The first mystery is "The Multiplication of the Loaves," with verses from John’s Gospel, Chapter 6, such as: "Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and distributed them to those who were reclining, and also as much of the fish as they wanted."
The second is "The Bread of Life Discourse," also from John 6, with Jesus’ teachings on the Eucharist, such as: “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.”
The third mystery is "The Last Supper," with meditations mainly from Luke 22. The fourth is "The Washing of the Feet" from John 13. The fifth is "The Vine and the Branches" from John 15.
“It’s a compendium of five central episodes and teachings of Christ on the Eucharist,” says Father Smolenski. According to John Paul II’s writing, we “sit at the school of Mary," who is the "Woman of the Eucharist," as we contemplate “the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.”
Remember, among Our Lady’s titles are Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady of the Rosary.
People came to the shrine wanting to develop a Eucharistic spirituality, so Father Smolenski formed the cenacle group, where an Eucharistic reading was introduced with the Rosary and then a sharing of the mediations and readings within the group took place.
It’s not an organization per se, because it has no statues, officers or rules, just praying, reading and sharing.
“The Rosary can be individual, but the cenacle is the communal dimension,” he explains. “That’s the difference.”
The cenacle format begins with a prayer to Mary and ends with a prayer to Jesus. It opens, “Mary, lead us to the Eucharist! ... May you always accompany us to the Eucharist and give us your own sentiments of adoration and love”; then the Corpus Christi Rosary is prayed, followed by a Eucharistic reading, personal prayers, the Divine Mercy Chaplet and a closing prayer to Jesus, Lord of the Eucharist.
In 2012, Charleston, S.C.'s Bishop Robert Guglielmone granted an imprimatur for the cenacle, stating in a letter to Father Smolenski, “In the Corpus Christi Cenacle, you write beautifully about the relationship between the Church, the Eucharist and Mary, the Mother and Model of the Church. ... Certainly, it is inspiring to reflect on the passages of Scripture which you quote for the Corpus Christi Rosary, and one cannot help but want to meditate on the holy mysteries.”
Father Smolenski finds that people are drawn to the Corpus Christi Rosary and cenacle format at the diocesan Eucharistic congresses where he has presented them. The three major ones were in the Atlanta Archdiocese, where 40,000 people attended the last congress, the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C., and the Diocese of St. Augustine, Fla.
Father Smolenski has heard that some parishes, like one in Georgia, say the Corpus Christi Rosary before the Sunday vigil Mass.
This past week, pilgrims arriving at the Shrine of Our Lady of South Carolina from Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Lexington, S.C., told him they prayed the Corpus Christi Rosary in preparation for this Sunday’s feast at the parish’s Wednesday adoration hour.
Father Smolenski is proposing that Corpus Christi Cenacles would be a great link from one diocesan Eucharistic congress to the next.
Right now, as people learn of this Rosary, one word is on everyone’s lips.
“The word that always pops up when people talk about the Rosary or the cenacle,” he says, “is ‘powerful.’ No matter where they’re from, it’s the one common description of the Rosary.”