“Whoever eats my Flesh and drinks my Blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day (John 6:45).”
Last Sunday was the Feast of Corpus Christi which is Latin for the Body of Christ. We express our thanks to God at every Holy Mass when we have the opportunity to receive Jesus who is actually present in the Sacred Host and Precious Blood.
St. John Paul II, in his 2003 Papal Encyclical on the Holy Eucharist, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, praised the hymns and poems of the Solemnity of Corpus Christi saying, “Let us make our own the words of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an eminent theologian and an impassioned poet of Christ in the Eucharist, and turn in hope to the contemplation of that goal to which our hearts aspire in their thirst for joy and peace (33).” Each of the hymns and poems written by St. Thomas Aquinas for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, or the Body and Blood of Christ, is anointed and draws the one who prays with them into deeper places of encounter with Jesus who is present in the Blessed Sacrament.
St. Thomas Aquinas, saint and doctor of the Catholic Church, is perhaps best known for his theological writings, such as the two Summas (Summa Theologica and Summa Contra Gentiles), which are bulwarks of Catholic theology. Popes from St. Pius V to Benedict XVI have praised his works and even Canon Law recommends that his works be studied by seminary students in their preparation for priesthood. Beyond those works, however, and the foundation they provide for Catholic Theology, St. Thomas Aquinas’ hymns for the great Solemnity of The Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ are also influential works for us today, as they give us the language of worship and devotion to the Holy Eucharist.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for Corpus Christi when Pope Urban IV added the Solemnity to the universal Church’s liturgical calendar in 1264. At the request of Pope Urban, St. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican friar, began to spend more time than usual in prayer and contemplation before the Blessed Sacrament. From his time in prayer he wrote the sequence, Lauda Sion Salvatorem (Sion, Lift Up Thy Voice and Sing), for Corpus Christi, as well as the hymn for evening prayer known as the Pange Lingua (Sing, Tongue, the Mystery of the Glorious Body), from which we sung this weekend at Benediction the last two verses that make the Tantum Ergo (Down in Adoration Falling).
A translation of those verses draws us in prayer:
Down in adoration falling!
This great Sacrament we hail!
Over ancient forms of worship,
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.
To the Everlasting Father,
And the Son Who made us free,
And the Spirit, God proceeding
From them Each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might, and endless majesty. Amen.