Saturday, June 21, 2014

Feast of Corpus Christi

[coauthored by TMR and scovich]

Last Thursday was the Feast of Corpus Christi (Body of Christ), although in most dioceses, the observance of this great Feast of the Blessed Sacrament is transferred to this Sunday. Pope Urban IV created this feast in 1264,  now 750 years ago. Traditionally, this feast has been celebrated in Catholic lands with great jubilation, processions, and public veneration of the Sacrament. Some of us will, in fact, attend a Corpus Christi procession after Mass on Sunday.
Read more here about the institution of this feast, the vision of St. Juliana, and the relevant efforts of St. Thomas Aquinas in theology, composition, and verse.

Why is this feast placed as it is in the second week after Pentecost? One might argue that the beginning weeks of Ordinary Time, following the high observances of Paschaltide and Pentecost are an appropriate time to revive habits of contemplation and gratitude for the Holy Eucharist. Such devotion is central to our Sodality. We do attend Eucharistic adoration throughout the year. Now we ought to deepen our intellectual, spiritual, and affective appreciation for this infinitely generous gift of our Blessed Lord.

Returning to our beloved St. Thomas Aquinas, please listen attentively to his Eucharistic hymn "Pange Lingua Gloriosi" found here. The last two stanzas might be more familiar to the faithful, since they are sung at Benediction ("Tantum Ergo").

"Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem" is the Sequence for the Feast of Corpus Christi. St. Thomas also composed these sublime verses as well as the Mass propers for this Feast. By special request, we are linking here to the setting by the eminent  Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria. The erudite Msgr. Ronald Knox (1888-1957) translated this Sequence, keeping true to Aquinas's theological veracity and literary qualities, retaining some of Aquinas's metrical elements in his exquisite translation. Since the Editor of this blog is especially fond of Msgr. Knox's work, his translation is quoted in full below (as it was printed in the Fulton J. Sheen Sunday Missal, 1961, by permission of Knox's literary executor, Evelyn Waugh).

Sing forth, O Sion, sweetly sing
The praises of thy Shepherd-King
In hymns and canticles divine.
Dare all thou canst, thou hast no song
Worthy his praises to prolong,
So far surpassing powers like thine.

Today no theme of common praise
Forms the sweet burden of thy lays—
The living, life-dispensing food—
That food which at the sacred board
Unto the brethren twelve Our Lord
His parting legacy bestowed.

Then be the anthem clear and strong,
Thy fullest note, thy sweetest song,
The very music of the breast:
For now shines forth the day sublime
That brings remembrance of the time
When Jesus first his table blessed.

Within our new King’s banquet-hall
They meet to keep the festival
That closed the ancient paschal rite:
The old is by the new replaced;
The substance hath the shadow chased;
And rising day dispels the night.

Christ willed what he himself had done
Should be renewed while time should run,
In memory of his parting hour:
Thus, tutored in his school divine,
We consecrate the bread and wine;
And lo—a Host of saving power.

This faith to Christian men is given—
Bread is made flesh by words from heaven;
Into his blood the wine is turned:
What though it baffles nature’s powers
Of sense and sight? This faith of ours
Proves more than nature e’er discerned.

Concealed beneath the twofold sign,
Meet symbols of the gifts divine,
There lie the mysteries adored;
The living body is our food;
Our drink the ever-precious blood;
In each, one undivided Lord.

Not he that eateth it divides
The sacred food, which whole abides
Unbroken still, nor knows decay;
Be one, or be a thousand fed,
They eat alike that living bread
Which, still received, ne’er wastes away.

The good, the guilty share therein,
With sure increase of grace or sin,
The ghostly life, or ghostly death:
Death to the guilty; to the good
Immortal food. See how one food
Man’s joy or woe accomplisheth.

We break the Sacrament, but bold
And firm thy faith shall keep its hold:
Deem not the whole doth more enfold
Than in the fractured part resides.
Deem not that Christ doth broken lie;
‘Tis but the sight that meets the eye;
The hidden deep reality
In all its fullness still abides.

Behold the bread of angels sent
For pilgrims in their banishment,
The bread for God’s true children meant,
That may not unto dogs be given;
Oft in the olden types foreshadowed;
In Isaac on the altar bowed,
And in the ancient paschal food
And in the manna sent from heaven.

Come then, good Shepherd, bread divine,
Still show to us thy mercy sign;
Oh, feed us still, still keep us thine;
So we may see thy glories shine
In fields of immortality.

O thou, the wisest, mightiest, best,
Our present food, our future rest,
Come make us each thy chosen guest,
Co-heirs of thine and comrades blest,
With saints whose dwelling is with thee.

Amen. Alleluia.

To close our Eucharistic theme, we leave you with a gratuitous recording of Mozart's setting of the 14th-century hymn "Ave Verum Corpus."

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