Listers, “down in adoration falling / this great sacrament we hail.” The Feast of Corpus Christi is amongst the most important feasts of the liturgical calendar, especially given our modern epidemic of misbelief or disbelief amongst Catholics in the Eucharist as the body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The Feast of Corpus Christi was originally a local feast that was soon promulgated to the Universal Church.1
Urban IV, always an admirer of the feast, published the Bull “Transiturus” (8 September, 1264), in which, after having extolled the love of Our Saviour as expressed in the Holy Eucharist, he ordered the annual celebration of Corpus Christi in the Thursday next after Trinity Sunday, at the same time granting many indulgences to the faithful for the attendance at Mass and at the Office. This Office, composed at the request of the pope by the Angelic Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas, is one of the most beautiful in the Roman Breviary and has been admired even by Protestants.
In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI gave a three part catechesis on Aquinas, one of which was on the eve of Corpus Christi. The Holy Father extols the “exquisitely Eucharistic soul” of the Angelic Doctor and speak on his role in the Feast of Corpus Christi.2
Pope Urban IV, who held him in high esteem, commissioned him to compose liturgical texts for the Feast of Corpus Christi, which we are celebrating tomorrow, established subsequent to the Eucharistic miracle of Bolsena. Thomas had an exquisitely Eucharistic soul. The most beautiful hymns that the Liturgy of the Church sings to celebrate the mystery of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of the Lord in the Eucharist are attributed to his faith and his theological wisdom.
1. Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium
“Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium is a hymn written by St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) for the Feast of Corpus Christi (now called the Solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ). It is also sung on Maundy Thursday, during the procession from the church to the place where the Blessed Sacrament is kept until Good Friday. The last two stanzas, called separately Tantum Ergo, are sung at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.”3
Fr. Edward Caswall was an Anglican and hymn writer who converted to the Catholic faith. He is responsible for many Latin to English translations, including the one below.
2. Adoro te devote
Adoro te devote is another classic Eucharistic hymn by St. Thomas Aquinas and is traditionally sung on Corpus Christi.4
A hymn sometimes styled Rhythmus, or Oratio, S. Thomæ (sc. Aquinatis) written c. 1260 (?), which forms no part of the Office or Mass of the Blessed Sacrament, although found in the Roman Missal (In gratiarum actione post missam) with 100 days indulgence for priests (subsequently extended to all the faithful by decree of the S.C. Indulgent., 17 June, 1895). It is also found commonly in prayer and hymn-books. It has received sixteen translations into English verse. The Latin text, with English translation, may be found in the Baltimore “Manual of Prayers” (659, 660). Either one of two refrains is inserted after each quatrain (a variation of one of which is in the Manual), but originally the hymn lacked the refrain.