June 20, 2014

Rejoice in the Lord

Corpus Christi celebrates the eucharistic mystery

Archbishop Joseph W. TobinSing, my tongue, the Savior’s glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble Womb to spring.

“Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium” is a hymn text written by St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) for the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.

It is also sung on Holy 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. The hymn proclaims the eucharistic mystery in which, according to our faith, the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ.

We think of Thomas Aquinas as a brilliant thinker who taught philosophy and theology, and so he was. But St. Thomas was also a man of fervent prayer and intense devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.

His early biographers wrote that this great scholar, who was also a popular preacher, would lean his head against the Tabernacle, as if to feel the throbbing of Jesus’ divine and human heart!

For Aquinas, all knowledge comes through the senses of sight, sound, touch and smell. Could it be that he was trying to know and love the Lord more intimately by feeling his presence more intensely? Pope Francis would call this “closeness,” the kind of intimacy that each of us is called to have with Jesus and with one another.

St. Thomas believed that the Eucharist is the sacrament of the Lord’s Passion because it contains—really and truly—the person of Jesus Christ who suffered and died for us. Thus, Aquinas taught that whatever is an effect of our Lord’s Passion (especially our liberation from sin and death) is also an effect of the holy Eucharist because this sacrament is nothing other than the application of our Lord’s Passion to us. St. Thomas believed this so completely that he was known to celebrate Mass with tears of joy and gratitude!

This is no stuffy academic coldly and dispassionately thinking “great thoughts.” This is a great lover, a man who has grasped the truth about our Lord’s Real Presence in the Blessed Sacrament. How can he not respond with an open and joy-filled heart to the One who has given everything for our salvation? How can he fail to sing of the Savior’s glory, of the mystery “all price exceeding” that is present to us—here and now—in the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood? How can he fail to shed tears of joy and thanksgiving at the sacrificial gift we have been given “for the world’s redemption”?

Reflecting on the teaching and personal witness of this great saint, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, “Let us fall in love with this sacrament! Let us participate in Holy Mass with recollection, to obtain its spiritual fruits; let us nourish ourselves with this body and blood of our Lord, to be ceaselessly fed by divine grace! Let us willingly and frequently linger in the company of the Blessed Sacrament in heart-to-heart conversation.” Jesus Christ invites our intimate communion with him through this great sacrament of his flesh and blood.

No wonder the familiar words of the “Tantum Ergo” urge us to “fall down in adoration” before the sacred Host. It is right to feel overwhelmed by the power of the Lord’s presence—not in an oppressive or fearful way, but with hearts full of amazement and joy!

In the end, as St. Thomas Aquinas knew, the divine mystery defies all understanding. Faith alone fills in the gaps “where the feeble senses fail” and allows us to know, love and serve God—in partial and preliminary ways here on Earth, but fully and perfectly in the everlasting joy of heaven.

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ (Corpus Christi), which we celebrate this weekend, is a time to rejoice in the great gift we have received in the holy Eucharist.

Let us fall in love with this most precious sacrament. Let us allow ourselves to be fed by divine grace, so that we will have the strength to love God above all else and to teach and serve others as he commanded us to do. †

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