Today we commemorate the life and ministry of Saint Thomas Aquinas. One could—and many have—filled whole libraries with analyses, commentaries, and reviews of the works the Angelic Doctor, whose own works alone go a long way towards starting a library. A few weeks ago I flippantly declared that “I don’t believe in theology.” You would have thought I disowned Christ. Though a priest, I despise the work of “doing” theology. Systematics is not my bag. I can talk historical theology (the study of what people believed at a certain time), church history, Biblical studies, and the like, but do not ask me to get theological. I don’t do it.
So it would make sense that I have no intent at all to comment on Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (his magnum opus and humbly named Summary of All Theology). Instead, I prefer to focus on the good doctor’s ardent and passionate devotion to Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. Aside from being one of the greatest theological minds of the last half a millennia (so I’ve been told), St. Thomas Aquinas composed an entire Mass setting for the Feast of Corpus Christi. That is the day on which the Church gives thanks for the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. To go along with this service, the saint composed a set of hymns which I find to be some of the most beautiful hymns ever written. I choose to focus on these this day.
Adoro Te Devote was a hymn written for the feast. One translation of the Latin renders the lyrics this way:
Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen,
Who thy glory hiddest ‘neath these shadows mean;
Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed,
Tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.
Taste and touch and vision to discern thee fail;
Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.
O memorial wondrous of the Lord’s own death;
Living Bread that givest all thy creatures breath,
Grant my spirit ever by thy life may live,
To my taste thy sweetness never-failing give.
Jesus, whom now hidden, I by faith behold,
What my soul doth long for, that thy word foretold:
Face to face thy splendor, I at last shall see,
In the glorious vision, blessed Lord, of thee.
The second hymn which I will focus on today is the Tantum Ergo. This hymn is actually the last two verses of a much longer hymn, Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium. The words are used in various services of Eucharistic Adoration including the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. The lyrics (in one translation) are as follows:
Therefore we before him bending,
This great sacrament revere;
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer rite is here;
Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes our inward vision clear.
Glory let us give and blessing
To the Father and the Son,
Honor, thanks, and praise addressing,
While eternal ages run;
Ever to His love confessing
Who from Both with Both is One. Amen.
Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas; enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.