Corpus Christi Poem
June 10, 2018
Last Sunday we celebrated the solemn feast of Corpus Christi – the Body and Blood of Christ. I wrote about it then. But there is so much packed in to that great feast that I wanted to revisit it today. There are some extraordinary treasures in the Catholic Church, old and new. One of those treasures is a poem called the Lauda Sion (“Praise, O Israel”) written by the great St. Thomas Aquinas over 750 years ago. Thomas was an absolute genius as well as a holy Dominican friar. He was commissioned to write the hymn by Pope Urban when he created this special feast day. The poem has certainly withstood the test of time and it is still chanted at Mass around the world, especially on the feast day. (Our cantors did it beautifully at most of our Masses). Originally written in Latin, some English poets have translated it over the years. You can find the whole poem at http://usccb.org/bible/readings/060318.cfm.
But I wanted to reflect on just a few excerpts. (Don’t let the flowery and archaic English get in the way of appreciating what it means!). I’ll include a few comments on what the passages mean in “plain English.”
Lo! the angel’s food is given
To the pilgrim who has striven;
see the children’s bread from heaven,
which on dogs may not be spent.
This refers to a puzzling passage in St. Matthew’s Gospel about a pagan woman not yet part of the Hebrew covenant. But because of her faith, the Lord is inviting her to believe and be part of the Lord’s Kingdom anyway. It reminds us that the Church teaches that the Holy Bread of Life is not given to anyone, but only to those who truly believe that Jesus is truly present, Flesh and Blood, and who commit to obedience to His Catholic Church. This is a hard teaching for many (for example, at funerals where family members are not Catholic) but the Church is very insistent on it.
Truth the ancient types fulfilling,
Isaac bound, a victim willing,
Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling,
manna to the fathers sent.
This reminds us that everything in our Sacred Scriptures, literally for thousands of years before Christ came to earth, is fulfilled in the Holy Eucharist. For example, the lambs sacrificed when the Hebrew people fled slavery in Egypt, when Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac his only son at the Lord’s command, and much more.
You who all things can and know,
Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav’nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be.
This reminds us that the Communion we share on earth is a pledge of the more glorious Communion we hope to share with all of the Saints in Heaven – if we remain faithful to Christ throughout our lives.
What he did at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne’er to cease:
This reminds us that one of the reasons we celebrate the Eucharist is so that we never forget that the Lord has chosen to be truly present among us. Even though He is seated at the right hand of His Father in Heaven, He is still – sacramentally – also present among us every time we celebrate the Holy Mass. In fact, the Lord commanded us to celebrate the Mass until the end of time, when He comes again in glory. So that from the moment He gave us the Eucharist at that Last Supper, until the end of time, there will always be men somewhere on earth willing to sacrifice their lives to bring Jesus’ presence into our lives.
Bad and good the feast are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.
Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.
This is perhaps one of the most startling passages in the poem. It reminds us that sharing in the Holy Mass is critically important for our spiritual lives and for our salvation. But the Mass alone is not enough. The Lord knows that we may be just “going through the motions” and not taking the Mass seriously. So even those who do go to Mass regularly may not be on a course to salvation, if the rest of their lives does not match up with the gift they receive. In other words, the Mass has the power to transform our lives and save us, but we have to conform our lives to the goodness of the Body and Blood we receive and turn our will to do God’s will. Otherwise, we may be mocking the gift of the Mass. This teaching has been soft pedaled in recent times, as Mass attendance declines. Perhaps in a well intentioned way so that people aren’t afraid to attend Mass. Still, we should be challenged to recognize that going to Mass is the first step. We must also take the next step of living our lives according to the Mass.