While St. Thomas Aquinas is known for his rigorous academic work and study in philosophy and theology, it is not as commonly known that he was also a writer of hymns and poetry.
In fact, he wrote five poems/hymns reflecting on this wondrous Mystery of Christ coming to us in the Eucharist. It is likely that you have at least heard a few of these hymns, especially as we may have used one of them as a communion hymn during this Lent.
Here is a brief word about each of these poems/hymns and where you have likely heard them:
1) “Sing my Tongue the Savior’s Glory” (or Down in Adoration Falling) – Latin title: Pange Lingua (Tantum Ergo): This is the hymn we use during the Eucharistic Procession at Holy Thursday Mass. The last two verses of the hymn are also commonly used at the end of Eucharistic Adoration. The last two verses begin with the beautiful line: “Down in Adoration Falling; this great Sacrament we hail!” or “Tantum Ergo Sacramentum …”
2) “Godhead here in hiding” – Latin title: Adoro Te Devote: This is one of my personal favorite Eucharistic Hymns. In the words, Aquinas ponders and wrestles with this wondrous mystery of God hidden in and “masked in” the form of bread and wine. He also references the image of the pelican, coming from the legend that a mother pelican will tear off her own flesh to feed her young (and thus a powerful image of the Eucharist). Here are two verses from the hymn:
Godhead here in hiding whom I do adore
Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
See, Lord at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.
3) “O Saving Victim” – Latin title: O Salutaris Hostia: This is most often heard sung at the beginning of Eucharistic Adoration, at the moment when the Eucharist is exposed in the monstrance on the altar. But these two lines we sing, are actually only the last two lines of the Aquinas’ hymn Verbum Supernum Prodiens. The hymn recalls that while Jesus was betrayed by Judas and condemned and crucified by his enemies, Jesus turned that treachery into a saving Sacrament for us. Thus, Jesus Himself becomes the Saving Victim:
In twofold form of sacrament,
He gave His flesh, He gave His blood,
That man, of soul and body blent,
Might wholly feed on mystic food.
O saving Victim, opening wide
The gate of heaven to us below;
Our foes press on from every side,
Thine aid supply, Thy strength bestow.
4) “Holy and Living Bread” – Latin title: Panis Angelicus: This is another hymn you may hear at Mass.
5) “Laud, O Zion, Thy Salvation” – This we recite on the Feast of Corpus Christi as the Sequence (the special hymn we recite just before the Gospel).
– Fr. Kevin
PS: A reminder that we have a communal Reconciliation on Wed., March 8 at 6:30 p.m. at St. Patrick’s in Hampton!