The Solemnity of Corpus Christi

Pope Urban IV

In 1264, Pope Urban IV decreed that the Solemnity of Corpus Christi would be celebrated in the universal church on the Thursday after Pentecost.  The Holy Father asked Saint Thomas Aquinas to compose a sequence for the Mass and hymns for the Divine Office for the day.  Lauda Sion is the sequence for the Mass of the Feast of Corpus Christi.  The last four verses are often sung as a separate hymn.  The verses are a rich meditation and instruction on our belief in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

You can listen to the Latin chant to hear what the hymn sounds like in its original form, or read the Latin and English verses side-by-side.

Sion, lift up thy voice and sing:
Praise thy Savior and thy King,
Praise with hymns thy shepherd true.

All thou canst, do thou endeavour:
Yet thy praise can equal never
Such as merits thy great King.

See today before us laid
The living and life-giving Bread,
Theme for praise and joy profound.

The same which at the sacred board
Was, by our incarnate Lord,
Giv’n to His Apostles round.

Let the praise be loud and high:
Sweet and tranquil be the joy
Felt today in every breast.

On this festival divine
Which records the origin
Of the glorious Eucharist.

On this table of the King,
Our new Paschal offering
Brings to end the olden rite.

Here, for empty shadows fled,
Is reality instead,
Here, instead of darkness, light.

His own act, at supper seated
Christ ordain’d to be repeated
In His memory divine;

Wherefore now, with adoration,
We, the host of our salvation,
Consecrate from bread and wine.

Hear, what holy Church maintaineth,
That the bread its substance changeth
Into Flesh, the wine to Blood.

Doth it pass thy comprehending?
Faith, the law of sight transcending
Leaps to things not understood.

Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things, to sense forbidden,
Signs, not things, are all we see.

Flesh from bread, and Blood from wine,
Yet is Christ in either sign,
All entire, confessed to be.

They, who of Him here partake,
Sever not, nor rend, nor break:
But, entire, their Lord receive.

Whether one or thousands eat:
All receive the self-same meat:
Nor the less for others leave.

Both the wicked and the good
Eat of this celestial Food:
But with ends how opposite!

Here ’tis life: and there ’tis death:
The same, yet issuing to each
In a difference infinite.

Nor a single doubt retain,
When they break the Host in twain,
But that in each part remains
What was in the whole before.

Since the simple sign alone
Suffers change in state or form:
The signified remaining one
And the same for evermore.

Lo! bread of the Angels broken,
For us pilgrims food, and token
Of the promise by Christ spoken,
Children’s meat, to dogs denied.

Shewn in Isaac’s dedication,
In the manna’s preparation:
In the Paschal immolation,
In old types pre-signified.

Jesu, shepherd of the sheep:
Thou thy flock in safety keep,
Living bread, thy life supply:
Strengthen us, or else we die,
Fill us with celestial grace.

Thou, who feedest us below:
Source of all we have or know:
Grant that with Thy Saints above,
Sitting at the feast of love,
We may see Thee face to face.

Amen. Alleluia.

Thomas Aquinas by Fra Bartolommeo

Pange Lingua Gloriosi is another hymn written by Aquinas for the Solemnity of Corpus Christi.  The tune of this hymn is more familiar to contemporary Catholics because we sing the last two verses (referred to by the first two words in the Latin textTantum ergo) at Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  The hymn is also sung on Holy Thursday during the procession when the Blessed Sacrament is removed from the tabernacle and taken to a place of reposition outside the church or away from the sanctuary.

Sing, my tongue, the Saviour’s glory,
of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our Immortal King,
destined, for the world’s redemption,
from a noble Womb to spring.

Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wond’rously His Life of woe.

On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He, the Paschal Victim eating,
first fulfils the Law’s command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own Hand.

Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His Word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?

Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.

Down in adoration falling,

Corpus Christi Procession

This great Sacrament we hail,
O’er ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.

To the Everlasting Father,
And the Son who made us free
And the Spirit, God proceeding
From them Each eternally,
Be salvation, honour, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.

Amen. Alleluia.

Sacris Solemniis (is another of the five hymns St Thomas composed for the Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ.  It is probably most famous to modern ears for the strophe, the last two stanzas beginning Panis angelicus (Bread of angels), which has been set to music by various composers to a hymn on their own.  Sacris Solemniis is a lovely affirmation of simple faith in the Eucharistic Presence:

At this our solemn feast
let holy joys abound,
and from the inmost breast
let songs of praise resound;
let ancient rites depart,
and all be new around,
in every act, and voice, and heart.

Remember we that eve,
when, the Last Supper spread,
Christ, as we all believe,
the Lamb, with leavenless bread,
among His brethren shared,
and thus the Law obeyed,
of all unto their sire declared.

The typic Lamb consumed,
the legal Feast complete,
the Lord unto the Twelve
His Body gave to eat;
the whole to all, no less
the whole to each did mete
with His own hands, as we confess.

He gave them, weak and frail,
His Flesh, their Food to be;
on them, downcast and sad,
His Blood bestowed He:
and thus to them He spake,
“Receive this Cup from Me,
and all of you of this partake.”

So He this Sacrifice
to institute did will,
and charged His priests alone
that office to fulfill:
to them He did confide:
to whom it pertains still
to take, and the rest divide.

Thus Angels’ Bread is made
the Bread of man today:
the Living Bread from heaven
with figures dost away:
O wondrous gift indeed!
the poor and lowly may
upon their Lord and Master feed.

Thee, therefore, we implore,
O Godhead, One in Three,
so may Thou visit us
as we now worship Thee;
and lead us on Thy way,
That we at last may see
the light wherein Thou dwellest aye.

The last two verses in Latin are sometimes sung in our English Mass:

Panis angelicus
fit panis hominum;
dat panis caelicus
figuris terminum;
O res mirabilis:
manducat Dominum
pauper, servus et humilis.

Te, trina Deitas
unaque, poscimus:
sic nos tu visita,
sicut te colimus;
per tuas semitas
duc nos quo tendimus,
ad lucem quam inhabitas.