The Eucharistic Devotion of St. Thomas Aquinas


By Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D.

Since the Blessed Virgin Mary bore Our Lord Jesus Christ in her immaculate womb,  and as his one human parent alone gave Him his physical body, she has an intimate  and unique association with the Eucharist, Christ’s Real Presence among us in the Host  consecrated at Mass. Our Lady is therefore present in a special way in Eucharistic devotion, and has a particularly close relationship with those who practice it ardently.

St. Thomas Aquinas is usually thought of as one of the greatest – perhaps the greatest –  of Catholic philosophers and theologians; and that he most certainly was. But he was  also one of the supreme advocates of Eucharistic devotion and exponents of the nature  of the mysterious process by which the host becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.  Indeed, it was St. Thomas Aquinas who not only explained transubstantiation but provided for the first time the word for it.

His work was not intended only for the very learned. St. Thomas Aquinas, an active  Dominican, was a great teacher. Of his teaching he said, at his inaugural lecture at the  University of Paris in 1256: “Teachers are comparable to mountains for three reasons: their elevation from the earth,  their splendor in illumination, and their protective shelter against harm…. Therefore  teachers should be elevated in their lives so as to illumine the faithful by their  preaching, enlighten students by their teaching, and defend the faith by their  disputations against error.”

When a new feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) was added to the Church  calendar in 1264, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for it.  St. Thomas’ Corpus Christi liturgy included the magnificent sequence “Laude Sion,” the vesper hymn “Pange Lingua” (concluding with the “Tantum Ergo.’ sung during  Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament), the matins hymn “Sacis Solemnis”  (concluding with “Panis Angelicus“) and the lauds hymn “Verbum Supernum  Prodiens” (concluding with another Benediction song, “O Salutaris Hostia“).  Familiar for centuries to every Catholic, these glorious Latin hymns continue to be  widely sung to this day.

The fourth stanza of the “Pange Lingua” contains in a few words the essence of the  Eucharistic doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, totally embraced by the Church: “Word made flesh, by Word He maketh Very bread his flesh to be; Man in wine Christ’s Blood partaketh, And if his senses fail to see, Faith alone the true heart waketh, To behold the mystery.”

The Common Doctor of the Church (as St. Thomas Aquinas has long been known) did  not write only for scholars. In the office of Corpus Christi he wrote for the simple  Catholic worshipper all down the ages. By 1272 St. Thomas had completed the second part of his supreme work, the Summa Theologiae, and begun on the third, concerning the Incarnation and the Sacraments.  His last disputation at the University of Paris was on the Incarnation. Later in 1272 he  established a new study center in his home territory near Naples, and there in Lent  1273 he delivered a series off fifty-nine homilies on charity, the commandments, the  Apostles Creed, the Our Father, and (significantly) the Hail Mary.  One of these homilies was given every day. Thousands of people came out from Naples to hear them.

One night, in the chapel of the Dominican priory in Naples where St. Thomas was then  living, the sacristan concealed himself to watch the saint at prayer. He saw him lifted  into the air, and heard Christ speaking to him from the crucifix on the chapel wall:  “Thomas, you have written well of me. What reward will you have?”  “Lord, nothing but yourself.”  His request was soon answered. On December 6, 1273, St. Thomas Aquinas was saying  Mass for the feast of St. Nicholas in the chapel where the crucifix had spoken to him.  Some profound experience – spiritual, mental, and physical suddenly overwhelmed  him. He showed few external signs of the change at first; but he declared to his long- time secretary that he could write no more. “All that I have written,” he said, “seems  like straw to me.”

During the next few weeks he spent almost all his time in prayer; on March 7, 1274, he  died. He was only forty-nine, but his work was done. Christ’s Church and its mother  Mary had their champion upon the loftiest peaks of human intellect! No greater mind  has been seen among the children of men than the mind of Thomas Aquinas, and he  laid all his genius at the feet of Christ.

(c) The Blue Army, reprinted with permission from SOUL Magazine.

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