Post 259

Celestial: Reflections on Corpus Christi

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Quantum potes, tantum aude:
Quia major omni laude,
Nec laudáre súfficis.

Laudis thema speciális,
Panis vivus et vitális,
Hódie propónitur.

Quem in sacræ mensa cœnæ,
Turbæ fratrum duodénæ
Datum non ambígitur.

Sit laus plena, sit sonóra,
Sit jucúnda, sit decóra
Mentis jubilátio.

Dies enim solémnis ágitur,
In qua mensæ prima recólitur
Hujus institútio.

In hac mensa novi Regis,
Novum Pascha novæ legis,
Phase vetus términat.

Vetustátem nóvitas,
Umbram fugat véritas,
Noctem lux elíminat.

Quod in cœna Christus gessit,
Faciéndum hoc expréssit
In sui memóriam.

Docti sacris institútis,
Panem, vinum, in salútis
Consecrámus hóstiam.

Dogma datur Christiánis,
Quod in carnem transit panis,
Et vinum in sánguinem.

Quod non capis, quod non vides,
Animósa firmat fides,
Præter rerum ordinem.

Sub divérsis speciébus,
Signis tantum, et non rebus,
Latent res exímiæ.

Caro cibus, sanguis potus:
Manet tamen Christus totus,
Sub utráque spécie.

A suménte non concísus,
Non confráctus, non divísus:
Integer accípitur.

Sumit unus, sumunt mille:
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consúmitur.

Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inæquáli,
Vitæ vel intéritus.

Mors est malis, vita bonis:
Vide paris sumptiónis
Quam sit dispar éxitus.

Fracto demum Sacraménto,
Ne vacílles, sed memento,
Tantum esse sub fragménto,
Quantum toto tégitur.

Nulla rei fit scissúra:
Signi tantum fit fractúra:
Qua nec status nec statúra
Signáti minúitur.

Ecce panis Angelórum,
Factus cibus viatórum:
Vere panis filiórum,
Non mitténdus cánibus.

In figúris præsignátur,
Cum Isaac immolátur:
Agnus paschæ deputátur
Datur manna pátribus.

Bone pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserére:
Tu nos pasce, nos tuére:
Tu nos bona fac vidére
In terra vivéntium.

Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales:
Qui nos pascis hic mortáles:
Tuos ibi commensáles,
Cohærédes et sodáles,
Fac sanctórum cívium.
Amen. Allelúja.

It isn’t often that you’ll hear a Sequence sung at Mass, but this Sunday is the feast of Corpus Christi (= “Body of Christ”), and so after the second reading, instead of standing for the Gospel reading, you’ll first hear a Sequence being sung. The above words were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas more than 750 years ago. (Isn’t that neat? Catholicism preserves the inspired work across centuries, so that new generations can enjoy it afresh). He wrote them in Latin, but if you don’t know Latin, then hopefully you’ll hear the English version on Sunday. (Latin is beautiful, of course, but comprehension is better, of course.)

It’s sometimes called the “Lauda Sion” or “Lauda Zion.” Here are the first three lines again:

Lauda Sion Salvatórem
Lauda ducem et pastórem
In hymnis et cánticis.

Here’s one translation of those first three lines. It’s a non-literal translation, partly to make it rhyme in English.

Sing forth, O Zion, sweetly sing
The praises of thy Shepherd-King,
In hymns and canticles divine;

Here’s another:

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

And here’s another, from the Lectionary for Australia and New Zealand. It is by James Aylward (1813-1872):

Zion, thy redeemer praising
Songs of joy to him upraising
Laud thy pastor and thy guide;

Putting the sequence into the sequence we’d use with modern English diction, would give a result something like this:

“Sing, Sion! Praise your Savior. Praise your leader and shepherd with hymns and songs.”

The name “Zion” appears in the Old Testament and referred to a geographical location, but you’ll hear “Sion” referred to by the Catholic Church sometimes, and you can take it as a reference to God’s kingdom as led by Christ. So when we hear the invitation to sing, then we can understand that it is directed at us.

The next lines, in Latin, are: Quantum potes, tantum aude: / Quia major omni laude / Nec laudáre súfficis. One translation is this: “All thou canst, do thou endeavour / Yet thy praise can equal never / Such as merits thy great King.” The Australian translation is: “Swell thy notes most high and daring / For his praise is past declaring / And thy loftiest power beside.” I prefer the first translation because I think that in prose, it would be something like: “Dare, to the best of your ability, to do what you can, because (He is) above all praise. No praise is enough.”

“Laudis thema speciális / Panis vivus et vitális / Hódie propónitur,” appears in English as “Today no theme of common praise / Forms the sweet burden of thy lays – / The living, life-dispensing food –” or “See today before us laid / The living and life-giving Bread / Theme for praise and joy profound” but could be written as “Today we present a special theme of praise: Bread, living and vital.”

These lines form the introduction. St. Thomas Aquinas was asked to write this Sequence, along with other parts of the Mass, specifically for the Feast of Corpus Christi (by Pope Urban IV), and so that’s why it fits so perfectly.

What I find rather amusing is how much theological content it has. Instead of lots of rhymes for the sake of rhyming, you can count on the good doctor to give us a catechism class in itself. Aquinas doesn’t do fluff. So it’s long, but when you consider what it teaches, you have to admit that this big saint is very efficient with his words, not to mention inspired. In 288 rhyming and perfectly ordered Latin words, he presents, among other things, foundational principles relating to the Eucharist:

  1. Christ instituted it.
  2. The bread changes into the Body of Christ and the wine changes into the blood of Christ. It is dogma, and although it cannot be understood or seen, the faith confirms this.
  3. The whole of Christ is received, when one receives the Body or the Blood
  4. No matter how the Body and Blood are divided, Christ is not divided or diminished, and each person receives the whole amount in even a fragment or portion of the Eucharist.
  5. That although both good people and evil people receive it in the same way, the results are completely different.

For most of Christianity’s 2000 years, being Christian meant that you believed Christ meant what he said when he said, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Being Christian meant that you knew that Jesus was claiming that he was able to defy all the rules of human logic and science and past experience in order to create a new way to be with human beings and to change them.

When St. Aquinas wrote this Sequence, there was no such thing as Protestantism. There was no such thing as a Sunday service which reenacted the Last Supper by pouring grape juice into hygenic and disposable mini cups.

You always got the Real Thing. Real wine was changed into Christ himself. Real bread was changed into Christ himself.

It was done for hundreds upon hundreds of years, and it all began at the Last Supper, which we could say was the First Supper, being the first time that bread and wine were much more. The last shall be first, indeed!

Nevertheless, wherever you have had the Eucharist, or mention of it, you have had doubters and haters.

As proof of this, you’ll notice that the reading for Corpus Christi this year doesn’t bring us to the Last Supper, to the institution of the Eucharist. Instead, it brings us to the time Jesus spoke about the truth that was to be. The gentle Jesus was describing what he would soon be offering, and the response was one of incredulity and negativity. They were scoffing at the best gift that would be given. The Trinity itself comes to you, and you’re not even in Heaven.

Then the Jews started arguing with one another: ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they said. Jesus replied:
‘I tell you most solemnly,
if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you will not have life in you.

There are other Gospel passages which show that some of his disciples left him. Some of those who had followed him when everything was easy and pleasant decided to be done with him. Why? Well, he didn’t say what they wanted to hear.

He challenged their human understanding with something which sounded bizarre.

Who talks like this? They dismissed him because he no longer fit into the box that they had made for him.

Miracles to watch, interesting stories to hear, multiplied loaves and fish? Sure! We’re in! Bizarre words? Not so much.

The fact that what Jesus said was a cause for controversy shows us that it was a big deal from the beginning. It sounded strange because it was strange. It still sounds strange, because it still is strange.

Jesus wasn’t talking symbolically. Symbols can be explained. Go ahead and explain your paper cups filled with grape juice. As for this chalice filled with Blood, well, even a saint as big as St. Thomas Aquinas can’t explain it all. It’s a mystery and he must acknowledge that this miracle of miracles “baffles nature’s powers of sense and sight.”

Miracles and the truth just sit there, staring you in the face, watching what you do.

So Jesus didn’t alter his words. He didn’t alter his words to suit his listener, to soothe his listener when his listener felt discomfort. No. It was the listener who needed to change. The listener must enlarge himself to accept the Truth. It’s a choice.

When Jesus saw that some of his disciples were abandoning him, he didn’t reword or ‘reframe’ what he had said.  What he had said did not need alteration.  Instead, he asked his apostles whether they too, would leave. What a moment of sorrow! He didn’t know whether those closest to him could handle everything about him. Would they leave too? He asked because he wanted to know. His apostles had to decide; it was all in their hands and Jesus would not spin his words to avoid a painful parting. He had already spoken what was true, and it was now time for his followers to decide whether they could accept Him.

You see? What Jesus was saying was astonishing and disturbing. It was weird. It made no sense.

And indeed, the Eucharist defies our five senses, because here we notice that the Bread looks like bread, feels like bread and tastes like bread. The Wine looks and smells and tastes like wine. How can something have all the external qualities of something and yet be something entirely different?

I show you an ordinary wicker basket, and I say to you, “Do you see this basket, which looks and feels like a basket? Well, it is not a basket. It has all the qualities (the ‘accidents’ if you want to use the terminology) that a basket should have, but it is in fact (in its essence) a candle, and this candle is shining its invisible light upon you and the whole room.”

You would conclude that I was either completely confused or messing with you.

Do I mess with you?


Celestial Now

I’ll tell you what the sun looks like

The sun becomes larger and
extra bright

With precision
I’ll write

The inside
Is white

The outside
Is a soft and pleasing pulsing mix
What is it?
Pinks and blues and yellow?

The rim
The boundary
Is thin

The rim
Is silver and flashing
Whirring quick

Can you follow it?

What does it mean?
Why me?
I know

You wouldn’t want to believe me if I told you
I know
So I won’t

I’ll tell you what the sun looks like

Believe me
Sometimes the sun looks like

The Eucharist