FROM JESUS IN THE EUCHARIST BY REV. FERREOL GIRARDEY, C.Ss.R.
THE REAL PRESENCE AND THE ANGELIC DOCTOR
Who is the Angelic Doctor? St. Thomas Aquinas. He is surnamed the Angelic Doctor, or the Angel of the Schools, because in clearness and depth of learning he is more like an angel than a man. Without exaggeration it may be said that his was the grandest mind ever possessed by mortal man. All our modern intellectual giants are veriest pigmies when compared to St. Thomas Aquinas. In his works are found, as Pope Leo XIII insinuates, besides the clearest proofs and the vindication of the Christian truths, the most thorough refutation of all errors past, present and future. Although so wonderfully learned, he writes in a style so simple, so plain and clear, that there can be no mistaking of his meaning. But many complain of finding it hard to understand him. That is true; but the difficulty of understanding St. Thomas lies not in the intricacy or obscurity of his sentences, or in the ambiguity of his terms, for his sentences are very simple and his terms are well defined; the difficulty of understanding him results from the depth and sublimity of the subjects he treats, both in philosophy and theology. St. Thomas was also a very holy man and very much addicted to prayer. When ever in writing on a subject, he came across a difficult point, he had recourse to mental prayer to obtain from God the light he needed, and would continue therein till the difficult point became clear in his mind, so that he was wont to say that he learned more by prayer than by study. Luther dreaded the works and arguments of St. Thomas more than anything else, for he uttered the vain boast that, if the Catholics would give up St. Thomas, he would destroy the Catholic Church! At the great Council of Trent the two great works that were the oftenest consulted and that were placed side by side, were the Holy Bible and the great Summa of St. Thomas. St. Thomas Aquinas was born about the year 1226 in Southern Italy. At the age of nineteen years he received the Dominican habit at Naples, where he was prosecuting his studies. This greatly displeased all members of his family who, finding their entreaties useless, resolved to remove him from the convent by force. To prevent this, the Dominicans secretly sent him to Paris. But he was waylaid and captured by his brothers, and imprisoned in a castle. There every means, both fair and foul, was used to prevail on him to give up his vocation, but all in vain, for he not only remained steadfast, but even succeeded in prevailing upon his sisters, who had been sent to overcome his constancy, to leave the world and enter the religious state. With their help he escaped from his prison and succeeded in reaching Paris; and soon was sent first to Cologne to study under the renowned Blessed Albert the Great, and later on to Paris where he received the degree of Doctor with St. Bonaventure, and for a number of years taught with wonderful success theology and philosophy in its celebrated University. "The Church," says Father Bowden, " has ever venerated his numerous writings as a treasure-house of sacred doctrine; while in naming him the Angelic Doctor, she has indicated that his science is more divine than human. The rarest gifts of intellect were combined in him with the tenderest piety."
He died in 1274 on his way to the General Council of Lyons, to which Pope Gregory X had summoned him. St. Thomas is intimately connected with the history of the Blessed Eucharist in the Catholic Church. In the year 1264 Pope Urban IV ordered the celebration of the Feast of Corpus Christi, which he had just instituted, through out the whole Church. He enjoined a committee of theologians, among whom were St. Thomas and the great St. Bonaventure, surnamed the Seraphic Doc tor, on account of the ardent piety and sublimity of his writings, to prepare each the Office and the Mass of the Blessed Sacrament for that great Feast. When St. Thomas had read what he had written on the subject St. Bonaventure would not read what he himself had prepared, because, as he said, it would bear no comparison with what St. Thomas had com posed. Let us now examine some of the beautiful passages of the wonderful composition of St. Thomas on the Blessed Eucharist. The following is a passage from the Divine Office:
" The immense benefits of the divine bounty be stowed on Christians confer on them an inestimable dignity. For there is not, nor was there ever in former times, a nation that had its gods so near as our God is near to us. The only-begotten Son of God, wishing to render us partakers of His divinity, assumed our nature, in order that, after becoming man, He might make man divine. Moreover, the nature He assumed like ours, the very same He delivered up for our salvation; for He offered on the altar of the cross His body as victim for our reconciliation with His Father; He shed His blood both for our ransom and as a cleansing bath, so that we, being redeemed from a wretched slavery, might be cleansed from all sins. Now, in order that the remembrance of so great a benefit should remain constantly in us, He left His body and His blood, under the appearances of bread and wine, to be used by the faithful as (spiritual) food and drink. O feast so precious, so much to be admired, bringing salvation and filled with every sweetness! For what can be more precious than this feast, in which, not the flesh of bullocks and goats as in the Old Law, are placed before the guests, but in which Christ, the true God, is given to us as our food? What is more wonderful than this Sacrament ? For in it the bread and wine are substantially changed into the body and blood of Christ; and therefore Christ, the true God and perfect man, is contained under the appearances of a little bread and wine. He is eaten by the faithful, but not torn in pieces; for, if the Sacrament is divided, Christ (is not divided, but) remains whole under each particle. The accidents subsist without subject in this Sacrament, so as to make room for our faith, whilst we are receiving visibly that which is invisibly hidden under a foreign species."
In the above quotation we see that St. Thomas expressly declares that in Holy Communion, Christ, the true God, is given us as our food and is eaten by us; however He is not torn in pieces as bodily food. When the Sacred Host is divided, the body of Christ is not divided, but is entire in each piece, however small it may be. In the Blessed Eucharist, he tells us the accidents, that is the taste, color, smell and other properties of bread and wine are present, but the substance of bread and the substance of wine are not present, for they have been changed by consecration into the substance of the body and the substance of the blood of Jesus Christ. The receiving of Holy Communion is visible, but the body and the blood of Christ which we therein really receive, are invisible to our senses, and thus give us the opportunity of exercising our faith.
" No other Sacrament," continues St. Thomas, " is more wholesome than this one, for it purifies our sins, increases our virtues and replenishes our mind with an abundance of good gifts. It is offered in the Church for the living and the dead, so that what was instituted for the salvation of all, might prove useful to all. In fine, no one can sufficiently express the sweetness of this Sacrament, by which spiritual sweetness is tasted in its very fountain, and in which the remembrance is recalled of the most excellent charity which Christ showed in His Passion. Wherefore, in order to impress the more deeply in the hearts of the faithful the immensity of His love, Christ, after celebrating the Jewish Passover with His disciples at the Last Supper, and being about to go from the world to His Father, instituted this Sacrament, as a perpetual memorial of His Passion, the fulfillment of the ancient figures and the greatest miracles wrought by Him; and He thereby left a wonderful consolation to those who grieved at His departure from this world."
In another place, speaking of the institution of the feast of Corpus Christi, he says: " It is befitting the devotion of the faithful, that they should solemnly celebrate the institution of so salutary and so wonderful a Sacrament, and that we should revere the ineffable manner in which our God is present in this visible Sacrament, and praise the power of God working so many wonders in this very Sacrament, and give due thanks to Him for so salutary and sweet a benefit. Although on Holy Thursday, the day on which this Sacrament was instituted, special mention of its institution is made during the solemn Mass, nevertheless, all the remainder of the Office of that day is devoted to the veneration of the Passion of Jesus Christ. Wherefore, in order that the Christian people should worthily celebrate the institution of so great a Sacrament, Pope Urban IV, filled with devotion towards this Sacrament, piously decreed, that the memory of its institution should be celebrated by all the faithful on the first Thursday following the octave of Pentecost, so that whilst making use of the Sacrament all the year round for our salvation, we may celebrate its institution, especially at the time when the Holy Ghost taught the hearts of the disciples to know fully the mysteries of this Sacrament. It was also at that time that the faithful began to partake of this Sacrament as their spiritual food."
Let us now turn our attention to the beautiful hymns of the Divine Office of the Blessed Sacrament composed by the Angelic Doctor, beginning with the Pange, lingua, gloriosi, the hymn for vespers. " Sing, O my tongue, the mystery of the glorious body and precious blood which the King of the nations, who was brought forth from the Virgin's fruitful womb, shed for the world's ransom. To us He was given, for us He was born of the spotless Virgin, and conversed with men, sowing the seed of the word (of God), till He closed in a wonderful manner the time He spent on earth. Whilst at table with His brethren at the Last Supper, after com plying fully with the prescriptions of the (Mosaic) law in eating of the paschal lamb, He with His own hands gave Himself as food to His twelve apostles. The Word made flesh with a word makes real bread His real flesh, and real wine His real blood; and although our senses fail to recognize this change, faith alone suffices to confirm (convince) a sincere heart. (The last two stanzas are the Tantum ergo and the Genitori, which are sung before every benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.) "Therefore let us, this so great Sacrament, profoundly revere, and let the ancient figures give way to the new rite, and our faith supply the deficiency of our senses, To the Father and to the Son let there be praise, rejoicing, greeting, honor, virtue and blessing, and equal praising to the Holy Ghost from both proceeding. Amen."
The next hymn we give here of St. Thomas is the " Sacris solemniis " for the " Matins " of the Office of the Blessed Sacrament. " Let us celebrate this holy and solemn Feast with joy, and let us sound its praises from our inmost hearts. Let us lay aside the things of old, and let all things be new, our hearts, our voices, our deeds. We now recall the Supper of that last night when Christ, as we believe, gave the lamb and the unleavened bread to His brethren, in accordance with the laws prescribed to their ancestors. After they had eaten the lamb, a figure of Christ, and finished the repast, Christ, as we should confess, gave to His disciples with His own hands His own body, whole and entire to all, whole and entire to each one likewise. To them in their weakness He gave His body as a strengthening food, and in their sadness He gave them the chalice of His blood, saying: Receive the cup I give you, drink ye all of this. Thus did the Lord institute that Sacrifice which He wished to entrust to His priests alone, for whom it is meet and fit that they should partake of it themselves and also give it to others. Thus the Angels' bread becomes the bread of men. This heavenly bread puts an end to the figures of the Old Law. O wonder of wonders, in deed, for a poor, humble servant feeds on the Lord Himself! O triune Deity, we beseech Thee, deign to visit us, as we worship Thee; through Thy paths lead us to the light to which we tend, and in which Thou dwellest. Amen."
The next hymn of St. Thomas in the Divine Office is that for Lauds beginning with the words " Verbum supernum." The fourth stanza is worthy of admiration. The great Latin poet, Santeuil, of the seventeenth century, was wont to say, that he would be willing to give up all his fame his Latin poetry had acquired for him, could he thereby possess that of being the author of those four verses, beginning " Se nascens." The fifth stanza and the sixth are those usually sung at Benediction when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, " O salutaris" and " Uni trinoque." Here is the hymn: " The Word of God went forth from heaven without leaving the right hand of His Father; He came on earth to do His work, and reached at length the evening of His life. As He was about to be betrayed to His en emies by one of His disciples, He previously gave Himself to His disciples as the Bread of life. To them under a two-fold species He gave His flesh and blood, so that He might feed the whole of man (who is composed of flesh and blood) — (Se nascens). At His birth He gave Himself to man as a fellow-man; when at table, He made Himself man's food; when dying, He became man's ransom; and reigning in heaven, He gives Himself to man as his reward. (O salutaris) O saving Victim, which openest heaven's gate, whilst enemies wage against us a relentless war, deign to give us strength, to bring us help. (Uni trinoque) To the triune Lord be everlasting glory, that He may bestow on us in our country a life without end. Amen."