Monday, August 17, 2015

St. Thomas Aquinas & Pange Lingua

     When we think of St. Thomas Aquinas, we most likely remember him as the greatest of Catholic theologians, and perhaps also as one of the most important philosophers in human history.  We appreciate his ability to apply reason in a rigorous examination of every facet of Church teaching, and we find his arguments still apply in our controversies today (as I do here).
     In spite of his very "left brain" reputation for rationality, St. Thomas was also an accomplished composer of hymns, some of which we still use almost 800 years later.  Here, for instance, is Pange Lingua, which we sing during the Transfer of the Holy Sacrament after the Mass of the Lord's Supper on Holy Thursday; its last two verses are often sung as the Tantum Ergo during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  It is highly appropriate to both occasions because St. Thomas the hymn-writer was still St. Thomas the theologian: he uses the poetic language of the hymn to teach about the theology of the Incarnation and the Eucharist (see text below).  And he does it beautifully.

1. Pange lingua gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
Quem in mundi pretium
Fructus ventris generosi,
Rex effudit gentium. 

2. Nobis datus, nobis natus
Ex intacta Virgine
Et in mundo conversatus,
Sparso verbi semine,
Sui moras incolatus
Miro clausit ordine. 

3. In supremae nocte coenae
Recumbens cum fratribus,
Observata lege plene
Cibis in legalibus,
Cibum turbae duodenae
 Se dat suis manibus 

4. Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem efficit:
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit. 

5. Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
 Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
 Sensuum defectui. 

6. Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio. Amen.  

Of the glorious Body telling, 
O my tongue, its mysteries sing, 
And the Blood, all price excelling, 
Which the world's eternal King, 
In a noble womb once dwelling 
Shed for the world's ransoming.  

Given for us, descending, 
Of a Virgin to proceed, 
Man with man in converse blending, 
Scattered he the Gospel seed, 
Till his sojourn drew to ending, 
Which he closed in wondrous deed.  

At the last great Supper lying 
Circled by his brethren's band, 
Meekly with the law complying, 
First he finished its command 
Then, immortal Food supplying, 
Gave himself with his own hand.  

Word made Flesh, by word he maketh
Very bread his Flesh to be; 
Man in wine Christ's Blood partaketh: 
And if senses fail to see, 
Faith alone the true heart waketh 
To behold the mystery.  

Therefore we, before him bending, 
This great Sacrament revere; 
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer rite is here; 
Faith, our outward sense befriending, 

Makes the inward vision clear.  
Glory let us give, and blessing 
To the Father and the Son; 
Honour, might, and praise addressing, 
While eternal ages run; 
ver too his love confessing, 
Who, from both, with both is one.  Amen