Eucharistic Devotion of Saint Thomas Aquinas

taken from the January–February 1996 issue of the Soul Magazine, a publication by the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima; written by Warren H. Carroll, renowned ecclesiastical historian and author

Mother of the Eucharist – the Inexhaustible Chalice

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 Saint 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. Saint 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 splendour 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, Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for it. Saint Thomas’ Corpus Christi liturgy included the magnificent Sequence ‘Laude Sion‘, the Vespers 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.

Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord

The fourth stanza of the ‘Pange Lingua‘ contains in a few words the essence of the Eucharistic doctrine of Saint 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 Saint 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, Saint 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 centre in his home territory near Naples, and there in Lent 1273 he delivered a series of 59 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 Saint 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.’

St Thomas Aquinas in his glory

His request was soon answered. On 6 December 1273, Saint Thomas Aquinas was saying Mass for the Feast of Saint 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 7 March 1274, he died. He was only 49, 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.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: