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Sunday, June 26, 2011

St. Thomas Aquinas--Poet

One of the treasures of this Feast of Corpus Christi is the office written for it by St. Thomas Aquinas, which includes such masterworks of Catholic poetry as the Pange Lingua and the Lauda Sion Sequence. Of this poetry G.K. Chesterton wrote in his little biography of St. Thomas, The Dumb Ox:

All sanctity is secrecy; and his sacred poetry was really a secretion; like a pearl in a very tightly closed oyster….

But the composer of the Corpus Christi service was not merely what even the wild and woolly would call a poet; he was what the most fastidious would call an artist. His double function recalls the double activity of some great Renaissance craftsman, like Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci, who would work on the outer wall, planning and building the fortifications of the city; and then retire into the inner chamber to carve or model some cup or casket for a reliquary.

The Corpus Christi Office is like some old musical instrument, quaintly and carefully inlaid with many colored stones and metals….”

For more on the history of St. Thomas’s Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi, as well as excerpts from the poetry itself in both Latin and English translation, enjoy this short piece by James Chegwidden.

Jesu, Shepherd, Bread

Thou take pity on our need!
Thou Thy flock in safety

Thou protect us, Thou us lead,
To the Lord of Heavenly Life.

(St. Thomas Aquinas, Lauda Sion Sequence)


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