THE EUCHARISTIC DEVOTION OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
By Warren H. Carroll, Ph.D.
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 St. 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. St. 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 splendor 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 (the Body of Christ) was added to
the Church calendar in 1264, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote the liturgy for it.
St. Thomas' liturgy included the magnificent sequence
"," the vesper hymn "" (concluding with the
".' sung during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament), the
matins hymn "" (concluding with "")
and the lauds hymn "" (concluding with
another Benediction song, ""). Familiar for centuries
to every Catholic, these glorious Latin hymns continue to be widely sung
to this day.
The fourth stanza of the "" contains in a few words the
essence of the Eucharistic doctrine of St. 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 St. Thomas Aquinas has long been
known) did not write only for scholars. In the office of
he wrote for the simple Catholic worshipper all down the ages.
By 1272 St. Thomas had completed the second part of his supreme work,
the , 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
center in his home territory near Naples, and there in Lent 1273 he
delivered a series off fifty-nine 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 St.
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."
His request was soon answered. On December 6, 1273, St. Thomas
Aquinas was saying Mass for the feast of St. 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
March 7, 1274, he died. He was only forty-nine, 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.
(c) The Blue Army, reprinted with permission from SOUL Magazine.
This article was taken from the January - February 1996 issue of SOUL
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