This Sunday, the feast of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, is one of the Sundays at which there is a sequence – a chant or hymn that comes before the Gospel. At one point there were sequences every Sunday and holy day; eventually, only five were retained. We have sequences during the octaves of Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi. The sequences for All Soul’s Day and the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows are now more often sung as hymns in the Office. The only obligatory sequences are for Easter and Pentecost. This Sunday’s sequence, Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem, is recommened but not obligatory.
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem in 1264. After establishing a new feast of Corpus Christi on the universal calendar (that story can be found here), Pope Urban IV needed prayers for the Mass. Thankfully, he had a few theologians hanging out who could do the job. There is a story that both St. Thomas and St. Bonaventure penned prayers for the Mass and Divine Office, but when Bonaventure heard Thomas read his to Pope Urban, he tore his to pieces.
Among the familiar prayers that come to us from his hymns for the Divine Office for the feast include O Salutaris Hostia, Tantum Ergo, and Panis Angelicus.
While trying to decide what to write today in anticipation of the feast day, I decided to simply present the sequence for the liturgy, and let Thomas speak. The sequence is saturated with theology and beauty, but knowing myself, my mind will likely wander during Mass on Sunday instead of entering into the mystery. So I encourage you to pray with it, allowing your mind to rest in the stanzas. If a stanza or phrase sticks out to you, stop reading and sit with it in prayer. May we spend this weekend in thanksgiving to God for the great gift of His own flesh and blood as our food.
Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem
Laud, O Zion, your salvation,
Laud with hymns of exultation,
Christ, your king and shepherd true:
Bring him all the praise you know,
He is more than you bestow.
Never can you reach his due.
Special theme for glad thanksgiving
Is the quick’ning and the living
Bread today before you set:
From his hands of old partaken,
As we know, by faith unshaken,
Where the Twelve at supper met.
Full and clear ring out your chanting,
Joy nor sweetest grace be wanting,
From your heart let praises burst:
For today the feast is holden,
When the institution olden
Of that supper was rehearsed.
Here the new law’s new oblation,
By the new king’s revelation,
Ends the form of ancient rite:
Now the new the old effaces,
Truth away the shadow chases,
Light dispels the gloom of night.
What he did at supper seated,
Christ ordained to be repeated,
His memorial ne’er to cease:
And his rule for guidance taking,
Bread and wine we hallow, making
Thus our sacrifice of peace.
This the truth each Christian learns,
Bread into his flesh he turns,
To his precious blood the wine:
Sight has fail’d, nor thought conceives,
But a dauntless faith believes,
Resting on a pow’r divine.
Here beneath these signs are hidden
Priceless things to sense forbidden;
Signs, not things are all we see:
Blood is poured and flesh is broken,
Yet in either wondrous token
Christ entire we know to be.
Whoso of this food partakes,
Does not rend the Lord nor breaks;
Christ is whole to all that taste:
Thousands are, as one, receivers,
One, as thousands of believers,
Eats of him who cannot waste.
Bad and good the feast are sharing,
Of what divers dooms preparing,
Endless death, or endless life.
Life to these, to those damnation,
See how like participation
Is with unlike issues rife.
When the sacrament is broken,
Doubt not, but believe ‘tis spoken,
That each sever’d outward token
doth the very whole contain.
Nought the precious gift divides,
Breaking but the sign betides
Jesus still the same abides,
still unbroken does remain.
Lo! the angel’s food is given
To the pilgrim who has striven;
see the children’s bread from heaven,
which on dogs may not be spent.
Truth the ancient types fulfilling,
Isaac bound, a victim willing,
Paschal lamb, its lifeblood spilling,
manna to the fathers sent.
Very bread, good shepherd, tend us,
Jesu, of your love befriend us,
You refresh us, you defend us,
Your eternal goodness send us
In the land of life to see.
You who all things can and know,
Who on earth such food bestow,
Grant us with your saints, though lowest,
Where the heav’nly feast you show,
Fellow heirs and guests to be. Amen. Alleluia.