Sunday, June 10, 2007

Corpus Christi Hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas

After the last Mass today, chatting with the music director, I mentioned how the "golden oldie" hymns associated with the Eucharist come from this feast, and were written by St. Thomas Aquinas. And several are still in the Office which we still pray:

Vespers hymn: Pange Lingue Gloriosi -- used also on Holy Thursday, and the last two stanzas begin, "Tantum Ergo...".

Matins (Office of Readings) hymn: Sacriis Sollemniis -- a hymn I imagine almost no one has heard of -- until you get to the last two stanzas (stanzae?): "Panis angelicus"!

Lauds (Morning prayer) hymn: Verbum Supernum, again not so familiar...until the last two stanzae: "O Salutaris Hostia..."! (Was it customary, in the years prior to the unfortunate abandonment of all Latin, if the hymn was too long for parishes, merely to sing the latter two verses, which is why they are so familiar? Does anyone know?)

Mass: Lauda Sion a sequence now optional, and which is very long; it was recited, at least a shorter section of it, at several Masses here. (I did not have anyone recite it, because I would prefer to have it sung; reciting sequences seems rather limp. That said, if they are required, they get recited if they can't be sung.)

Also, he wrote Adore te Devote, which I find very beautiful; but if written for this feast, I'm not sure how it was used. (Remember, hymns are not the norm for Mass; rather, psalm-based chants are called for at the opening, offertory and communion processions, and there is no post-communion or closing hymn really called for in the Mass. The chants fell out of use somewhere along the line. I don't know how widely used they were before the Council, but because only the refrain was translated in the revised Mass -- that's the "entrance antiphon" that appears in the missallette -- it isn't practical to use as intended; and the closing hymn is just something that came in at some point.)

I can't find that he wrote any other hymns for the Office of Corpus et Sanguinis Christi -- nothing for the little office we now call Midday Prayer, or for Compline, or Night Prayer. Does anyone know?

6 comments:

David L Alexander said...

"I can't find that he wrote any other hymns for the Office of Corpus et Sanguinis Christi..."

Probably because it was never called that. The Feast of "Corpus Christi" was associated primarily with the Body of Christ, while the Feast of the Precious Blood was on July 1. The latter was supressed with the calendar reforms after Vatican II.

I do not believe special hymns were ever written for the lesser offices. With compline, the Marian hymn at the conclusion would change according to the liturgical season, but other than that...

Father Martin Fox said...

David:

Well, I knew that, I shouldn't have implied its current name was it's name of old.

Jay Anderson said...

"Was it customary, in the years prior to the unfortunate abandonment of all Latin, if the hymn was too long for parishes, merely to sing the latter two verses, which is why they are so familiar?"

Sort of like the Baptists singing the 1st, 2nd and last stanzas of every hymn?

;-)

Anonymous said...

Father: As you imply- hymns are a part of the Office and NOT the Mass. Except for the Gradual (which
in the vernacular is replaced by the responsorial psalm) all of the other propers are still viable even though most missalette companies print only the antiphons. The rest of the psalm (or infrequently another Scriptural text) from which the antiphon was taken would have been sung using a psalm tone that matched the mode of the antiphon. The number of strophes sung, the number of repetitions of the antiphon and whether or not the Gloria Patri was included would have been up to the cantor or director and depended on how much time was available.

Anonymous said...

I'd take these beautiful musical meditations over Gift of Finest Wheat any time! And St. Thomas A. is the patron saint of our parish. Go figure!

Dr. Malcolm C. Harris, Sr. said...

"'O Salutaris Hostia...'! Was it customary, in the years prior to the unfortunate abandonment of all Latin, if the hymn was too long for parishes, merely to sing the latter two verses, which is why they are so familiar? Does anyone know?)"

There are really two aspects to your question:

1) Why were "O Salutaris " and "Tantum Ergo" popular immediately before the implementation of the reforms/the destruction of the Romany liturgy/the great new dawning of the community of God (pick your choice); and

2) How did the last two stanzas of Pange Lingue Gloriosi and Verbum Supernum become the hymns of Benediction?

1) "O Salutaris " and "Tantum Ergo" were the hymns used in benediction. Benediction was a very popular devotion. It was also a casualty of the war against popular devotions. Popular devotions were just that: popular. The People of God (plebs Dei) were soon told that the devotions they loved were neither respectable nor in keeping with the times. The message was clear: "The new mass good, popular devotions bad!" delivered in the same cadence as "Four feet good. Two feet bad." So much for democracy. (I apologize: I do not know how to treat this subject without falling into polemics.)

2) As for the historical circumstances that led the last two stanzas of Pange Lingue Gloriosi and Verbum Supernum becoming the hymns of benediction, I have no idea. Since these were used for processions, perhaps the custom became to just use the ending stanzas (which would have been sung just before the stationary events) whenever the procession was canceled (e.g. by rain.) That is a wild guess as useless as the next wild guess.

As for Lauda Sion, it was one of but four or five sequences that escaped the Council of Trent. You may praise Trent for its doctrine and its reform of priestly formation. I can not love Trent for its elimination of all those beautiful Medieval sequences.