JMC : Saint Thomas Aquinas / by Raïssa Maritain

X The Office of the Blessed Sacrament

AMONG the works of Saint Thomas there is one which all Catholic children know more or less. It is the Office of the Blessed Sacrament.

We must understand that when Jesus died and rose from the dead, the Church did not begin at once to celebrate all the feasts that we know to-day. She has spread through all the ages her teachings of divine feasts.

The Blessed Sacrament of the altar has always been venerated in the Church since Jesus, at the end of the last meal He took with His disciples, taking bread and wine said to them, "This is my Body, this is my Blood."

But the universal feast of the Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Christi, or the Feast of the Body of Christ, was instituted only in 1264, by Pope Urban IV.

The Spirit of God speaks to the hearts of his Saints in secret, and thus makes His will known to them.

Sometimes this revelation is for them only. And sometimes it is for the whole Church.

This last was the way that God gave to Blessed Julienne and to her friend Eve, the recluse, the mission of bringing about the celebration by a special and universal feast of the Church the real presence of the Humanity of Christ in the Sacrament of the altar.

Blessed Julienne revealed her secret to the archdeacon of Liége, Jacques Pantalcon, in 1230. But she had to wait sixteen years before she saw the feast of the Blessed Sacrament celebrated in the region of Liége.

Jacques Pantaleon became Bishop of Verdun, and then Patriarch of Jerusalem. How far away he was!

Julienne, alone, misunderstood, persecuted, died in 1258.

Was her great wish never to be fulfilled? No, all was saved, as often happens with Saints, by her death -- because Jesus Himself saved the world when He died on the cross.

Jacques Pantaleon became Pope in 1261. He took the name of Urban IV; he remembered the great wish of Julienne, and charged the Angelic Doctor to prepare the official text in praise of the Bread of Angels which has become our Bread too.

Panis angelicus
Fit panis hominum.
O res mirabilis!

The bread of Angels
Becomes the bread of men.
There is no greater marvel.


"As a bee makes honey with the nectar of various flowers, Thomas composed all the Office of the Blessed Sacrament, the office of the day and of the night, and the Mass, and everything that is sung on that great feast," with the sweetest and most beautiful words of Scripture referring to it, and with the best of his own knowledge, his genius and his love.

Corpus Christi! Who of you has not been present at the Mass, at Vespers, at the Procession of the Blessed Sacrament on that day?

And you went before Jesus with the incense and the flowers, in the midst of the Psalms, and the hymns of Saint Thomas.

You remember the antiphon at the Magnificat at First Vespers

"How sweet, O Lord, is Thy spirit, who, to show Thy sweetness to Thy sons, send them from heaven a most sweet bread."

Such is the love of God for us.

"He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich He hath sent away empty."

How terrible it is to have so many earthly possessions that one does not hunger and thirst after justice. To be hungry for justice is the same thing as to be hungry for God.

The Angelic Doctor was always hungry for justice; it never seemed near enough to him, and often he would go and lean his head against the tabernacle so that he could pray better.

It was there, no doubt, that the good Jesus poured into his simple and trusting heart all the divine sweetness and bright doctrine that made of Saint Thomas "the poet and herald of the divine Eucharist."


Sing thy Saviour.
Praise thy Chief and thy Pastor;
Fear not to praise Him as much as thou canst.
He is greater than all praise
And never canst thou praise Him enough.

The sublime and subtle knowledge of the Angelic Doctor is unfolded in the hymns and canticles of this Office. All is clear as light and beautiful as poetry.

The Angel of the Schools has spread his bright wings over great theologians and over little children.

For the little ones he is clear and simple, we can all sing with him.

For the great he is wiser and deeper than any. "Nothing showed more clearly the power of his genius and charity than the Office of the Blessed Sacrament composed by him," said Pope Pius XI in his encyclical letter of 1923.

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