The Divine Office and the Liturgy for the feast of Corpus Christi were written by St. Thomas Aquinas, and what he produced is one of the few proofs that one can be a great theologian and also a great poet. The feast, and eucharistic devotion in general, gave rise to some of the most beautiful hymns in our musical treasury. Think of those of Aquinas: Pange, lingua, gloriosi corporis mysterium, whose final stanzas will be familiar as the Tantum ergo sacramentum; Sacris solemniis juncta sint gaudia, whose final stanzas are the Panis angelicus; Verbum supernum prodiens, whose final stanzas are the O salutaris hostia; Lauda Sion salvatorem, a bit too didactic for many; and Adoro te devote, now fairly securely attributed to St. Thomas.
Then there are the Ave verum corpus; the O esca viatorum, and the O sacrum convivium, all of them put to lovely music.
Today we began our liturgy with Alleluia, Sing to Jesus. The offertory hymn was I am the Bread of Life (which I think has been ruined by the importation of politically correct language; it’s bad enough that Jesus’ words have been changed to “I will raise you up,” but they’ve also changed “No one can come to me unless the Father beckon,” when it should be “draw him”–but I digress). Our communion hymn was Gift of Finest Wheat.
We ended the liturgy with Father, we thank Thee, which is a very close translation of a hymn found in the Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings outside the New Testament; one scholar thought it could have been written as early as the year 50; there is a consensus that it could not be much later than 100, which would mean, given the conservatism of liturgy, that the hymn quoted could be even earlier. It is a wonderful expression of eucharistic faith, and in the second verse especially, of the close link between Eucharist and Church, summed up in the axiom that Henri de Lubac helped make popular: “The Church makes the Eucharist; the Eucharist makes the Church.”