We praise and thank you, O Christ,
for this sacred feast:
for here we receive you,
here the memory of your Passion
here our minds are filled with grace,
and here a pledge of future glory
when we shall feast at that table
where you reign
with all your saints for ever.
18th Sunday after Trinity
THOMAS AQUINAS is credited with writing the liturgical Office
for the feast of Corpus Christi, which was instituted by Pope Urban
IV in the 13th century. This prayer derives from the antiphon on
the Magnificat ("O sacrum convivium, in quo Christus sumitur"),
which has been set to music by many composers down the ages,
including Byrd, Victoria, and Messaien.
There are many contrasting tones and registers in the prayer:
conviviality and awe, decorum and rapture. The image of feasting,
both with Christ and on Christ (the Latin original is often
translated "O sacred feast in which Christ is consumed"), carries
with it the idea of celebration.
We feast with Christ, like those tax-collectors and sinners who
ate with Jesus. These are occasions of joy and wonder, when the
outcast and rejected find themselves included and embraced. Christ
is both the host and the guest: we make him welcome, but his is the
blessing on our humble lives and hopes.
The image of feasting also carries the idea of excess. The Last
Supper becomes for us the marriage supper of the Lamb, which is an
everlasting joy. We are reminded of Jesus's parables, where a
marriage feast is used as an image of heaven. As Christ gave
himself for us, so he gives himself to us: God pledges his love -
although, as at Cana, the best is kept till last.
Past, present, and future are all brought together as we receive
Christ. Here, the structure of the prayer mirrors Aquinas's
teaching on the significance of the sacrament: "a sign that is both
a reminder of the past, that is, the Passion of Christ; and an
indication of that which is effected in us by Christ's Passion,
that is, grace; and a foretelling, that is, an indication of future
glory" (Summa Theologica 3.60.3). Theology is beautifully
translated into poetry; doctrine into devotion. As well as being
dubbed "the theologian", Aquinas has also been recognised as "the
Pope John Paul II invoked the words of this prayer to express
what he called "eucharistic amazement" - the response of wonder
that we should feel for the "unsurpassable gift of the
As for its use as a post-communion prayer: we are often getting
ready to go home, or bracing ourselves for the week ahead, when we
use the prayer at this point in the service. Communion with Christ
all too quickly leads on to communing with our mental diaries, or
perhaps the prospect of a less-than-convivial Sunday lunch with
relatives. But it is as well to be reminded of just what has been
done for us and to us; just what we have been given; and just what
we have been promised.
This prayer would make a worthy reflection at other times -
times of need, challenge, and thanksgiving. Grace and glory are
ours, and will be for ever. We have been fed with the bread of
angels, and we will feast on love, delight, wonder, and joy, by
God's mercy given to us in Christ, for all eternity.
The Revd Dr Jo Spreadbury is the Vicar of Abbots Langley, in
the diocese of St Albans.