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Prayer for the week

26 October 2012

Jo Spreadbury considers words derived from the Office for Corpus Christi


We praise and thank you, O Christ,
 for this sacred feast:
for here we receive you,
here the memory of your Passion
 is renewed,
here our minds are filled with grace,
and here a pledge of future glory
 is given,
when we shall feast at that table
 where you reign
with all your saints for ever.

Common Worship
Post-communion for
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 poet".

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 eucharist".

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.

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