My Wife, Pope Urban IV, Saint Thomas Aquinas and Saint Justin Martyr

When Corpus Christi rolls around I always think of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his great eucharistic hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium written by Saint Thomas at the command of Pope Urban IV to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi instituted by the Pope in 1263.   It says something vastly significant about the Church that perhaps the greatest intellect of all time, Saint Thomas Aquinas, was not only a Doctor of the Church, but also capable of writing this magnificent hymn. 

The last portion of the hymn, Tantum Ergo, has vast significance for my family.  My wife, who is a far better Catholic in my estimation than I am, is a convert.  A Methodist when we married, she converted to the Church a few years later.  She had questions regarding the real presence, and this line from Tantum Ergo resolved them:  Faith tells us that Christ is present,  When our human senses fail.  When our kids came along she would whisper at the Consecration to them:  First it’s bread, now it’s Jesus.  First it’s wine, now it’s Jesus. 

I also think on Corpus Christi of Saint Justin Martyr:

Justin Martyr was born in Flavia Neapolis, ancient Shechem,  modern day Nablus, in Judaea circa 100 AD.  He was brought up a pagan.  Having enough money to pursue the study of philosophy, he encountered the teachings of Christ, after a long and methodical search for the true philosophy, and became a convert.  Having found the true philosophy, he traveled around the Roman Empire, spreading it, garbed in his philosopher’s gown.  Eventually he settled in Rome.  He wrote eight treatises defending Christianity.  His best known work is his First Apology which he addressed to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius, one of the best of the emperors, who reigned from 138-161 AD.  This Apology was a plea for the Emperor to stop persecuting the Christians.  In this Apology he gives us many details as to how Catholics worshiped in Rome during the middle of the Second Century.   His description of the Eucharist is a treasure for all Catholics on Corpus Christi:

There is then brought to the president of the brethren bread and a cup of wine mixed with water; and he taking them, gives praise and glory to the Father of the universe, through the name of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, and offers thanks at considerable length for our being counted worthy to receive these things at His hands. And when he has concluded the prayers and thanksgivings, all the people present express their assent by saying Amen. This word Amen answers in the Hebrew language to so be it. And when the president has given thanks, and all the people have expressed their assent, those who are called by us deacons give to each of those present to partake of the bread and wine mixed with water over which the thanksgiving was pronounced, and to those who are absent they carry away a portion.

And this food is called among us the Eucharist, of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh. For the apostles, in the memoirs composed by them, which are called Gospels, have thus delivered unto us what was enjoined upon them; that Jesus took bread, and when He had given thanks, said, This do in remembrance of Me, Luke 22:19 this is My body; and that, after the same manner, having taken the cup and given thanks, He said, This is My blood; and gave it to them alone. Which the wicked devils have imitated in the mysteries of Mithras, commanding the same thing to be done. For, that bread and a cup of water are placed with certain incantations in the mystic rites of one who is being initiated, you either know or can learn.

Here the Real Presence is asserted matter of factly as what all Christians believe.  This by a man who was doubtless taught the Faith by people who had received the Faith from those who had heard Christ with their own ears and seen Him with their own eyes.   Something to recall on Corpus Christi.


More to explorer


    On 22nd. June we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi – the Body and Blood of Christ, in solemn commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist. As with many of the great feats of the Church, there is a fascinating history associated with the establishment of this holy day, and has a connection to saints and miraculous events.
    God’s instrument on this occasion was a Belgian woman born in 1191 known as St. Juliana of Liege, or St. Juliana of Mt. Cornillon, – the location of an Augustinian convent where she was educated as a girl from the age of five, along with her sister Agnes, after the death of their parents. She was later accepted into the order, made her religious profession there, and eventually became the superior of the convent.
    Juliana had an ardent love for Our Lady, and also cultivated an extraordinary devotion to the Blessed Sacrament, and as she grew in her vocation, longed for a special feast in honour of the Sacrament. It is said that this desire was increased by a vision of the Church under the appearance of the full moon with a black mark across it, signifying the absence of such a feast. Juliana expressed her desire to the bishop of Liege, and the Arch-deacon of Liege who was later to become Pope Urban IV. Both men received the suggestion favourably. In 1246 the Bishop, at a synod of Bishops from the Belgian dioceses, instituted a feast in honour of the Blessed Eucharist in their own dioceses. In later years, the Arch-deacon of Liege, Jacques Pantaleon, was consecrated as Bishop of Verdun, and then on 29th. August 1261, became Pope Urban IV – three years after the death of Juliana, who, as is common with many saints, suffered persecutions from her own order and some clerics.
    Two years later, in a seemingly unrelated event, occurred one of the great Eucharistic miracles of the Church, known as the Eucharistic Miracle of Bolsena-Orvietto, and approaching in amazement the extraordinary Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano five centuries before. In 1263 a German priest known only as Peter of Prague stopped at the place called Bolsena whilst making a pilgrimage to Rome. He was known as a pious priest, but personally found difficulty in believing that Christ was Truly and Substantially Present in the Consecrated Host. While celebrating Mass in the church of St.Christina, he had barely spoken the words of consecration, when blood started to seep from the Consecrated Host and trickle down over his hands and onto the altar cloths.
    In total confusion he at first attempted to hide the blood, but as there was such a profusion, he then interrupted the Mass and asked to be taken to the close by city of Orvietto where Pope Urban IV was residing. The Pope listened to the priest’s account, and after absolving him, ordered that the Consecrated Host along with the altar cloths bearing the stains of the Blood of Christ be transported to the Cathedral at Orvietto. Bishops and Cardinals and other dignitaries formed a procession, and with great pomp and dignity the Host and the other relics were installed in the cathedral, where the linen corporal bearing the stains of the blood are reverently enshrined and exhibited, to this day.
    Pope Urban IV was so prompted by this miracle, and at the urgings of the Bishop of Liege, commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas – who happened to be with him – to compose a Proper of the Mass and an Office in honour of the Blessed Eucharist, and one year after the miracle on August 1264 instituted by Papal Bull the Feast of Corpus Christi to be celebrated throughout the entire Chu

  2. Don the Kiwi: Great read. Good work.
    “and with great pomp and dignity” might better convey the spirit with “great Solemnity” …just a suggestion.

  3. I love this quote from Justin Martyr, Don. I was recently in one of those online conversations with an atheist who was saying that the Gospels etc. were late inventions. I’ll have to remember this quote for the next such discussion.

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