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The Holy Emulation between Two Great Saints

Hugh O’Reilly
In 1264, when Pope Urban IV instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi, he asked St. Bonaventure, a Franciscan, and St. Thomas Aquinas, a Dominican, to each compose a liturgy for the Mass and Office for this great Feast. On a designated day, each would read his manuscript before the Holy Father, who would decide which text would be chosen for the Feast Day celebration.

corpus christi bonaventure Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas reads his Corpus Christ Liturgy to Urban IV; at left, St. Bonaventure shreds his own text

The day arrived. St. Thomas was chosen to be the first to present his text, in deference to his position as Lector of the Sacred Palace. As St. Thomas stood and read his text, St. Bonaventure, with great humility and tears of emotion in eyes eyes, turned aside and tore up the manuscript that he was holding.

Turning to the Holy Father, he said: “Your Holiness, it is as if I heard the Holy Spirit speak, for only the Holy Spirit can inspire such beautiful thoughts. I cannot compare my poor essay with such a perfect masterpiece. This is all that remains of it.”

And he showed the Pope the shredded papers.

The Pope, impressed with this humility and with the greatness of the text of St. Thomas, determined that the work of the Angelic Doctor should henceforth be used for the liturgy of the Mass and the Office of that day. Thus was St. Thomas declared winner of the holy emulation.

Among the beautiful texts composed by St. Thomas Aquinas that echo in the churches during the Solemnity of the Corpus Christi are the following: Adoro te Devote, Sauda Sion Salvatorem (the sequence), Sacris Solmniis (which included the Panis Angelicus), Pange Lingua Gloriosi (including its last two stanzas the Tantum Ergo), and Verbum Supernum (including its last two stanzas, the O Salutaris.

The Angelic Doctor is recognized as one of the great hymnologists of the Church although he produced only 188 lines.

corpus christi procession

A grandiose Corpus Christi procession from the past


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Posted June 15, 2024

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