Friday, June 12, 2020

Hymns for the Medieval Office of Corpus Christi

When Pope Urban IV promulgated the feast of Corpus Christi in 1264, he also offered a complete set of Mass and Office texts composed at his behest by St Thomas Aquinas. These are rightly recognized to be among the finest of the High Middle Ages, and have been treasured by Catholics as the official liturgical expression of Eucharistic devotion for many centuries. However, the feast had already been established almost two decades earlier in the city of Liège; in his bull Transiturus, Pope Urban refers to the visionary St Juliana of Mont-Cornillon, who had composed an office of Corpus Christi before St Thomas. Her assistant in this task and in the promotion of the feast was a canon of the church of St Martin in Liège, John of Lausanne; this church and several others continued to use the older Office or parts thereof well after Pope Urban’s time. In a 15th-century manuscript of St Juliana’s life, a note is added by a later hand that refers to this Office, saying that “(i)t begins with the words Animarum cibus, and is found in its entirety in the church of Tongres (about ten miles from Liège) and elsewhere; then Urban IV instituted the office which is now sung everywhere.” (As noted in “The Feast of Corpus Christi”, edited by Barbara R. Walters et al., Penn. State Univ. Press, 2006, p. 61.)

The collegiate church of St Martin in Liège, depicted in a watercolor by Joseph Fussell (1818-1912). Image from Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0
Despite the broad liturgical standardization after the council of Trent, Liège maintained its own proper medieval use, edited according to certain criteria of the Tridentine reform, until the French Revolution ended the independence of the city’s Prince-Bishopric. It would appear from the printed liturgical books of the era that the office of St Thomas was adopted throughout the diocese as part of this reform. At the church of St Martin, however, where the feast of Corpus Christi was first celebrated, several parts of the older office Animarum cibus were added to St Thomas’; among them, proper hymns are assigned to the minor hours of Prime, Terce, Sext and None. (This was done in some parts of the Low Countries on a very small number of feasts, where the use of Rome has the same hymns at these hours every day.) As was typical of the period, several lines are borrowed from other hymns already part of the general repertoire; for example, the first line of the hymn of Prime, “Summae Jesu clementiae” is borrowed from a much older hymn which begins with those same words.

At Prime
Summae Jesu clementiae,
Qui ob salutem mentium
Caelestis alimoniae
Nobis praestas remedium

Mores, vitam et opera
Rege momentis omnibus,
Et beatis accelera
Vitam dare cum civibus.

Praesta, Pater, per Filium,
Praesta per almum Spiritum,
Quibus das hoc edulium
Prosperum serves exitum. Amen.

Jesus, of greatest clemency, who for the salvation of our souls grant us the remedy of heavenly nourishment, in every moment guide our manners, life and works, and hasten also to grant us life with the blessed citizens (of heaven.)
(Each of these hymns is sung with the same doxology:)
Grant this, Father, through the Son, and through the Holy Spirit, and a properous end to those to whom you give this food.

At Terce
Sacro tecta velamine
Pietatis mysteria
Mentes pascunt dulcedine,
Qua satiant caelestia.

Sit ergo cum caelestibus
Nobis commune gaudium,
Illis quod se praesentavit,
Nobis quod se non abstulit.

The mysteries of devotion, covered by a sacred veil, feed our souls with the same sweetness that fills those in heaven. Let this then be the joy which we share with them, that He has made Himself present to them, and Has not (by so doing) removed Himself from us.

At Sext
Splendor superni luminis,
Laudisque sacrificium
Coenam tui da numinis
Tuae carnis post prandium.

Saturatus opprobriis
Ad hoc cruci configeris
Et irrisus ludibriis
Credeli morte plecteris

Splendor of heavenly light, and sacrifice of praise, grant the banquet of your Divine presence after that of your flesh. For this were you weighed down with reproaches, this nailed to the Cross, derided and mocked, and punished with a cruel death.

At None
Aeterna caeli gloria
Lux beata credentium
Redemptionis hostia
Tuarum pastus ovium.

Hujus cultu memoriae
Dirae mortis supplicio,
Nos de lacu miseriae
Educ qui clamas: Sitio.

Eternal glory of heaven, blessed light of believers, victim for our redemption, pasture of your sheep, by the worship of this memorial, by the punishment of this dreadful death, lead us forth from the pit of misery, you who cried out “I thirst.”

The Mass of St. Gregory the Great, by Robert Campin, 1440, or an assistant.
Each of these hymns contains a specific reference to the canonical hour at which it would be sung. The words “in every moment guide our manners, life and works” in the first hymn fit with one of the main ideas of the hour of Prime, to pray for the the sanctification of the day’s work; this is also expressed by the two invariable prayers of that Hour in the Roman Rite and most other uses. The references to receiving Communion in the hymn Sacro tecta velamine derive from the generally observed custom of the Middle Ages that the principle Mass of all major feast days was celebrated after the singing of Terce. The hymn for Sext refers to the Crucifixion which took place “at the sixth hour”, as St Matthew says, and that of None speaks of the death of Christ at the ninth hour, and His crying out “I thirst” just before, as told in the Gospel of St John.

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