Thursday, June 03, 2021

Corpus Christi 2021

The multitude of the children of Israel shall sacrifice the kid toward the evening of the Passover, * and they shall eat the flesh, and unleavened bread. V. Christ our Passover is sacrificed, therefore let us keep the feast with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. R. And they shall eat... (The first responsory of Corpus Christi.)

The Last Supper, ca. 1562, by the Spanish painter Vicente Juan Masip (also known as ‘Juan de Juanes’, or ‘Joan de Joanes’ in the dialect of his native Valencia.) Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons.
R. Immolábit haedum multitúdo filiórum Israël ad vésperam Paschae, * et edent carnes et ázymos panes. V. Pascha nostrum immolátus est Christus; ítaque epulémur in ázymis sinceritátis et veritátis. Et edent carnes...

This year, the feast of Corpus Christi happens to fall on the same day on which the Martyrology notes the birth into heaven “at Carthage of the holy priest Caecilius, who brought St Cyprian to the faith of Christ.” This Caecilius was the recipient of a letter from Cyprian (PL IV, 372B et seq.), several passages of which show the great antiquity of the exegetical tradition that St Thomas drew upon in composing the Office for the feast. (Cyprian was martyred on September 14, 258, over 1000 years before Thomas’ death.) In chapter 16, he writes, “It was becoming that Christ should make the offering towards evening, so that the very hour of the sacrifice might show the fall and the evening of the world, as it is written in Exodus (12, 6), ‘And all the people of the assembly of the sons of Israel shall slay him in the evening’; and again in the Psalms (140, 2), ‘the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.’ We, however, celebrate the Resurrection of the Lord in the morning.” St Thomas follows the same line of thought in the responsory given above, joining the reference to the evening sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb with words taken from the Epistle of the Mass of Easter Sunday.
Likewise, in chapter 5, Cyprian says that “through Solomon also the Holy Spirit, showing beforehand a type of the Lord’s sacrifice, making mention of the victim that was offered, and of the bread and the wine, but also of the altar and the Apostles, said ‘Wisdom built herself a house, and placed it upon seven columns. She offered her sacrifices, she mixed her wine in a bowl, and readied her table, and sent her servant, calling (men) with lofty preaching to her bowl, saying “Let him that is unwise turn aside to me”, and to those lacking sense, she said, “Come ye, eat of my bread, and drink the wine which I have mixed for you.” ’ (Prov. 9, 1-5). She declares that the wine is mixed, that is, she foretells in a prophetic voice the chalice of the Lord mixed with water and wine, so that it may be evident that what was done in the Lord’s Passion had been previously foretold.” A section of the letter to Caecilius which includes these words was introduced into the Office of Corpus Christi by the Tridentine reform, and is read at Matins on Tuesday within the octave. St Thomas uses the same passage of Proverbs cited by Cyprian to make the first antiphon of Lauds: “Wisdom built herself a house, she mixed the wine and set out the table, alleluia.”
The letter was written against the teaching of a group known as the Aquarians, who believed that only water, and not wine, should be used in the Eucharistic sacrifice. Against this, Cyprian adduces words of Psalm 22, which St Thomas chose as the fifth Psalm of Matins. “Also in the Psalms, the Holy Spirit does not keep silent about the mystery of this matter, making mention of the Lord’s chalice and saying, ‘Thy chalice which inebriateth is exceedingly good.’ But a chalice that causes inebriation is certainly mixed with wine, for water (alone) cannot inebriate.” (chapter 11)
Melchisedek and Abraham; mosaic in the Basilica of St Mary Major in Rome, 440 A.D.
A final and very obvious example is inspired by what the Epistle to the Hebrews says about the figure of Melchisedek (6, 20 – 7, 17). St Cyprian writes, “Again in the priest Melchisedech, we see prefigured the mystery of the Lord’s sacrifice, according to what the Divine Scripture attests and says, ‘And Melchisedeh, the king of Salem, brought forth bread and wine.’ (Gen. 14, 18) He was the priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abraham; and the Holy Spirit declares in the Psalms that he bore a type of Christ, saying in the person of the Father to the Son, ‘Before the daystar I begot thee; thou art a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech.’ (Psalm 109, 4-5) ... For who is more a priest of God Most High than Our Lord Jesus Christ, who offered a sacrifice to God the Father, and offered this same thing which Melchisedech had offered, that is, bread and wine, which are certainly His body and blood.” (chapter 4) St Thomas brings this to the liturgy with the first antiphon of Vespers on Corpus Christi: “Christ the Lord, who is a priest forever according to the order of Melchisedech, offered bread and wine.”

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