Thursday 11 June 2009

The Sequence of Corpus Christi

As is well-known, the feast of Corpus Christi was instituted at the request of Our Lord to St. Juliana of Liège on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. Pope Unban IV, who instituted the feast, had been Archdeacon of Liège before his election. It is also well known that St. Thomas Aquinas, the Doctor Angelicus, was asked to compose the Mass and Office of the feast. His compositions were not only theological and artistic masterpieces but they have provided the Church and the Christian Faithful with several of the most universally popular hymns in honour of Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

Among those compositions, is the Adoro Te Devote, Pange Lingua, Sacris Solemnis and Verbum Supernum. Sadly, not as universally popular is the Sequence of the Mass of Corpus Christi Lauda Sion Salvatorem. Indeed, perhaps the only part of it that has entered the popular repertoire are the few lines Ecce Panis Angelorum, factus cibus viatorum: vere panis filiorum, non mittendus canibus that have frequently been set to music independently of the rest of the Sequence.

This is also true in the case of the Pange Lingua, which, although the full hymn is memorably used on Holy Thursday, the last two verses form the Benediction hymn Tantum Ergo, which is a stock favourite. Likewise, in Sacris Solemnis, the sixth verse gives us the famous Panis Angelicus, and the hymn of Benediction O Salutaris is found towards the end of Verbum Supernum.

The second video clip is the popular and most common version of Ecce Panis Angelorum, while the third is the setting by the famed Don Lorenzo Perosi.

In speaking of the Sequences of the Roman Missal, the Catholic Encyclopedia says: Each of the five has its own special beauty; but the "Lauda Sion" is peculiar in its combination of rhythmic flow, dogmatic precision, phraseal condensation."

In common with the other Sequences, Lauda Sion is double strophed. That is, it repeats the same melody in two lines before moving to another melody for the next two lines. This doubled strophing, or strophe and counter-strophe pattern that sets the Sequence apart from the hymn. Effectively, each strophe/counter-strophe would have been sung alternately by the two liturgical choirs. Such double strophing is found frequently in the Books of the Old Testament, particularly in the non-Major Prophetic Books, Hosea, Amos and Job being particular examples.