Right: Saint Thomas Aquinas Submitting His Office of Corpus Domini to Pope Urban IV, c. 1403, Taddeo di Bartolo. Philadelphia Museum of Art
This early 15th-century painting depicts the excellent contribution of St. Thomas Aquinas to the prayers of Mass and the Office for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, or Corpus Christi, as we know it. The Sienese painter Taddeo di Bartolo offers a visual record of the composition of liturgical prayers and hymns associated with the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, when the Church celebrates the Eucharist as “source and summit of the Christian life.”
It was Pope Urban IV who instituted, in 1264, a universal feast day to promote devotion to the sacramental presence of Jesus in his Eucharistic Body and Blood. In preparation for the feast, the pope commissioned St. Thomas Aquinas to compose a Mass and an Office so the faithful could give thanks for the Eucharist in prayer and in song.
We see St. Thomas Aquinas bringing his liturgical compositions to Pope Urban IV. The haloed and tonsured figure of Aquinas, robed in his Dominican habit, humbly kneels before the pope who is seated on an elevated throne. Aquinas holds aloft the manuscript of his liturgical compositions that glow with rays of golden light, highlighting their learned origin and the brilliance of the holy Eucharist, the subject of his contemplation.
The small, enclosed canopied space is framed by arches and walls painted in deep blue studded with golden stars. A group of cardinals, robed in red hats, surround the saintly friar who offers the fruits of his contemplation in praise of the Body and Blood of Jesus. We are invited to the same reverence and joy as we contemplate and participate in the gift and mystery of the Eucharist.
By Dr. Jem Sullivan, Ph.D.