Matins Readings During the Octave of Corpus Christi
|St. Thomas Aquinas in glory among the Doctors of the Church, by Francisco de Zurbarán, 1631.|
In the 1529 Roman Breviary, the readings of the first and second nocturn on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are taken from the famous Decree of the 12th-century canonist Gratian, which was, broadly speaking, the medieval code of Canon Law. The third part, called On Consecration, is a long florilegium of texts from the Church Fathers and various other sources, and is quite suitable for spiritual reading, despite being essentially a law textbook. These readings include a fairly lengthy excerpt from St Ambrose’s book “On the Mysteries”, another from the treatise “On the Sacraments” traditionally attributed to him, and a few fragments from other writers, principally St Augustine. On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the readings are taken from the bull Transiturus, by which Pope Urban IV (1261-64) originally promulgated the feast; this was read in many medieval Uses, and in some places, even after the Tridentine reform. The readings of the third nocturn continue from St Augustine’s Treatises on John. On the Octave day, all nine readings of the feast are simply repeated. This arrangment is typical of all medieval breviaries.
In the Tridentine Breviary, this system is changed, but not entirely. Scriptural readings are assigned to the first nocturn: I Cor. 11, 20-32 on the feast day and the octave, the lectio continua of I Kings on the days between. The readings from St Augustine in the third nocturn are almost exactly the same in the pre- and post-Tridentine breviaries, in response to the reformers’ pretenses that their teachings on grace corresponded to his. (Calvin once declared, even more absurdly than was his wont, “Augustine belongs entirely to us.”) On Wednesday, however, they are taken from St Hilary of Poitiers, and on the octave, from St Cyril of Alexandria.
For the second nocturn, the sermon of St Thomas is split into two parts, the first of which is read on the feast, the second on Friday. The remaining days are dedicated to the Church Fathers, Ss John Chrysostom (Saturday to Monday), Cyprian (Tuesday), Ambrose (Wednesday, part of the De Sacramentis also excerpted by Gratian), and St Cyril of Jerusalem on the octave day.
It is easy to see in the choice of such readings a response from the Catholic Church to the early Protestants, and their rejection of the traditional doctrine of the Eucharist. Papal bulls or medieval canon law collections would hold no authority with the “reformers” of the age (Martin Luther burned both at Wittenberg), whether openly Protestant or uncertain Catholics, who were many in that age. The writings of the Fathers, on the other hand, were frequently appealed to as proof that Protestant teachings were in fact those of the primitive Church, and things like Eucharistic processions and Adoration later corruptions of the medieval era. In such a climate, the writings of St Cyril of Jerusalem in particular were a source of profoundest embarrassment to early and later Protestant controversialists.
“The teaching of blessed Paul seems of itself amply sufficient to make certain your faith concerning the Divine Mysteries; and you, having been made worthy thereof, have become, so to speak, of one Body and of one Blood with Christ. For he proclaimed that on the night He was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying: Take, and eat, this is my Body. And taking the cup, and giving thanks, He said: Take this, and drink; this is my Blood. Since therefore He Himself has proclaimed this and said, ‘This is my Body’, who will dare henceforth to doubt that it is so? And since He again has said so insistently ‘This is my Blood’, who would ever doubt, and say that it is not his Blood?
|The Last Supper, by Simon Ushakov, 1685|
Once, at Cana in Galilee, He turned water into wine, which has a certain similarity to blood; and shall we think him too little worthy of our belief, when He said He would turn wine into Blood? Being called to that marriage, by which two bodies are joined, He did this miracle, which none expected. Shall we not all the more firmly believe that He has given us His Body and Blood, to be our food and drink, and thus receive them with all certainty as His Body and his Blood? For under the appearance of bread He gives us His Body, and under the appearance of wine, His Blood, so that when you shall receive it, you may taste the Body and Blood of Christ, being made a partaker of the same Body and Blood. Thus indeed do we become Christ-bearers, that is, bearing Christ in our bodies, when we receive His Body and Blood into our members; thus, according to the blessed Peter, do we come to share in the divine nature.
…Wherefore I would not have you understand these things, as if they were merely and simply bread, merely and simply wine; for they are the Body and Blood of Christ. For even if your senses deny this fact, yet let faith confirm you in this belief. Judge not the thing by the taste thereof, but let faith assure thee beyond all doubt, that you have been made worthy to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ.” (from the fourth Mystagogical Catechesis)
By including such a passage in a corpus of sermons that begins with a work of St Thomas Aquinas, the Breviary of St Pius V asserts a continuity of doctrine which reaches from St Paul to the Church Fathers, both Eastern and Western, and to the greatest theologian of the medieval, scholastic tradition.