Aquinas and the Eucharist – an Excerpt from Exploring Catholic Theology

The following is an excerpt from Exploring Catholic Theology, by Robert Barron.

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No careful student of the life of Thomas Aquinas can doubt that the Eucharist played a central role in the saint’s spirituality. Thomas would begin his day by celebrating the Mass and then would typically assist immediately afterward at a second Mass offered by his socius, Reginald of Piperno. It is said that he could rarely get through the liturgy without shedding tears, so intense was his participation in the reality of Christ’s sacrifice.

Cover ArtAt the prompting of Pope Urban IV, he wrote—at least according to the scholarly consensus—a remarkably beautiful and theologically precise office for the newly instituted feast of Corpus Christi, the language and cadences of which are present in the liturgical life of the church to the present day.

During the investigations prior to Aquinas’s canonization, Reginald of Piperno said that though Thomas was the most brilliant man he had ever known, he was convinced that the saint’s wisdom came much more from the intensity of his prayer than the diligence of his study. He added that he would frequently see Aquinas resting his head against the tabernacle, lost in contemplation, especially when he was wrestling with a particularly thorny theological problem.

One of the most enduring and poignant legends concerning Aquinas has to do, at least indirectly, with the Eucharist. After he had finished the questions from the third part of the Summa dealing with the Blessed Sacrament, he placed the text at the foot of the cross in the Dominican chapel at Naples, as if to ask for judgment. According to the story, a voice spoke from the crucifix saying, “You have written well of me, Thomas, what would you have as a reward?” Aquinas responded, with admirable and typical laconicism, “Nil nisi te“—”nothing but you.”

©2015 by Robert Barron. Published by Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

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