Eucharist: The Sacrament of Love

In a manner atypical of the usual scholastic precision of his theological works, St. Thomas Aquinas’ great Eucharistic hymn Adoro te devote sublimely, poetically expresses the soul’s wonder and awe before the Blessed Sacrament. In front of this great mystery the senses fail, the intellect is deficient; instead one’s whole heart is to “totally submit.” It is a deeply moving hymn. It may strike us as odd, however, when we come upon the reference to pie pelicane, Jesu Domine (O Lord Jesus, sweet pelican) in the sixth stanza: What does Jesus have to do with a bird? And why would St. Thomas use this image in a Eucharistic hymn?

In olden times, the pelican, especially the mother pelican, was thought to model self-sacrificing love. The medievals thought that the mother pelican fed her chicks with her own flesh and blood when she was unable to find food. When this image is depicted in medieval art, the mother pelican is seen pecking at her own breast, blood flowing from the wound. It is but a small price to pay for the life of her chicks. For the medievals, then, the pelican was a clear symbol of both our Lord’s self-giving sacrifice on the Cross and the Sacrament which memorializes and makes present that sacrifice in a wondrous way.

The Eucharist is the sacrament of love par excellence as it re-presents the ultimate act of Christ’s love on the Cross: “greater love than this no man has: that he lays down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). But even more profoundly, the Eucharist isn’t just something to behold, and the Passion which it makes present isn’t just something to contemplate. More than that, the Eucharist is the sacrament of love because it enables us to participate so intimately with our Lord in His Passion as we receive Him, truly, into ourselves. This union with Christ, available to us here and now, is a partaking in the beatitude of Heaven where we will be one with God in glory. Thus, St. Thomas affirms, "This sacrament is the sign of supreme charity, and the uplifter of our hope, from such familiar union of Christ with us” (ST, III, 75, 1, co).

May each of us constantly experience the goodness of the Risen Lord as we continually configure ourselves to Him - who is our hope and our salvation - through our adoration and fervent reception of the Sacrament of His Passion and Love.

Oh Jesus, sweet pelican, I love you, and I adore you!

Br. Peter Pius Chu, O.P. | Meet the Brothers in Formation HERE