Lauda Sion Salvatorem: Corpus Christi Sequence

June 04, 2015
Source: District of the USA

An informative explanation about Lauda Sion Salvatorem, the magnificent "theological" Sequence of Corpus Christi.

The Mass propers of Corpus Christi feature the beautiful Sequence, Lauda Sion Salvatorem just after the Gradual and Alleluia chants. This Eucharistic hymn of praise is a befitting doctrinal tribute to the great mystery of the Sacrament of Sacraments instituted during Our Lord's Last Supper.

We offer some explanation on this sequence derived from The Catholic Encyclopedia's entry on the topic, as well as some musical suggestions.

Latin English
Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem,
Lauda ducem et pastorem
In hymnis et canticis.
Quantum poses, tantum aude:
Quia major omni laude
Nec laudare sufficis.
Praise, O Sion, thy Savior,
praise thy Leader and thy Shepherd
in hymns and canticles.
As much as thou canst, so much darest thou,
for He is above all praise,
nor art thou able to praise Him enough.
Laudis thema specialis,
Panis vivus et vitalis Hodie proponitur;
Quem in sacrae mensa coenae
Turbae fratrum duodenae
Datum non ambigitur.
Today there is given us a special theme of praise,
the Bread both living and life-giving,
which, it is not to be doubted,
was given to the assembly of the brethren,
twelve in number, at the table of the holy Supper.
Sit laus plena, sit sonora,
Sit iucunda, sit decora
Mentis iubilatio.
Dies enim solemnis agitur,
In qua mensae prima
recolitur Huius institutio.
Let our praise be full and sounding;
let the jubilations of the soul
be joyous and becoming;
for that solemn day is now being celebrated,
on which is commemorated the
first institution of this table.
In hac mensa novi Regis Novum
Pascha novae legis
Phase vetus terminat.
Vetustatem novitas,
Umbram fugat veritas,
Noctem lux eliminat.
At this table of the new King,
the new Pasch of the New Law
puts an end to the ancient Pasch.
The new supplants the old,
truth puts to flight the shadow,
day banishes night.
Quod in coena Christus gessit,
Faciendum hoc expressit
In sui memoriam
Docti sacris institutis,
Panem, vinum in salutis
Consecramus hostiam.
What Christ did at that Supper,
the same He commanded
to be done in remembrance of Him.
Taught by His sacred precepts,
we consecrate bread and wine
into the Victim of salvation.
Dogma datur Christianis,
Quod in carnem transit panis
Et vinum in sanguinem.
Quod non capis, quod non vides,
Animosa firmat fides
Praeter rerum ordinem.
This is the dogma given to Christians,
thyat bread is changed into Flesh
and wine into Blood.
What thou dost not understand,
what thou dost not see, a lively faith confirms
in a supernatural manner.
Sub diversis speciebus,
Signis tantum, et non rebus,
Latent res eximiae:
Caro cibus, sanguis potus;
Manet tamen Christus totus
Sub utraque specie.
Under different species in externals
signs only, and not in reality,
wondrous substances lie hidden.
Flesh is food, Blood is drink:
nevertheless Christ remains entire
under each species.
A sumente non concisus,
Non confractus, non divisus
Integer accipitur.
Sumit unus, sumunt mille;
Quantum isti, tantum ille:
Nec sumptus consumitur.
By the recipient the whole is received;
He is neither cut, broken, nor divided.
One receives Him; a thousand receive Him:
as much as the thousand receive,
so much does the one receive;
though eaten He is not diminished.
Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
Sorte tamen inaequali,
Vitae vel interitus.
Mors est malis, vita bonis:
Vide, paris sumptionis
Quam sit dispar exitus.
The good receive Him, the bad receive Him,
but with what unequal consequences
of life or death.
It is death to the unworthy, life to the worthy:
behold then of a like reception,
how unlike may be the result!
Fracto demum Sacramento,
Ne vacilles, sed memento,
Tantam esse sub fragmento,
Quantum toto tegitur.
Nulla rei fit scissura,
Signi tantum fit fractura,
Qua nec status nec statura
Signati minuitur.
When the Sacrament is broken,
doubt not, but remember,
that there is just as much hidden in a fragment,
as there is in the whole.
There is no division of the substance,
only a breaking of the species takes place,
by which neither the state nor stature
of the substance signified is diminished.
Ecce panis Angelorum,
Factus cibus viatorum,
Vere panis filiorum,
Non mittendus canibus.
In figuris praesignatur,
Cum Isaac immolatur;
Agnus Paschae deputatur,
Datur manna patribus.
Lo, the Bread of Angels
is made the food of earthly
pilgrims: truly it is the Bread of children,
let it not be cast to dogs.
It was prefigured in types,
—when Isaac was immolated,
when the Paschal Lamb was sacrificed,
when Manna was given to the fathers.

Bone Pastor, panis vere,
Jesu, nostri miserere,
Tu nos pasce, nos tuere,
Tu nos bona fac videre,
In terra viventium.
Tu, qui cuncta scis et vales,
Qui nos pascis hic mortales,
Tuos ibi commensales,
Cohaeredes et sodales,
Fac sanctorum civium. Amen.

O Good Shepherd, True Bread,
O Jesus, have mercy
on us: feed us and protect us:
make us see good things in
the land of the living.
Thou who knowest all things
and canst do all things,
who here feedest us mortals,
make us there be Thy guests, the co-heirs,
and companions of the heavenly citizens. Amen.

Translation derived from Translations and Annotations of Choral Repertoire, vol. 1.

Excerpt from The Catholic Encyclopedia entry

The opening words (used as a title of the sequence composed by St. Thomas Aquinas, about the year 1264, for the Mass of Corpus Christi. That the sequence was written for the Mass is evidenced by the sixth stanza:

Dies enim solemnis agitur
In qua mensae prima recolitur
Hujus institutio.

("for on this solemn day is again celebrated the first institution of the Supper").

The authorship of the sequence was once attributed to St. Bonaventure; and Gerbert, in his De cantu et musica sacra, declaring it redolent of the style and rhythmic sweetness characteristic of the verse of this saint, moots the question whether the composition of the Mass of the feast should not be ascribed to him, and of the Office to St. Thomas.

The fact that another Office had been composed for the local feast established by a synodal decree of the Bishop of Liege in 1246 also led some writers to contest the ascription to St. Thomas. His authorship has been proved, however, beyond question, thanks to Martine (De antiq. rit. eccl., IV, xxx), by the dissertation of Noe Alexandre, which leaves no doubt (minimum dubitandi scrupulum) in the matter. There is also a clear declaration (referred to by Cardinal Thomasius) of the authorship of St. Thomas, in a Constitution issued by Sixtus IV (1471-1484), and to be found in the third tome of the Bullarium novissimum Fratrum Praedicatorum.

In content the great sequence, which is partly epic, but mostly didactic and lyric in character, summons all to endless praise of the Blessed Sacrament of the Altar (lines 1-15); assigns the reason for the commemoration of its institution (lines 16-30); gives in detail the Catholic doctrine of the Sacrament (lines 31-62): "Dogma datur Christianis", etc.; shows the fulfillment of ancient types (lines 63-70): "Ecce panis angelorum", etc.; prays the Good Shepherd to feed and guard us here and make us sharers of the Heavenly Table hereafter (lines 71-80): "Bone pastor, panis vere" etc.

Throughout the long poem the rhythmic flow is easy and natural, and, strange to say, especially so in the most didactic of the stanzas, despite a scrupulous theological accuracy in both thought and phrase. The saint "writes with the full panoply under his singing-robes"; but always the melody is perfect, the condensation of phrase is of crystalline clearness, the unction is abundant and, in the closing stanzas, of compelling sweetness. A more detailed description of the content of the Lauda Sion is not necessary here, since both Latin text and English version are given in the Baltimore Manual of Prayers, p. 632.


The plainsong melody of the Lauda Sion includes the 7th and 8th modes. Its purest form is found in the recently issued Vatican edition of the Roman Gradual. Its authorship is not known; and, accordingly, the surmise of W. S. Rockstro that the text-authors of the five sequences still retained in the Roman Missal probably wrote the melodies also (and therefore that St. Thomas wrote the melody of the Lauda Sion), and the conviction of a writer in the Irish Ecclesiastical Record, August, 1888 ("St. Thomas as a Musician"), to the same effect, are incorrect. Shall we suppose that Adam of St. Victor composed the melody? The supposition, which would of course date the melody in the 12th century, is not an improbable one. Possibly it is of older date; but the peculiar changes of rhythm suggest that the melody was composed either by Adam or by some fellow-monk of St. Victor's Abbey; and the most notable rhythmic change is, as has been remarked above, the inclusion of the intractable liturgical text: "Haec dies quam fecit Dominus"—a change demanding a melody appropriate to itself.

Since the melody dates back at least to the 12th century, it is clear that the "local tradition" ascribing its composition to Pope Urban IV (d. 1264), who had established the feast day and had charged St. Thomas with the composition of the Office, is not well-based:

Contemporary writers of Urban IV speak of the beauty and harmony of his voice and of his taste for music and the Gregorian chant; and, according to a local tradition, the music of the Office of the Blessed Sacrament—a composition as grave, warm, penetrating, splendid as the celestial harmonies—was the work of Urban IV (Cruls, The Blessed Sacrament; tr., Preston, p. 76).

In addition to the exquisite plainsong melody mention should be made of Palestrina's settings of the Lauda Sion, two for eight voices (the better known of which follows somewhat closely the plainsong melody), and one for four voices; and also of the noble setting of Mendelssohn.

The Lauda Sion is one of the five sequences (out of the thousand which have come down to us from the Middle Ages) still retained in the Roman Missal. 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. It has been translated, either in whole or in part, upwards of 20 times into English verse; and a selection from it, the "Ecce panis angelorum", has received some ten additional versions. Amongst Catholic versions are those of Southwell, Crashaw, Husenbeth, Beste, Oakeley, Caswall, Wallace, Aylward, Wacherbarth, Henry. Non-Catholic versions modify the meaning where it is too aggressively dogmatic and precise. E. C. Benedict, however, in his Hymn of Hildebert, etc., gives a literal translation into verse, but declares that it is to be understood in a Protestant sense. On the other hand, as the editor of Duffield's Latin Hymns very sensibly remarks, certain stanzas express "the doctrine of transubstantiation so distinctly, that one must have gone as far as Dr. Pusey, who avowed that he held 'all Roman doctrine', before using these words in a non-natural sense."

The admiration tacitly bestowed on the sequence by its frequent translation, either wholly or in part, by non-Catholic pens, found its best expression in the eloquent Latin eulogy of Daniel (Thesaurus Hymnologicus, II, p. 88), when, speaking of the hymns of the Mass and Office of Corpus Christi, he says:

The Angelic Doctor took a single theme for his singing, one filled with excellence and divinity and, indeed, angelic, that is, one celebrated and adored by the very angels. Thomas was the greatest singer of the venerable Sacrament. Neither is it to be believed that he did this without the inbreathing of God (quem non sine numinis afflatu cecinisse credas), nor shall we be surprised that, having so wondrously, not to say uniquely, absolved this one spiritual and wholly heavenly theme, he should thenceforward sing no more. One only offspring was his—but it was a lion (Peperit semel, sed leonem).

Musical compositions on Lauda Sion Salvatorem

In addition to the chanted version of the Sequence of Corpus Christi written by St. Thomas Aquinas, several other versions have been composed, some incorporating selected stanzas (sets of verses) from the entire piece, while others focusing on just the first stanza.