Catholic Hymns You Should Know: Pange Lingua

John Kubasak

Catholic Hymns You Should Know: Pange Lingua

To those unfamiliar with him, St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings do not lend themselves very well to the modern ear. For those that have studied him extensively, however, Thomas ranks as one of the intellectual giants in the two millennia of Church history. 

Our intellects are great gifts from God designed to help us know Him more intimately. Yet sainthood is not borne from intellectual gifts; St. Thomas is no exception. In his time, he was renowned for his holiness as well as his genius. His fellow Dominicans often found him in prayer and ecstasy. One of the most famous—and illustrative—accounts of Thomas’ holiness was provided by three friars who walked into the chapel to see Thomas levitating. They heard a voice come from the crucifix: “Thou hast written well of Me, Thomas; what reward wilt thou have?”  Thomas answered, “None other than Thyself, Lord.” Thomas’ gigantic intellect had its foundation in a love of Christ, His Church, and His sacraments. 

When the brand-new Solemnity of Corpus Christi became part of the liturgical calendar in the late 13th century, Pope Urban IV asked St. Thomas (a Dominican) and St. Bonaventure (a Franciscan) to compose hymns to be used in the divine office. When St. Bonaventure heard the Pange Lingua, he refused to present his own hymn. He deferred to St. Thomas’ beautiful work. The Catholic Church has used the hymn Pange Lingua ever since; we sing the last two verses every Holy Thursday evening and at benediction (some might know those last two verses as Tantum Ergo). 

The hymn begins with praising the Savior’s glory and the mystery of His flesh. Although this is a Eucharistic hymn, the mystery of the Incarnation comes into play. The two mysteries share the same effect: the Word becoming flesh. In the Incarnation, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity comes from heaven to earth; Jesus truly became man. The eternal Son took on flesh. In the Eucharist, the sacrifice of Calvary is made present at every Mass. Although it happened two thousand years ago in history, the eternal moment of Calvary is re-presented to the assembly at Mass. What started as bread and wine becomes the flesh and blood of Our Lord.  

Immediately after, St. Thomas continues with the language of sacrifice: Our Lord shedding His blood. This contains a great theological lesson. Jesus became man in order to be our Savior.  To become our Savior, He had to shed His blood. Put another way, the purpose of the Incarnation was for Jesus to die for us.  

The Incarnation and the Eucharist also cannot be spoken of without the Blessed Virgin Mary, the “pure and spotless Virgin.” Every favor done to Mary was a grace from God; she was a gift to Jesus, Who in turn gave her to us (see John 19:26-27).  

The theme of the Eucharist takes center stage again in the third and fourth verses. St. Thomas poetically emphasizes the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, no matter what our senses might tell us. In the Eucharist, we have the fulfillment of every pascal lamb sacrificed since the very first Passover in ancient Egypt. We consume the sacrificial victim, just as the Israelites consumed the pascal lamb. The blood of the pascal lamb saved the Israelites from the angel of death; the blood of the Lamb of God saves us from the slavery of sin.  

Considering this great mystery of Our Lord’s flesh, Thomas exhorts us to faith in the fourth and fifth verses. Our senses and reason can take us to the door of a mystery, but it is faith that allows us to walk in. Once we approach Him in the Eucharist, how can we do anything but fall down in adoration? In the incredible plan of salvation, Jesus became man. He sacrificed Himself to pay our debt of sin, one that we could not repay. Before dying, Jesus anticipated His sacrifice and gave us an entry through the Mass into that eternal moment. The reason why Jesus gave us all of that is eternity. We hope our lives end just as the song ends: with the Holy Trinity. Everything good comes from God. With our intellect, soul, and faith let us sing with full voice to the endless majesty of the Holy Trinity!  


1. Pange lingua gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
Quem in mundi pretium
Fructus ventris generosi,
Rex effudit gentium.
1. Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory, of His flesh the mystery sing; of the Blood, all price exceeding, shed by our immortal King, destined, for the world's redemption, from a noble womb to spring. 
2. Nobis datus, nobis natus
Ex intacta Virgine
Et in mundo conversatus,
Sparso verbi semine,
Sui moras incolatus
Miro clausit ordine.
2. Of a pure and spotless Virgin born for us on earth below, He, as Man, with man conversing, stayed, the seeds of truth to sow; then He closed in solemn order wondrously His life of woe.
3. In supremae nocte coenae
Recumbens cum fratribus,
Observata lege plene
Cibis in legalibus,
Cibum turbae duodenae
Se dat suis manibus
3. On the night of that Last Supper, seated with His chosen band, He the Pascal victim eating, first fulfills the Law's command; then as Food to His Apostles gives Himself with His own hand. 
4. Verbum caro, panem verum
Verbo carnem efficit:
Fitque sanguis Christi merum,
Et si sensus deficit,
Ad firmandum cor sincerum
Sola fides sufficit.
4. Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature by His word to Flesh He turns; wine into His Blood He changes; what though sense no change discerns? Only be the heart in earnest, faith her lesson quickly learns. 
5. Tantum ergo Sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.
5. Down in adoration falling, Lo! the sacred Host we hail; Lo! o'er ancient forms departing, newer rites of grace prevail; faith for all defects supplying, where the feeble senses fail. 
6. Genitori, Genitoque
Laus et iubilatio,
Salus, honor, virtus quoque
Sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
Compar sit laudatio.  Amen
6. To the everlasting Father, and the Son who reigns on high, with the Holy Ghost proceeding forth from Each eternally, be salvation, honor, blessing, might and endless majesty. Amen.

(translation E. Caswall)