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CanticaNOVA Publications

Eucharistic Saints

John Paul II

by Gary Penkala

As we continue with the National Eucharistic Revival, it would be profitable to recall those saints who had a special devotion to the Blessed Eucharist. Over the next few articles we'll study these saints, their lives, their devotion to the Blessed Eucharist, and music connected to them.

Saint John Paul II I have firmly rooted memories of this pope, this saint — the only one of either that I've met personally. From 1991 to 1993 I had the privilege of leading small groups of seminarians from the Pontifical North Amercian College in providing music for the early morning papal Mass on those days when it was in English. The papal staff would invite guests to the Apostolic Palace, 40 in the small chapel and up to 100 in the larger chapel, for these Masses. After Mass, Pope John Paul II would greet all the attendees in his Library, present them with Rosary beads and share a few words with them. I tresure those beads, as well as the memories of his firm, athletic handshake and his strong voice, akin to my own Polish grandfather's. Such a joy to interact with a saint!


The late 20th century is not that long ago, so the life of Karol Wojtyla is not so much history as a fond remembrance. His difficult early life, in Communist Poland, set the stage for his future vocation of actor, theologian, priest, political dynamo, cardinal-archbishop and eventually pope.

Struggles with Communist leaders within Poland and from Rome were real, but were approached with firm Catholic principles in mind. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the U.S.S.R. were part of this pontiff's ecclesio-political legacy.

Devotion to the Eucharist

In the saint's own words:

Jesus is not an idea, a sentiment, a memory! Jesus is a "person," always alive and present with us! Love Jesus present in the Eucharist. He is present in a sacrificial way in Holy Mass, which renews the Sacrifice of the Cross. To go to Mass means going to Calvary to meet him, our Redeemer. He comes to us in Holy Communion and remains present in the tabernacles of our churches, for he is our friend. — Address to the Italian youth, November 8, 1978

1. The Church draws her life from the Eucharist. This truth does not simply express a daily experience of faith, but recapitulates the heart of the mystery of the Church. In a variety of ways she joyfully experiences the constant fulfilment of the promise: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" [Mt 28:20], but in the Holy Eucharist, through the changing of bread and wine into the body and blood of the Lord, she rejoices in this presence with unique intensity. Ever since Pentecost, when the Church, the People of the New Covenant, began her pilgrim journey towards her heavenly homeland, the Divine Sacrament has continued to mark the passing of her days, filling them with confident hope. — Encyclical Ecclesia de Eucharistia (2003)

The Eucharist was the principal reason for his priesthood. He said, "For me, the Mass constitutes the center of my life and my every day." He added, "nothing means more to me or gives me greater joy than to celebrate Mass each day and to serve God's people in the Church." John Paul didn't merely offer the Mass. He lived it. Like the Eucharist itself, he became an immolation of love — a living sacrifice offered to the Father for the salvation of mankind. Because of his deep faith in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, he was adamant with priests and bishops about how the Mass ought to be celebrated. He told a group of American bishops, "This is why it is so important that liturgical law be respected. The priest, who is the servant of the liturgy, not its inventor or producer, has a particular responsibility in this regard, lest he empty liturgy of its true meaning or obscure its sacred character." — Jason Evert

Related Music

  1. Godhead Here in Hiding (Msgr. Anthony Mancini) —
    Godhead Here in Hiding is subtitled "A Marian Communion Hymn" by the composer; it appears as such in his Mother of Mercy Mass. It begins with a lengthy refrain on a text by Gerald Manley Hopkins:

    Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore, Masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more. See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

    The refrain is in SATB chorale style, with organ doubling the voice parts. The verses have the men singing the lovely anonymous breviary text, "Mary the Dawn," to the hymn tune Pleading Savior ("Sing of Mary"). Over this the women sing in lengthened notes the text, "Ave verum corpus natum…" in Latin.

    This liturgical motet is a perfect way, during a Marian celebration, to emphasize Mary's relation to Christ, as does the text "Mary the Dawn" itself; while the juxtaposition of a Marian tune with the Christocentric text "Ave verum" heightens the correspondence.

  2. Laud, O Zion (Angela Birkhead-Flight) —
    The beautiful sequence for Corpus Christi was written by Saint Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. Its Latin form has the title, Lauda Sion; even in its English translation it's not often sung at Mass due to its length. Saint Thomas wrote 24 stanzas of eloquent poetry for the sequence for the new feast of Corpus Christi when it was established in the pontificate of Urban IV.

    The CNP setting, Laud, O Zion, is a practical way to sing this historic sequence in your parish. The composer has taken the 24 original stanzas and grouped them in threes; the eight verses are given to a solo cantor between which the congregation sings a very simple refrain: "Ecce panis angelorum." The verses are set to a chant-like melody. All is accompanied by a simple organ part, although the entire piece could easily be sung a cappella. For variety, the verses could be sung alternately by several cantors, or by sections of a mixed choir, or even by various choirs (perhaps in different locations of the church).

  3. Two Settings of Tantum ergo (Rene Vierne & Wendelin Knauschner, ed. Andreas Willscher) —
    Here are two easy SATB choral settings of the Aquinas text, Tantum ergo Sacramentum. Both are products of early 20th century Europe, the first, by René Vierne, calls for organ accompaniment; the second, by Wendelin Knuaschner, is a cappella.

    René Vierne (1878-1918), whose serene style has been described as delicately lyrical, was the younger brother of the famous organist/composer Louis Vierne. He died in World War I, as did Louis' 17-year-old son, Jacques Vierne.

    Wendelin Knauschner (1863-1934) was a well-known musician of the Bohemian School. He was known for his symphony Titanic which he composed after the shipwreck of the Titanic. One of the main German-language composers and musicians of his era, Knautschner also distinguished himself with a number of organ compositions.

Article written 20 August 2023

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