Musical Notes for Maundy Thursday (April 1, 2021)

At the center of today’s service is holy communion, and no communion hymn has had more lasting power throughout Christian history than St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Pange lingua” (13th century). It is sung in many traditions at the conclusion of the Maundy Thursday service as the communion elements are brought to another location until Easter, with the last two stanzas, “Tantum ergo,” set apart to be sung once the elements reach their place of repose.

Set by composers from Palestrina to Fauré, today’s setting is by French Parisian composer César Franck, probably best known as the composer of another communion hymn, “Panis angelicus.” Like that one, “Tantum ergo” exists in both choral and solo versions, and this setting slowly unfolds into the final stanza, sometimes called the “magnificent doxology,” and then ends with an introspective “Amen.” Powerful in its simplicity, Franck’s version captures the spirit and lets this beautiful, doctrinal text speak for itself.