Pie Pellicane, Iesu Domine…

Pelicans back in danger

In St. Thomas Aquinas’ Adoro te Devote, we sing:

Pie Pellicane, Iesu Domine,
Me immundum munda tuo sanguine.
Cuius una stilla salvum facere
Totum mundum quit ab omni scelere.

Lord Jesus, good Pelican,
wash me clean with your blood,
one drop of which can free
the entire world of all its sins.

Why “Jesus, good Pelican?” The Pelican has come to be a symbol of the Eucharist:

The Pelican is a symbol of the atonement and the Redeemer and is often found in Christian murals, frescos, paintings and stained glass. The pelican was believed to wound itself in order to feed its young with its own blood. In the hymn “Adoro Te,” St. Thomas Aquinas addresses the Savior with, “Pelican of Mercy, cleanse me in Thy Precious Blood.” Allusion is even made to this belief in “Hamlet” (act iv): “To his good friend thus wide I’ll ope my arms And, like the kind, life-rendering pelican, Repast them with my blood.”

This tradition and others is found in the Physiologus, an early Christian work which appeared in the second century in Alexandria, Egypt. . . . This work was noted by St. Epiphanius, St. Basil and St. Peter of Alexandria. It was also popular in the Middle Ages and was a source for the symbols used in the various stone carvings and other artwork of that period.

We see mention of the Pelican in scripture, in Psalm 102, the Domine Exaudi, the penetiential psalm of one in affliction:

I have become like a pelican in the wilderness
like an owl in desolate places.
I lie awake and I moan
like some lonely bird on a roof . . .

Nobility & Suffering//(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

Looking at these beautiful birds
struggling to survive, covered as they are, it just brought it all to mind.

Deacon Greg says these images are timely, as the Feast of Corpus Cristi is upon us:

This lies at the heart of our lives as Catholics – this act of remembrance. Recalling and reliving this sacred moment, and cherishing what it means. What Christ offered us at the Last Supper – his body and blood – is his greatest tangible gift to the world. That is what we celebrate on this feast, Corpus Christi: the body and blood of Jesus Christ. A gift so overwhelming, and humbling. Here, the creator of everything becomes almost nothing: a slice of bread as thin as paper, to hold in our hands.

This feast is the last great Sunday celebration until November, when we mark the feast of Christ the King and prepare to begin Advent. This holy day, I think, is meant to nourish us through Ordinary Time the way the bread of life nourishes us – it is a kind of liturgical viaticum, food for the journey.

James Martin highlights Flannery O’Connor and Walter Ciszek on the Eucharist

You can hear Bruno Betinelli’s Domine Exaudi here

Oddly related beachglass from the Paragraph Farmer:

God cannot be inert. On the contrary, wrote John the Evangelist, God is love, and the essence of love is the act of self-giving. Love would have to be that way, wouldn’t it, springing as it does from the template laid down by a triune God? Some beach glass, then: who God is and what God does are inseparable, and neither part of that leaves any room for improvement.

A lover of the Pelican, who stood against the Communists in Poland, will be beatified tomorrow, on the feast of Corpus Christi, the Body of Christ.

Msgr. Charles Pope: What do you expect from Holy Communion?

About Elizabeth Scalia
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  • http://blog.beliefnet.com/deaconsbench/ Deacon Greg Kandra

    What a beautiful and timely observation, Elizabeth, as we approach the great feast of the Eucharist, Corpus Christi.

    Dcn. Greg.

    [Ah, that reminds me! Thanks! -admin]

  • http://salesianity.blogspot.com/ Padre Steve

    The images really break my heart. I am originally from New Orleans and I get out to fish with my dad in the marshes every time I am home. Such a tragedy. Let’s pray that God can bring hope to the folks of the Gulf Coast. Keep up the great work!

  • http://whiterosebrian.deviantart.com Brian

    May God restrain whatever further damage comes. May God gradually bring healing. May God guide the development of wholesome sources of energy.

  • http://www.blestatheist.com Elizabeth Mahlou

    What sad pictures. Pray God that all will end tolerably well, without the predicted amount of suffering, especially of the shore birds.

  • Bill

    I think the quote is “all politics is local.” As stewards of the earth, each of us must work to use less energy. We can do that and still improve our lives.

  • http://westernchauvinist.blogspot.com Western Chauvinist

    In the small church in Ohio where I was baptized, the paintings behind the altar include the image of a pelican piercing its breast from which drops of blood fall to its waiting children. This is grouped with other paintings of sheafs of wheat and a chalice – clearly linking all to Christ and the Eucharist. Until I contemplated the Eucharist after my re-conversion, I always considered the image somewhat gruesome. Now I look upon it as an expression of the mystery and lesson of suffering in love.

    Together with a few other conservatives, I have recently engaged in a struggle with the Left in our parish. At adoration today, it finally occurred to me that I am not going to save anyone. And the Left isn’t going to save anyone through its well-intentioned social engineering. All the saving grace any of us need is right there upon the altar. Become what you eat.

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  • J

    God is not inert, but I feel as though he is holding his breath.
    Perhaps he is hoping that THIS time, we get things right.
    You have to appreciate that he is the eternal optimist.

  • Joe

    I always loved Pelicans. I did not know of their symbolism.

    The oil spill breaks my heart.

  • Veronica

    Elizabeth, when I was a young girl (in Ireland) my father received a “pelican” lapel pin for being a blood donor. You had to give quite a lot of blood to receive this special pin, which he, and many others, proudly wore on their jacket lapels every day. I had forgotten about this until I read your article above.

    Thank you for all your wonderful entries – I’ve never commented before but I do read everything you write – so keep up the good (God) work!

    [Thank you, Veronica. Did you happen to know Becky when you were in Ireland? ;-) -admin]

  • http://westernchauvinist.blogspot.com Western Chauvinist

    On a lighter note… my father, who died in 1991 of ALS at age 72, who was a Catholic convert, who was a WWII army veteran who landed on Normandy and fought at the Battle of the Bulge, who was one of the best disciples of Christ I’ve ever known, used to delight his seven children with this poem:

    A wonderful bird is the pelican
    His beak holds more than his bellycan
    He holds in his beak enough food for a week
    And I’m be darned if I know how the hellican!

    Dad always cleaned it up like that too. It makes me smile just to share it with you.

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    Great Post Anchoress. It should be noted that the Louisiana State Flag(Official) with the Pelican earing our her breast (her body) and the three drops of blood that is shown is Eucharistic in nature too

  • vanderleun

    Moving but it’s always good to remember that when this sort of thing happens oil-drenched pelicans twanging at our heart strings are the Grief Counselors of the Greens. It’s only a matter of time before they show up. And are used.