Q. At Mass we recently sang a hymn that referred to a “pelican.” What is the spiritual meaning here?
A. This reference appears in the classic devotional hymn “Godhead Here in Hiding” (Adoro Te Devote). It’s one of five Eucharistic hymns that were composed by St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225–1274) in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. Thomas was responding to a request of Pope Urban IV (1261–1264) when the latter established the Feast of Corpus Christi (the Body of Christ) in the year 1264.
Though the pelican is not a biblical image, before the time of Christ an ancient legend claimed that in time of famine, the mother pelican would pierce her breast with her own beak to feed her young with her blood. Another version of the tale insisted that the selfless mother fed her dying offspring with her blood to revive them from death, but in doing so she lost her own life.
Not surprisingly, then, the early Christians adopted the pelican as a symbol of Christ, who ga