A brief reading of this prayer, “Supplices te rogamus,” will convince us that here we are face to face with a prayer of apocalyptical vision, understood more easily by the blessed and the angels in heaven than by us mortals here below. Undoubtably many attempts have been made to explain heavenly ideas with earthly words, and some interpreters take one point of view while others take a different one, but the explanation that gives us probably the best insight into this mystical prayer is that of St. Thomas Aquinas. With the sole exception of a brief explanation of the preceding prayer, “Supra quae,” this prayer, of all the prayers of the Canon after the Consecration, led the Angelic Doctor to give, in his Summa, a more detailed discussion, for the difficulties involved stimulated the Doctor of the Schools to give us a carefully worked out interpretation. He comments as follows:
“The priest does not pray that the sacramental species may be borne up to heaven; nor that Christ’s true body may be borne thither, for it does not cease to be there; but he offers this prayer for Christ’s mystical body, which is signified in this sacrament, that the angel standing by at the divine mysteries may present to God the prayers of both priest and people, according to the Apocalypse, ‘And the smoke of incense of the prayers of the saints ascended up before God from the hand of the angel.’ (Apocalypse 8:4) But God’s altar on high means either the Church triumphant, unto which we pray to be translated, or else God Himself, in whom we ask to share; because it is said of this altar, ‘Thou shall not go up by steps unto My altar,’ i.e., thou shall make no steps towards the Trinity. (Exodus 20:26) Or else by the angel we are to understand Christ Himself, who is the Angel of great council (Isaias 9:6), who unites His mystical body with God the Father and the Church Triumphant.” (Summa theol., IIIa, q.83, a.4, ad 9.)
In these few words the Angelic Doctor says all that may be said regarding the meaning of this prayer. He leaves us free to favor one or the other interpretation. However, apart from the discussion of the words, this prayer contains a certain aspect that is not easy to express in earthly language, for, its meaning is in the spheres of heaven, far beyond the reach of earthly comprehension. Its meaning approaches the most sacred precincts of the heavenly courts, and penetrates into the regions where angels dwell. Here the most blessed spirits hover before the presence of the divine Majesty, singing hymns of praise and adoration to the name of God, and, here in the celestial sanctuary, angels chant the glories of God forever. Here, in the holy of holies, the melodies of the angelic choir re-echo through all eternity.