29 May, 2005

Verbum Supernum (O Salutaris Hostia)

Today is the "Solemnity of the Most Sacred Body and Blood of Christ". (That's a mouthful, in more ways than one!) So, I'll present the following not-so-unknown hymn, with some remarks at the end. A more traditional translation is available here.

Verbum supérnum pródiens
nec Patris linquens déxteram,
ad opus suum éxiens
vénit ad vitæ vésperam.
The Word, coming forth from on high
and not forsaking the Father's right hand,
now going out to his task,
comes to the evening of his life.
In mortem a discípulo
suis tradéndo æmulis,
prius in vitæ férculo
se trádidit discípulis.
Before being handed over
by a disciple to death,
he handed himself in imitation
to his disciples on a platter.
Quibus sub bina spécie
carnem dedit et sánguinem,
ut dúplicis substántiæ
totum cibáret hóminem.
To them he gave his body and blood
under two forms,
so that he might feed them
the whole man in the duality of substance.
Se nascens dedit sócium,
convéscens in edúlium,
se móriens in prétium,
se regnans dat in præmium.
In his birth, he gives himself as our companion,
in his meal, he gives himself as our food,
in his death, he gives himself as our ransom,
in his reign, he gives himself as our reward.
O sálutaris hóstia,
quæ cæli pandis óstium,
bella premunt hostília:
da robur, fer auxílium.
O saving sacrifice
who opens the entrance to heaven,
a hostile army crowds against us:
give us strength, bring us your help.
Uni trinóque Dómino
sit sempitérna glória,
qui vitam sine término
nobis donet in pátria. Amen.
May eternal glory always be given
to the one and triune Lord,
that he may give us life without end
in our homeland. Amen.

It startled me when I first looked it up in the dictionary, but: yes, the hymn really does say, "he handed himself on a platter:" se tradidit in fernaculo. Follow the link to fernaculum if you disbelieve me: it is something with which to carry something else; a litter; a bier; a dish; a course of a meal. "Platter" sounds most appropriate to me.

Things I really like about this hymn: (and that I don't see in many contemporary hymns of the Eucharist)
1. Narrating anew the setting of the Lord's supper, including the betrayal.
2. The dual image of "handing over": the disciple hands Christ over to death (unnamed, could be us!); Christ hands himself over as our food.
3. The fourfold self-gift of Christ, presented as if they are bound up in this one sacrament (which they are).
4. "O saving sacrifice," usually translated as, "O saving victim." A perfect Christian prayer in three words!
5. "Patria": our homeland is not to be found in this life, but the one where our Lord awaits us. See also yesterday's entry on the sermon from a spider, and some remarks by my confessor.

Just as Panis angelicus is frequently considered separately from Sacris solemniis, the final two verses of Verbum supernum are more frequently regarded as a separate hymn: O salutaris hostia. Translating them anew, I remarked to myself that they are such for good reason.

Oh — do you think we sang this hymn in our church today, either in Latin or in English, or anything like it?


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