Friday, November 18, 2011

Here is kept the ancient promise...

Tantum Ergo is part of an ancient hymn.  Written by St Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) for the Feast of Corpus Christi (now called the Solemnity of the Holy Body and Blood of Christ). It is also sung on Maundy Thursday, during the procession from the church to the place where the Blessed Sacrament is kept until Good Friday.  The whole hymn has powerful echos of another hymn, by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus, called Sing, My Tongue, the Glorious Battle (the wonderful hymn for Good Friday).  The Tantum Ergo portion is the final two stanzas.  It is often translated in English as Now, My Tongue, the Mystery Telling (as it is in Lutheran Service Book) or as Of the Glorious Body Telling. 

I want to focus upon a translation by James Quinn, S.J., that I ran across in his little book of hymns called Praise for All Seasons.  Obviously he has adapted poetically the original but the result is a much more fluid and vivid translation that most English renderings.  I am especially captured by the middle two lines.  Here is kept the ancient promise of God's earthly dwelling place.  Wow.  That is powerful writing.  And this is exactly the perspective on the Sacrament of the Altar that is so much missing even though we as Lutherans observe the Eucharist more frequently than at any time in recent history.  Christ's promise to be with us always is no guarantee of some vague, hidden, spiritual companionship but the promise of the means of grace, specifically the promise of the Eucharist.  It seems that this perspective has been obscured by our love of things spiritual and our fear of the material.  But in the Eucharist, God combines them (as in Baptism and the Word).  His presence is not like a cloud drive where you store your computer files on some space out there.  His presence is local, hidden in the material but also very clearly identified there.  Christ is present with us through the Word and the Sacrament.  When these cease to be the regular Sunday fare and when our devotional lives as individuals depart from these means of grace, we are left with an empty, formless, void of a presence which is more feeling than reality, more imagined than received.  I know little of James Quinn but the way he translated those words makes him sound thoroughly Lutheran.  For this is the very vibrant and vivid sacramental reality we find in Luther and in the early Lutherans.  Oh, that we would recover it in the pulpit and in the pew!

Come adore this wondrous presence,
Bow to Christ the source of grace.
Here is kept the ancient promise
Of God’s earthly dwelling place.

Sight is blind before God’s glory,
Faith alone may see his face.

 Below is the original text and translation from Wiki.

Latin text An English translation
Pange, lingua, gloriosi
Corporis mysterium,
Sanguinisque pretiosi,
quem in mundi pretium
fructus ventris generosi
Rex effudit Gentium.
Nobis datus, nobis natus
ex intacta Virgine,
et in mundo conversatus,
sparso verbi semine,
sui moras incolatus
miro clausit ordine.
In supremae nocte coenae
recumbens cum fratribus
observata lege plene
cibis in legalibus,
cibum turbae duodenae
se dat suis manibus.
Verbum caro, panem verum
verbo carnem efficit:
fitque sanguis Christi merum,
et si sensus deficit,
ad firmandum cor sincerum
sola fides sufficit.
Tantum ergo Sacramentum
veneremur cernui:
et antiquum documentum
novo cedat ritui:
praestet fides supplementum
sensuum defectui.
Genitori, Genitoque
laus et jubilatio,
salus, honor, virtus quoque
sit et benedictio:
Procedenti ab utroque
compar sit laudatio.
Amen. Alleluja.
Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
of His flesh the mystery sing;
of the Blood, all price exceeding,
shed by our immortal King,
destined, for the world's redemption,
from a noble womb to spring.
Of a pure and spotless Virgin
born for us on earth below,
He, as Man, with man conversing,
stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
then He closed in solemn order
wondrously His life of woe.
On the night of that Last Supper,
seated with His chosen band,
He the Pascal victim eating,
first fulfills the Law's command;
then as Food to His Apostles
gives Himself with His own hand.
Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
by His word to Flesh He turns;
wine into His Blood He changes;
what though sense no change discerns?
Only be the heart in earnest,
faith her lesson quickly learns.
Down in adoration falling,
This great Sacrament we hail,
Over ancient forms of worship
Newer rites of grace prevail;
Faith will tell us Christ is present,
When our human senses fail.
To the everlasting Father,
And the Son who made us free
And the Spirit, God proceeding
From them Each eternally,
Be salvation, honor, blessing,
Might and endless majesty.
Amen. Alleluia.


Anonymous said...

A member of the Scottish Religious Advisory Committee of the BBC (1973-1976) and a participant in various ecumenical dialogues for the British Council of Churches, Fr Quinn also served as a consultant to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (1972-1976). Between 1976 and 1980 he was spiritual director at the Beda College in Rome. From 1980, Fr Quinn served as Secretary on the Scottish Commission for Christian Unity, being appointed seven years later as Episcopal Vicar for Ecumenism in the Archdiocese of Edinburgh.

In 1998, the Journal of the Association of Anglican Musicians praised “Fr Quinn's ability to articulate the orthodox aspects of Christianity in new and fresh ways”, commenting particularly on his texts “with Celtic influence”. Describing him as “one of the finest writers of hymn texts of our time”, his publisher, Selah, said the words of his hymns “help us better understand the mystery and presence of God in our world today.” Many were paraphrases of the psalms and other parts of scripture, as well as hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours and translations of such Marian prayers as the Salve Regina.

Fr James Quinn SJ died on 8 April 2010 at St Joseph’s House in Edinburgh, where he had spent the past ten years. These years were marked by a gentle acceptance of the changes brought by age and illness, and though he stopped writing hymns he took to writing jokes – and sharing them with all who came to visit him! He remained intensely interested in developments in Church life and liturgy and subscribed to many journals that kept him informed and updated. His hymns are still being reprinted and republished, and remain a great resource for the Church, reflecting the importance of his theological and ecumenical work in Scotland and beyond.

Terry Maher said...

This "translation" is so utterly periphrastic as to be inadmissible. I don't spend much time on Catholic stuff these days -- except when I come here -- so thank you Anonymous, whichever of the many you are, for the bio. Anyone who could pass this off as the Tantum Ergo richly earned a place on the ICEL, whose miserable "translation" of the novus ordo English speaking Catholics will jettison in a couple of weeks.

The Tantum Ergo per se is sung at Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. The gushy words are piety gone mad, as what He said to take and eat and drink Man corrupts into veneration of what he said to take and eat and drink rather than taking and eating and drinking it. Have done it hundreds of times myself. Can still do it from memory decades later, should I be bound and carried into one of those blasphemous perversions of what the Sacrament of the Altar even is, let alone applicable to us.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, us Lutherans are so much better off :)

You Might be a Receptionist if…

You argue for disposable individual cups.

You believe the Nihil Rule includes the words “plane of the teeth”.

You don’t know what is in the celebrant’s hands after the consecration, but you do know that whatever it is, it does not REPRESENT Jesus’ Body and Blood.

Your feverish arguing against the “moment of consecration” leads you to invent a “moment of consecration” (i.e. plane of the teeth).

Your feverish arguing against the “moment of consecration” leads you to invent a “moment of deconsecration” (i.e. last distribution hymn, benediction, end of your esophagus)

You throw consecrated elements back into a container of non-consecrated elements and get snippy with a nervous altar guild member who questions you about this practice.

You practice your 3-point shooting every 1st and 3rd Sunday with your disposable individual cup and the provided plastic lined garbage can.

You are in favor of de facto private masses for shut-ins rather than allowing the pastor to carry the reliquae to those members of the congregation who are unable due to illness or injury to attend the Divine Service, IOW those who are receptionists and claim that after some point in the service, the Body and Blood are no longer present and one MUST ALWAYS consecrate new bread and wine for a shut-in.

Terry Maher said...

Well I'l be double dag dog dipped. Whoda thunk that an objection to taking a half-fast translation of an RC hymn for Eucharistic Adoration as a model for Lutheran Communion reverence would inspire a You might be a receptionist if .... One generally finds such flights of illogic in the RCC, not among us.

Even so, not one nor all to-gether would the aspects of Receptionism offend Our Lord nearly so much as behaving as if he said Take, Don't Eat, Put In A Display Case And Adore, or, Take, Don't Eat, Put On Funny Clothes And Parade Around Town With It.

And if first and third Sunday Communion retards this kind of false piety, which actually belongs in a monstrance for the monstrosity it is, I'm all for it.

Anonymous said...

Your rants have nothing to do with the point that Lutherans cannot agree on when, how, how long the Presence remains and that is exactly why in some congregations "consecrated" hosts get tossed back into the jar. Either they are the Body of Christ or they aren't.

It wasn't me that brought up Catholic practices.

Terry Maher said...

I didn't bring up the Catholic practices either, Whoever You Are, I commented re taking something intended for them and making it Lutheran. The disagreements among Lutherans re the Presence after are not at issue in the perversions that developed in the RCC about the Presence after. And if Christ thought "after" was of any consequence whatsoever he'd have said something about it, but he didn't. Take and eat. Period. Not take and eat and here's how to clean up, not take and eat and theologise yourself a bunch of stuff to do to feel all Eucharistic, etc.