UNCTILIOUS. The editors of the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal have been accused of being “punctilious” because they avoided Protestant translations.1 Rather, the committee selected outstanding translations by Catholic priests, bishops, and laymen. But the Brébeuf policy was wise, because many Protestant translators surreptitiously mutilate the texts whenever they disagree with Catholic theology. For instance, in the following—which is the oldest known Eucharistic hymn—a Protestant writer named Mr. Rambach “suppressed the third verse, as it seemed to speak too emphatically regarding the sacrament of the Eucharist.” The verse we’re speaking about says: Hoc sacraménto córporis et sánguinis omnes exúti ab inférni fáucibus. (In the few cases where the Brébeuf committee did allow a Protestant translation, an FSSP priest made sure it did not pervert authentic Catholic teaching.)
Oldest Known Eucharistic Hymn • Page 444 of the Brébeuf Hymnal gives a literal translation of the SANCTI VENITE, which Father Adrian Fortescue described as “the oldest known Latin Eucharistic Hymn.” The Book of Armagh, which was written in 807AD, contains a notice of the SANCTI VENITE, and Dr. James Henthorn Todd says: “This curious notice is valuable from its antiquity, and proves beyond all reasonable doubt that the hymn was known, and its recitation enjoined as a pious practice, as early as the close of the eight century in Ireland.” After the Brébeuf Hymnal gives the literal translation, numerous settings are provided (in English and Latin). Here is one:
Fourth Installment: This is the 4th installment in a new series called How Has Nobody Done This Before? It may be difficult to believe, but until the Brébeuf Hymnal appeared, singers wanting to rehearse SATB voice parts for hymns had nowhere to go. This situation was (perhaps) due to the fact that contemporary Catholic hymnals often bowdlerize hymn lyrics in an effort to be ‘politically correct,’ whereas the Brébeuf Hymnal uses the original words of each poet. In any event, our series features hundreds of rehearsal videos—for each individual voice—of the world’s greatest hymns.
Ancient Manuscript • According to the Brébeuf Hymnal, the ancient of SANCTI VENITE lyrics come from the Bangor Antiphonale, “which was composed at Bangor Abbey, an Irish monastery founded in 552AD.” You can examine this fascinating page:
Not Exhaustive • The Brébeuf editors included more translations and melodies for SANCTI VENITE than any other hymnal—and it’s not even close. That being said, no book can contain everything! Here’s a beautiful translation by Denis Florence MacCarthy (d. 1882), a famous Irish poet:
M Draw nigh, ye holy ones, draw nigh
M and take the body of the Lord,
M and drink the sacred blood outpoured,
M by which redeemed, ye shall not die.
M O saved from justice and the rod
M by this divinest flesh and blood,
M by these made strong, in grateful mood
M give thanks and praises unto God.
M By this, O blessèd news to tell,
M the sacrament of flesh and blood,
M have all been rescued from the flood:
M the flood of death, the pains of hell.
M The giver of salvation, he
M the Christ, the Son of God above,
M restored unto his Father’s love
M the world, by blood and by the tree.
M For all, of every clime and coast,
M the Lord is offered up to heav’n,
M for all the sacrifice is giv’n,
M himself at once the priest and host.
M Read well the story, through and through,
M of victims bleeding at the shrine,
M types of a myst’ry more divine,
M and shadows of a truth more true.
M The bounteous giver of all light,
M the Savior of the human race,
M a special glory and a grace
M doth give his saints who fear his might.
M Approach ye all, with fond and pure
M believing hearts, and for his sake
M the gage of your salvation take,
M your soul’s physician and its cure.
M The guardian of the saints, the Lord
M by whom ye move, and breathe, and live,
M eternal life doth largely give
M to those believing in his word.
M The bread of heav’n he doth bestow
M on hungry souls about to sink;
M the thirsty he permits to drink
M from out a living fountain’s flow.
M The source and stream, the first and last,
M e’en Christ the Lord, who died for men,
M now comes: but he will come again
M to judge the world when time hath passed.
This translation is found in a fascinating book by Father James Gaffney—which you can download from Google books—called The Ancient Irish Church (Dublin, 1863).
Is the Eucharist cannibalism?
I encourage everyone to read the “exposition” of the Most Blessed Sacrament, found in the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal. A sample page:
The Bible says (John 6:53): “Then the Jews fell to disputing with one another, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Indeed, the Old Testament (Book of Leviticus) explicitly prohibits the drinking of blood. One of the Brébeuf Hymnal footnotes addresses people who erroneously insist that our Savior intended cannibalism:
“Christ is not present in the Eucharist under a form in which cannibalism could be possible. His body is really and substantially present, but not in a natural way. It is an entirely supernatural mode of presence which … excludes all notions of cannibalism.”
[Radio address by Father Leslie Rumble of Roman Catholic Radio Replies, 1940]
1 To be honest, it wasn’t a difficult choice. The offerings by Roman Catholic poets—such as Monsignor Knox, Prior Aylward, Father Fitzpatrick, Father Popplewell, Father Hopkins, Father Southwell, Sir Thomas More, Father Fortescue, and so forth—are so fine, it’s difficult to understand why most Catholic hymnals pass them over.