Learning the Latin of the Hymns for Benediction and Adoration

I sometimes get requests for help in understanding the Latin texts of the very familiar hymns for Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction. The O Salutaris and Tantum Ergo, though familiar to many Catholics remain only vaguely understood in terms of a word-for-word translation. Most know the poetic English renderings (“O Saving Victim Opening Wide” and “Humbly Let us Voice our Homage”) but this does not necessarily facilitate a word-for-word understanding as the Latin is sung. What I hope to do here,  and in greater detail in the attached PDF files, is to give a very literal rendering that preserves the word order of the Latin so that one can understand the Latin precisely. In the PDF I also give a brief word study of each word in both hymns. It is my hope to bring these hymns more alive for the faithful who sing them who may not be highly skilled in Latin.

1. The O Salutaris – The Author is St. Thomas Aquinas. These are the last two verses of a longer hymn Verbum Supernum Prodiens (The heavenly Word, going forth) which was composed for Lauds (Morning Prayer) of the Divine Office of Corpus Christi. The meter is Iambic Dimeter, accentual with alternating rhyme. This hymn was said to so please even the hostile Rousseau that he would have given all his poetry to be its author.  I propose here to record the Latin text to the left and then a very literal English translation to the right which also preserves the word order for easy comparison:

    • O salutaris Hostia    (O saving victim)
    • quae caeli pandis ostium    (who of heaven opens the gate – i.e. who opens the gate of heaven)
    • bella premunt hostilia    (wars press hostile – i.e. hostile wars press)
    • da robur fer auxilium    (give strength, bear aid)
    • Uni Trinoque Domino    (To the One and Threefold Lord)
    • sit sempiterna gloria    (may there be eternal glory)
    • qui vitam sine termino    (who life without end)
    • nobis donet in patria    (to us may he grant in the Fatherland)

I have prepared a printable and more thorough word study here: Study the O SALUTARIS

2. The Tantum Ergo– The author is St. Thomas Aquinas. It was composed for Vespers (Evening Prayer) of the Divine Office for the Feast of Corpus Christi. The meter is trochaic tetrameter catalectic, rhyming at both the caesura and at the end of the line. These two verses are the last two of the full hymn Pange Lingua.  There is here a wonderful union of sweetness of melody with clear-cut dogmatic teaching. I propose here to record the Latin text to the left and then a very literal English translation to the right which also preserves the word order for easy comparison:

    • Tantum ergo sacramentum   (So great therefore a sacrament)
    • veneremur cernui    (let us venerate with bowed heads)
    • et antiquum documentum    (and the ancient document)
    • novo cedat ritui    (to the new, give way, rite    i.e. gives way to the new rite)
    • Praestet fides supplementum    (may supply faith a supplement  i.e. may faith supply a supplement)
    • Sensuum defectui.    (of the senses for the defect  i.e. for the defect of the senses)
    • Genitori Genitoque    (To the One who generates and to the one who is generated (i.e. Father and Son)
    • Laus et jubilatio    (be praise and joy)
    • Salus, honor, virtus, quoque    (health, honor, strength also)
    • sit et benedictio    (may there be and blessing)
    • Procedenti ab utroque    (to the One proceeding from both)
    • Compar sit laudatio    (equal may there be praise  i.e. may there be equal praise)

I have prepared a printable and more thorough word study here: Study the TANTUM ERGO.

I hope that this may be of some help along with the printable PDF word studies. Venite Adoremus (Come let us adore).

Here is setting of the Tantum Ergo by Mozart which I paired with some video footage I found:

26 Replies to “Learning the Latin of the Hymns for Benediction and Adoration”

  1. Thank You!
    I try to figure this out every time I go to Benediction and Latin is used. With only 2 yrs of high school Latin I have never quite gotten it. I prefer the hymns sung in Latin but not just for the sake of sentimental nostalgia.

  2. Benediction is just not the same unless the Tantum Ergo and O Salutaris are sung in Latin. Since I’m old as dirt, I pretty much know these two by heart. I love to sing them!

  3. Thank you for the literal (word for word) translation. I don’t know whether it will ever be useful; but we are regularly involved in monthly Adoration in our parish, and appreciate information that is relevant to it.

  4. Thank you Msgr. Pope. I wrote the translations next to the latin in my LOH (Liturgy of the Hours). Question: Do you know why the LOH does not correlate to the daily mass readings? The hymns, psalms, prayers, and daily readings are beautiful. They seem to be an addition to the three year cycle of bible readings. I enjoy reading the LOH throughout the day, and enjoy the Lauds (Morning Prayers), Vespers (Evening Prayers), and Compline (Night Prayers). I especially enjoy the Expositions and commentary by Popes, Saints, and the Church Fathers such as Thomas Aquinas and the Confessions of Augustine. I have the Four Volume set, and the One Volume Book. Keep up the good works you are doing to teach us lay Catholics how to better understand and enjoy the word of God as spoken through his teachers, of which you are one.

  5. I envy you, Cindy. I only had one year of Latin in high school. BTW, I asked a recently ordained priest (a very holy and reverent priest) how much Latin he had in (Denver Archdiocese) seminary. He answered “3 semesters.” I find that sad.

    1. Folsom, have you been to Our Lady if Victory Chapel
      In Aurora? All Masses and of course Benediction,
      are in Latin.

  6. I am one with Joe, in that these two hymns are as ingrained in my soul as is the chant Missa de Angelis (Mass VIII) and Missa Pro Defunctis (Mass of the Dead) as is probably anyone who grew up and was an acolyte any time before 1960. My two years of required PUBLIC high school Latin; and boy if that doesn’t date me what will, were enough to always give me a rough idea of the wonderful sentiment St Thomas wrote into them.

    Tom Gray, Secular Brother of the Little Oratory of St Philip Neri.

  7. I was in my mid twenties in the late 1990’s and that was the first time I saw a monstrance and – I had nine years of Catholic school under my belt. My Dad couldnt beleive that our parish priest was going to have Adoration and Benediction… It may have been the first time that a priest was going to have Adoration at our parish since the aftermath of VCII. I remember the older priest we had at the time leading the – O salutaris Hostia & Tamtum Ergo – that was probably the first time I ever heard Latin in a Catholic Church… I remember thinking “why don’t they just sing this in English? Who knows Latin anymore?” I felt disenfranchised because I couldn’t even pronounce the words correctly. Fast forward to 2007 and after having the grace to attend the Mass in the EF – it all started to make sence. It wasn’t until I saw the Traditional liturgy in action that I could appreciate the use of Latin. Now I wouldn’t prefer any other way!

  8. When I started going to Adoration I noted that the melody used by the priest for O Salutaris was NOT in the missal, and that there was not a strong enough consensus about the tune among the other parishioners to really follow along. I ended up finding music on a (sadly) now-defunct website so that I didn’t have to fake it.

  9. I grew up singing the Benediction / Adoration Hymns in Latin. I always felt that it reflected the solemnness and sacredness of what was happening better then English ever could. My Dad who was in a men’s choir that was pretty well known in my little corner of Philadelpha taught me most of the Latin I know, and I will always be grateful to him for that. After that it was reinforced in grade school. I don’t think that the English translation even existed then.
    It saddens me now when I go to Bendiction or Adoration that there is no one other then seniors,who can sing the Latin, but things are looking up. Our Pastor even though he is young he is more of a traditionalist and like to sing the old way.
    I have hopes for the Latin.

  10. in our hymn book, the English version is right after the latin, so you can actually hear both E=nglish and latin versions being sung simultaneously…

  11. Though i do not know how to sing the tantum ergo or fully comprehend its import but down within my marrows cold chill runs down sending signals of enormity of the occassion. From no where hot tears drop uncontrollably of my unmerited love. I now resolve must learn every bit of the latin benediction. Dear brothers n sisters help pray God to grant me d favor of attending this greatest gift of his to mankind. let God be praised in life as u pray for others.

  12. Thank you very much for the beautiful explanation and resources. I will post the link on our Adoration for Vocations Initiative facebook page so others will benefit.

  13. Our church started offering Latin classes for adults-every Sunday or Thursday night and all for just the price of the book. It is SO wonderful! Since we have only been in the Parish 2 years, I did not know any Latin. With my son altar serving at the Latin Masses and Benediction, I am limping my way along but realized I needed the Tantum Ergo when I ended up sitting next to our dear Priest during Benediction and Rosary at our Cathedral! I have gone from fighting to focus during the Latin Mass, to preferring it. What a gift for our children to be learning this as part of their education!
    Thank you for your part!

    1. I am Russian Orthodox, but I grew up Anglican and was exposed to my grandmother’s old Latin Missal. I visited a parish in Phoenix that uses exclusively the Tridentine Latin Mass. It was Palm Sunday. I was SO impressed by the altar servers’ discipline and even more by how well the parishioners knew the Latin. It didn’t seem forced at all. On the contrary, it felt so organic. The celebration of the Mass in that parish was truly a labor of love. In the Orthodox Church we kiss the priest’s hand when we get a blessing and whenever a server, subdeacon or deacon hands something to the priest. I never knew this was a practice among Roman Catholics. I was quite pleased to see the faithful kiss the priest’s hand when taking their palm branch from him.

      I have also attended a Solemn High Mass at the FSSP parish in San Diego where I live. I was again impressed that the people who were there were fully engaged. This wasn’t a “well, I’ve to go to church, so…” kind of thing. Obviously I am partial to the Orthodox Church and the Byzantine liturgical tradition. Still, I can recognize sincere, genuine devotion and RESPECT it. I agree that your children are fortunate to receive a classical Latin formation.

  14. There’s no benediction that is completely without tantum ergo been sing in latin….am a mass server since i started serving at mass, adoration and even benediction i did not know how to sing the latin song….now i thank God 4 making me to join u people in this website….enough think’s has chance in my life when ever i sing d latin hymn….AM PROUD TO BE A CATHOLIC….

  15. Tantum ego gives me joy any time I am in adoration or benediction. And anytime it is on in adoration you will feel the presence of Angels around the particular alter. I thank God that I am a catholic.

  16. Thank you so much for this information. I love being a part of the praise and worship of our Lord. We are one in the Body in Christ and it is my belief that when we worship and sing as one , we bring honor and glory to our God.
    Knowing the words and understanding them does help us to be even closer to our God and one another which is the desire of our Lord. Again , thank you .

  17. Dude, your Latin is so messed up! Accents are needed in sacraméntum, Venerémur, cérnui, antíquum, documéntum, rítui, suppleméntum, Sénsuum, deféctui, Genitóri, Genitóque, jubilátio, benedíctio, Procedénti, utróque, and laudátio. Accents are needed, or you will change the meanings.

    I am not crazy about Farrell’s translation; it sucks to the Second Coming of Christ. It is clear Farrell is some type of ghost writer intending to destroy the Faith by alluding to surrendering “rites” as those pesky Catholic rites in light of Protestantism. Moreover, to the “Lord’s New Testament” is a really bad euphemism for the Blessed Sacrament as if the Blessed Sacrament was offensive. What Aquinas wrote is in the first person. Farrell writes like a Marxist or socialist using the pronoun, “us,” as if we all had to act like automatons to praise God. The Benediction of Aquinas focuses on the Holy Eucharist throughout his prayer. Farrell’s translation is poetic, but toxic for it marginalizes the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist by replacing the primacy of the Holy Eucharist (as in Aquinas’ prayer) with a book written by men inspired by the Holy Spirit (The New Testament– what translation though?), and then throws up a shout out to the Trinity right after Farrell seduces the faithful into not being concerned about what they do not understand. Aquinas’ prayer is quite different.

    Farrell’s bottom line is about making a living off of his bad translations of traditional musical material; it is all about making money off of good-natured, faithful Catholics. And where is this Melvin L. Farrell? Is he ANOTHER ghost copyrighter from WLP– whose beginnings started with a deceitful ghost writer– of words and of music– named, Omer Westendorf? How does the church sanction using words from a virtually anonymous writer who was born in 1930 and died in 1986? Westendorf did not hide his anti-Catholic, impious Eurocentricity in his translations, and neither does Farrell.

    Mozart’s Tantum lacks humility and is quite uselessly ostentatious– hardly able to inspire anyone’s mind to contemplate Jesus’ life-giving Eucharist. I am not sure if I would call Jesus generated (Jesus is part of the I AM). Okay; I am sure– I would not. The “Genitóri, Genitóque” is a continuation of explaining how the Blessed Sacrament comes into our moment at the hands of the priest. It is okay. Everyone gets that part seriously wrong taking those words into a super-extrapolation of God the Father and God the Son, when all Aquinas was doing was prayerfully meditating upon the Eucharist from his unique perspective.

    I like your translation for the most part; it is okay. Ish. Have a good one (day)!

    1. you seem a very unhappy person overall. I am sorry, but being picky is a sure recipe for unhappiness. You might say picky people put “accents” on the wrong things

  18. dear Mgr. Charles , I cannot see the problem in putting accents in and helping people. How I wished I’d been educated by the Marists instead of struggling through life in many ways , anything that brings us closer to Jesus. Christ , yours in of course , Jesus ,Mary ,Joseph.

  19. Thank you. I love benediction hymns in Latin because it up-lifts my spirit whenever I attend benediction, but but I can not sing them. Today. I have my parish end of the year retreat and it will be concluded with benediction and I said to myself I must find benediction hymns in Latin on the internet and copy them out for today’s benediction. I found then on your web and God helping me, I want to learn it, know the meaning of what I am singing and at the end know them all all- by-heart. Thank you so much.

    Josephine Faith Vincent

  20. While the traditional Latin liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church will in some aspects serve to accentuate the historical disagreements that lead to the Great Schism, that isn’t totally negative. It can help to force differences into the open. I, think, also, that the traditional Latin Mass can serve to help Roman Catholics and Orthodox to understand each other better in that it is genuinely liturgical, not theatrical (or worse). The Novus Ordo wasn’t intended (before Vatican II took place) to turn the Mass into a free-for-all. Indeed, my studies suggested that it could have restored something of the ethos of pre-tridentine Roman liturgy that would resonate with Orthodox. Sadly that is not how it worked out and overall, I as an Orthodox Christian can more identify with the sense of awe found in the Tridentine Mass (and the offices). Actually when I enter the altar (the sanctuary) I recite the psalm verse from the Tridentine prayers at the foot of the altar: “Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat juventutem meam.” Some of my fellow servers probably wonder why I use Latin, but I do.

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