A Word By Word Translation and Study of the Latin Hymns Used at Benediction

071813I 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.

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

24 Replies to “A Word By Word Translation and Study of the Latin Hymns Used at Benediction”

  1. What does it mean to pray for the “health” (“salus”) or the “strength” (“virtus”) of the Holy Spirit? Also, in what way might we understand “documentum” as referring to “covenant,” as is the some translations (e.g. “And the Old Covenant cedes to a new rite”)? Is this a reference to the tablets of the law?

  2. bella premunt hostilia (wars press hostile – i.e. hostile wars press)

    This really should be rendered as: “the enemy wages wars (or “struggles” or “battles”)” and thus joining to the next verse: “give strength, bear aid”

  3. et antiquum documentum (and the ancient document)

    Here “document” is actually referring to the legislation (Mosaic Law) of the Old Covenant, and so “law” or “prescription” or even “observance” would be a better rendering.

  4. Praestet fides supplementum
    Sensuum defectui. (of the senses for the defect i.e. for the defect of the senses)

    may supply faith to our defective senses

    Genitori Genitoque

    “To the Begotter of the Begotten One”

    1. If faith was the object of the verb here it would be fidem. Faith is the subject. Both genitori and genito are dative. The first is 3rd declension and the second is 2nd declension.

      Personally, I would use let instead of may for the final sit, but this is an extremely literal interpretation.

  5. Thank you, Monsignor, for treating this song, which is my favorite song in any language! I sing it to my children every night, and my daughter always asks for it before bed. I like to do the whole Pange Lingua, though. 🙂

    I made a handout on the Pange Lingua for some students not too long ago, and I’d like to include it here, since I noticed a couple of slight inaccuracies above.

    I just want to add as caveat that I am constantly telling my students that the literal translation is almost never the best translation, is often not even accurate, and sometimes is downright wrong. This is because the true equivalent of an idiom of one language is an idiom in the target language. That is, when we use an idiom, we are considering a *phrase* as the unit of thought (rather than *words*). To translate word-for-word, in that case, is at best incomplete, at worst misleading—a failure to communicate the original speaker’s idea. In any case, we have to translate the unit of thought, which in case of idiom is the phrase.

    So you’ll notice that in my translation below I render an ablative absolute with an active verb and the agent of the action retained as the subject. This is because the perfect passive ablative absolute is Latin’s way of rendering what, in English, is a perfect *active* absolute. That is, since we have a perfect active participle, we have to be sensitive to the times when the Latin participle is rendering such an idea, and when it means what it literally says.

    Some examples of literal translations being wrong or misleading,
    •”Es gibt eine Sonne im Himmel,” not means not, “It gives a sun in the sky,” but rather “There is a son in the sky.”
    •”Mi piace pasta” means not, “Pasta pleases me” (although it could and might), but usually means “I like pasta.”
    •Est-ce que vous voulez danser? means not “Is it that you want to dance?” but simply, “Do you want to dance?”
    •”Me encanta tacos,” means not, “Tacos enchant me,” but “I love tacos.” Incidentally, I once made the mistake of telling a group of South-Side Chicago boys that I love chorizo, the distinctive Mexican sausage, but, venturing to say it in Spanish (as they were Latino), I earned their mockery for the rest of the term! Caveat doctor!

    Still, the literal translation is a very useful first step for understanding the syntax of the original language, just as showing our work in a long division problem.

    Thanks again, Monsignor!

    Pange, lingua, gloriosi
    Corporis mysterium,
    Sanguinisque pretiosi,
    quem in mundi pretium
    fructus ventris generosi 5
    Rex effudit Gentium.

    Nobis datus, nobis natus
    ex intacta Virgine,
    et in mundo conversatus,
    sparso verbi semine, 10
    sui moras incolatus 11
    miro clausit ordine. 12

    In supremae nocte coenae
    recumbens cum fratribus
    observata lege plene 15
    cibis in legalibus,
    cibum turbae duodenae 17
    se dat suis manibus. 18

    Record, o tongue, the mystery
    Of the glorious Body,
    And the precious Blood,
    Which, for the price of the world,
    The fruit of the noble womb, 5
    The King of Nations poured out.

    Given to us, born for us
    from the untouched Virgin,
    and having become resident in the world,
    With the seed of the word scattered, 10
    closed in wondrous order 12
    the tarrying of his dwelling here. 11

    In the night of the last supper
    reclining with his brothers
    having fully observed the law 15
    in the food of the law
    he gives himself with his own hands 18
    as food to the band of twelve. 17

    Verbum caro, panem verum
    verbo carnem efficit:
    fitque sanguis Christi merum, 20
    et si sensus deficit,
    ad firmandum cor sincerum
    sola fides sufficit.

    Tantum ergo Sacramentum
    veneremur cernui: 25
    et antiquum documentum
    novo cedat ritui:
    praestet fides supplementum
    sensuum defectui.

    Genitori, Genitoque 30
    laus et jubilatio,
    salus, honor, virtus quoque
    sit et benedictio:
    Procedenti ab utroque
    compar sit laudatio. 35
    Amen. Alleluja.

    The Word, flesh, turns true bread
    by means of a word into flesh:
    and the wine becomes the blood of Christ 20
    and if sense fails,
    for the strengthening of the pure heart
    does faith alone suffice.

    Such a Sacrament therefore
    we venerate, bowed low: 25
    and let the ancient prescription
    yield to the new rite:
    let faith provide a supplement
    to the failing of the senses.

    To the Father, and to the Son 30
    praise and jubilation
    salvation, honor, power too
    and blessing be:
    to the One who proceeds from both
    be equal praise. 35
    Amen. Alleluja.

    1. Aha, I see that “we venerate” is not right. I wish I could edit, since I also wrote “son” for “sun”. Oh well!

  6. I have tried to do this and failed due to my inadequate Latine. Thank you!!

  7. That is a good video, though, myself, I like the older melody better. There is an hour of Eucharist Adoration before the Sunday Mass that I attend and we sing the Tantum Ergo at the Benediction at the end of Adoration. I read a quote by John Paul II. I don’t have the exact quote or the source. It was something to the effect that someone with a poorly developed sense of beauty cannot be a good theologian. Whether that is an accurate paraphrase or not, the hymns of St. Thomas Aquinas are proof that he had a well developed sense of beauty.

  8. My joy knows no bounds with this material detailing the history of the prayers.

  9. Thank you for this Msgr.! Could you comment on the new prayer for the conclusion of benediction which some priests are using. In my opinion it is theologically inferior to the old version. The old prayer begins: “Lord Jesus Christ, you gave us the Eucharist as a memorial of your suffering and death. May our worship of this Sacrament of your Body and Blood . . . etc.” The Latin is something like: “Deus qui nobis sacramentum admirabili . . . ” But, the new prayer (and I am hoping you can help me concerning which ritual book it comes from) translation is sufficiently modernized and “watered down” in my opinion. Why was this not corrected along with the 3rd Edition of the Missal?

    Thank you!

    1. I think that what Blarney is referring to are the invocations and prayer which follow the Tantum Ergo and precede the giving of the blessing using the Monstrance.
      V. Panem do caelo praestitisti eis…….This is the bread from Heaven given to them (Alleluia..in pascal time)
      R. Omne delectamentum in se habentem…All delights are found it it (Alleluia T.P.)
      Deus, qui nobis sub sacramento mirabili passionis tuae memoriam relequisti: tribue quaesumus, ita nos corporis et sanguinis tui sacra mysteria venerari * ut redemptionis tuae fructum in nobis jugiter sentiamus. Quis vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen
      Let us pray.
      O God, who under a wonderful sacrament has left us a memorial of Thy passion: grant, we beseech Thee, so to venerate the sacred mysteries of Thy Body and Blood * that we may constantly feel within us the fruits of Thy Redemption. You who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen

      And what about the final Hymn?
      Adoremus in Aeternum?

      1. I realise that I have put an “s” in where i should not have done…It is :-
        Qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum
        Quis vivas et regnas……

  10. I’m so happy you gave and explained the hymns used at Benediction. Such a benefit to have and know. I’ve sent your article w/links to all the EMs at my parish and the choir director. Thanks for all you do and God bless you always. Pax Christi

  11. I think that I had better also include the Adoremus. It is:-
    Adoremus in aeternum sanctissimum sacramentum:
    Laudate dominum omnes gentes* et laudate eum omnes populi,
    Quoniam, confirmata est, super nos, misericordia ejus* et veritas Domini manet in aeternum.
    Gloria Patri et Filio et Spiritui Sancto,
    Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper* et in Saecula Saeculorum Amen
    Adoremus in aeternum sanctissimum sacramentum.

    Let us adore forever, the Holy Sacrament:
    Praise the Lord all mankind * and praise Him all you people
    Because his mercy is confirmed upon us * and the truth of the Lord remains forever.
    Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
    As it was in the begining, is now and forever * and in the time of all times. Amen.
    Let us adore forever, the Holy Sacrament:

  12. Our new bishop is introducing so much more reverance into our Ordinairy Masses. Large portions of the mass are sung in latin. I’m surprised so many people still know them enough to join in the singing. But a written sheet could be distributed before mass to help us. Before the Council we all brought our own prayer book each sunday and could read the latin text right next to the one in our own language. It would facilitate the reading and understanding. Thank you for this good and helpful teaching.

  13. Great post. I remember puzzling through these at a very dull Mass once, when I found them at the back of our hymnal and realized that the translations didn’t really translate them. I had never heard either at the time, and was so pleased to hear them eventually at another parish. They make the “Gather” hymnal songs sound trivial, don’t they? So much packed in there, and so beautiful.

    J: Thanks for posting the Pange Lingua.

  14. THANK YOU. Our freshly-formed children’s chorus is going to be learning these two this year, so this is a magnificent help. Files are saved and bookmarked. Thank you thank you thank you.

  15. Catholic doctrine is too many not clearly defined and outlined, hence it comes as no surprise to find there is a dichotomy relative to understanding the dictates of “A Word By Word Translation and Study of the Latin Hymns Used at Benediction” The dichotomy circulates around a number of ambiguities. To simplify the ambiguities may be watered down to misunderstandings. For sure one thing is apparent in the rubric and the associated content. The whole of the content can be diluted into a raft of different and somewhat diverse interpretations. To the article writer for the readers who have English as a second language perhaps an original article rewrite would help millions of readers.

  16. FYI: This recording was made at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, Arlington, Virginia, in 1989, and features the Cathedral Choir (supplemented with local singers) and Orchestra (made up of regional players), under the direction of Dr. Haig Mardirosian. The CD, which includes Mozart’s lesser-known Vesperae de Dominica, KV 321, and well-known Missa Brevis in D, KV 194, is on the Centaur label (their premier offering, as I recall).

    1. Yes, I recall being there at the time. I also recall singing at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More and singing this piece at an earlier date for a concert there. I was in the choir. When I sang however it would have been at a concert early 1980s or so. I remember we sang up behind a screen that was behind the altar and that the pipe organ was on either side of us.

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