Thursday 29 June 2023

A Eucharistic hymn of fine theological and devotional quality': Sancti Venite


 The seventh-century Antiphonary of Bangor with its collection of Latin texts is one of the greatest surviving treasures of early medieval Irish Christianity. The twelve hymns preserved within include one, the Sancti Venite, labelled as 'Hymnus quando communicarent sacerdotes'. F.E. Warren, the Victorian editor and translator of the manuscript of the Antiphonary, now housed at the Ambrosian Library at Milan, commented:

This Hymn is evidently from its title a ‘Communio’ or ‘Antiphona ad accedentes ’ to be used during the Communion of the Priests, of whom there would be many, headed by the Abbot himself, in such a monastery as Bangor.
He goes on to say:
It consists of eleven quatrains or stanzas of four lines each. The lines are iambic penthemime, and trochaic dimeter catalectic alternately. It has been fancifully suggested that there are eleven stanzas in this Hymn because there were eleven Apostles who were present at the institution of the Eucharist and received it worthily.
F.E.Warren, ed. and trans., The Antiphonary of Bangor, Part II (London, 1895), 44.

 The very fact that the Sancti Venite is a Eucharistic hymn marks it out from the other hymns in the Antiphonary of Bangor, which relate to the monastic hours. It indicates that a hymn was sung during the taking of communion in early Irish monasteries, at least in Bangor, plus the Antiphonary also includes seven communion antiphons.

Father Michael Curran, MSC, in his 1984 study The Antiphonary of Bangor and the Early Irish Monastic Liturgy, describes the Sancti Venite as a 'Eucharistic hymn of fine theological and devotional quality'.  He also mentions the 'picturesque and fictional occasion of its composition', a tradition which has been preserved in the fifteenth-century Leabhar Breac, and summarised by Cardinal Moran in his 1864 essay on the teaching of the Early Irish Church regarding the Blessed Eucharist:

In the ancient Irish preface to the hymn of St. Sechnall on St. Patrick, preserved in the Leabhar Breac, it is said that, on a certain occasion, whilst Sechnall was offering the holy sacrifice, our apostle went to visit him; and it was when Sechnall had finished the Mass, except taking the body of Christ, that he heard that Patrick had arrived at the place: leaving the altar, he prostrated himself at the feet of St. Patrick, and when both subsequently approached the church, they heard a choir of angels chanting a hymn at the Offertory in the church, and what they chanted was the hymn whose beginning is Sancti venite, Christi corpus ,' etc., so that, from that time to the present, that hymn is chanted in Erin when the body of Christ is received".

Dr Moran goes on to give the entire text of the Sancti Venite, and a translation, which I reprint below so that we may all enjoy this wonderful hymn:

1. "Sancti venite,
Christi corpus sumite;
Sanctum bibentes,
Quo redempti sanguinem.

2. Salvati Christi
Corpore et sanguine,
A quo refecti,
Laudes dicamus Deo.

3. Hoc sacramento,
Corporis et sanguinis,
Omnes exuti
Ab inferni faucibus.

4. Dator salutis,
Christus filius Dei,
Mundum salvavit,
Per crucem et sanguinem.

5 Pro universis
Immolatus Dominus,
Ipse sacerdos
Existit et hostia.

6. Lege praeceptum
Immolari hostias:
Qua adumbrantur
Divina mysteria.

7. Lucis indultor
Et salvator omnium,
Praeclaram sanctis
Largitus est gratiam.

8. Accedant omnes,
Pura mente creduli;
Sumant aeternam
Salutis custodiam:

9. Sanctorum custos,
Rector quoque Dominus,
Vitae perennis,
Largitor credentibus

10. Coelestem panem
Dat esurientibus;
De fonte vivo
Praebet sitientibus.

11. Alpha et omega
Ipse Christus Dominus
Venit, venturus
Judicare homines."

1. Approach, you who are holy,
Receive the body of Christ,
Drinking the sacred blood

By which you were redeemed. 
2. Saved by the body

And blood of Christ,

Now nourished by it

Let us sing praises unto God. 
3. By this sacrament

Of the body and blood,
All are rescued

From the power of hell.

4. The giver of salvation,
Christ, the Son of God,
Redeemed the world
By his cross and blood.

5. For the whole world
The Lord is offered up;
He is at the same time
High-priest and victim.

6. In the law it is commanded
To immolate victims:

By it were foreshadowed
These sacred mysteries. 
7. The giver of all light,

And the Saviour of all,
Now bestows upon the holy
An exceeding great grace.
8. Let all approach,

In the pure simplicity of faith;
Let them receive the eternal
Preserver of their souls:

9. The guardian of the saints,
The supreme Ruler and Lord,
The Bestower of eternal life,
On those who believe in Him.

10. To the hungry he gives to eat
Of the heavenly food;

To the thirsty he gives to drink
From the living fountain. 

11. The alpha and omega,

Our Lord Christ Himself

Now comes: He who shall one day come
To judge all mankind.

Rev Dr. P. F Moran, Essays on the Origin, Doctrines, and Discipline of the Early Irish Church,  (Dublin, 1864), 166-167.

In an article on Irish Latin Hymns written in 1941 Dean Mulcahy lamented:

“The hymn ought to be better known in the Ireland of our day; beautiful in itself, its value is enhanced by its antiquity, and by the glorious and irrefutable record it furnishes of the sound faith planted by St. Patrick in the Irish church.”  

"The Irish Latin Hymns: "Sancti Venite" of St Sechnall and "Altus Prosator" of St Columba', Irish Ecclesiastical Record,Vol. 52 (1941), 386.

What a blessing that this hymn was preserved at Bobbio and rediscovered in Milan and reintroduced to its native land.

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Thursday 8 June 2023

All the Saints of Ireland on Radio Maria, June 9


I am delighted that the first of the All the Saints of Ireland programmes for the month of June will be on air tomorrow night, Friday June 9, the feast day of Saint Colum Cille (Columba). I will be speaking on the extraordinary life of our tertiary patron and on the stories and writings associated with him and his famous monastery at Iona. There are many further posts on all aspects of the cult of Saint Colum Cille at my other site dedicated to the three Irish patrons, which you can find here. I plan to include some of the other feasts which share his day on June 9, starting with that of his kinsman and immediate successor Baithín, before moving to the feast of the translation of the relics of the three patrons and concluding with the sad story of martyred Irish priest Father John O'Dowd, who refused to break the seal of the confessional.  

So join host Thomas Murphy and myself at 7 pm on Friday, June 9, 2023 as we look at the life of a man who is not only one of our most important Irish saints, but also one of the most significant historical figures of the sixth century. For details of how to listen to the programme see:


Content Copyright © Omnium Sanctorum Hiberniae 2012-2023. All rights reserved.