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,
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;
Quo redempti sanguinem.
2. Salvati Christi
Corpore et sanguine,
A quo refecti,
Laudes dicamus Deo.
3. Hoc sacramento,
Corporis et sanguinis,
Ab inferni faucibus.
4. Dator salutis,
Christus filius Dei,
Per crucem et sanguinem.
5 Pro universis
Existit et hostia.
6. Lege praeceptum
7. Lucis indultor
Et salvator omnium,
Largitus est gratiam.
8. Accedant omnes,
Pura mente creduli;
9. Sanctorum custos,
Rector quoque Dominus,
11. Alpha et omega
Ipse Christus Dominus
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.
9. The guardian of the saints,
The supreme Ruler and Lord,
The Bestower of eternal life,
On those who believe in Him.
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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