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Reflections on Eucharist in Light of 'Adoro Te Devote' (Part 1 of 2)

1st Advent Sermon of Pontifical Household Preacher

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 6, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the first Advent sermon, delivered this morning, before the Pope and his aides in the Roman Curia, by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa.

With this sermon, Father Cantalamessa began, in the Apostolic Palace's Redemptoris Mater chapel, a series of Eucharistic reflections in the light of the hymn Adoro Te Devote. Part 2 appears Tuesday.

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First Sermon
Adoro te devote

To respond to the Holy Father's desire and intentions to dedicate this year to the Eucharist, the preaching for this Advent -- and, God willing also for next Lent, will be a stanza-by-stanza commentary of the Adoro Te Devote.

With his encyclical "Ecclesia de Eucharistia," the Holy Father John Paul II said he intended to reawaken "Eucharistic wonder" in the Church,[1] and the Adoro Te Devote lends itself wonderfully to achieve this objective. It might serve to give spiritual inspiration and heart to all that will be done during this year to honor the Eucharist.

A certain way of speaking of the Eucharist, full of warm unction and devotion as well as of profound doctrine, banished by the advent of so-called scientific theology, was preserved in old Eucharistic hymns and it is here that we must look for it today, if we wish to overcome a certain arid conceptualism that has afflicted the Sacrament of the Altar in the wake of so many disputes surrounding it.

Ours, however, will not be a reflection on the Adoro Te Devote, but on the Eucharist! The hymn is only the map that helps us to explore the territory, the guide that introduces us to the work of art.

1. A hidden presence

In this meditation we reflect on the first stanza of the hymn. It says:

Adóro te devóte, latens Déitas,
quae sub his figúris vere látitas:
tibi se cor meum totum súbicit,
quia te contémplans totum déficit.

O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.

Attempts were made to establish the critical text of the hymn based on a few manuscripts in existence before printing. The variations we know in regard to the text are not many. The main one, in fact, has to do with the first two verses of this stanza that, according to Wilmart, in the beginning sounded like this: "Adoro devote latens veritas / Te qui sub his formis vere latitas," where "veritas" stood for the person of Christ and "formis" was the equivalent of "figuris."

But aside from the fact that this reading is anything but certain,[2] there is another reason that impels us to keep to the traditional text. This, like other venerated Latin liturgical hymns of the past, belongs to the community of the faithful that have sung it for centuries, have made it their own and almost recreated it, no less than to the author who composed it, often, however, remaining anonymous. The popular text is no less valuable than the critical text and it is with it, in fact, that the hymn continues to be known and sung in the whole Church.

In every stanza of the Adoro Te Devote there is a theological affirmation and an invocation which is the prayerful response of the soul to the mystery. The theological truth recalled in the first stanza refers to the manner of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species. The Latin expression "vere latitas" is charged with meaning, it means: he is hidden, but he really is (where the accent is on "vere," only the reality of the presence) and it also means: he truly is, but hidden (where the accent is on "latitas," on the sacramental character of this presence).

To understand this way of speaking of the Eucharist it is necessary to keep in mind the "great change" that is verified regarding the Eucharist in the passage of the symbolic theology of the Fathers and the dialectic of Scholasticism.

It had its remote beginnings in the ninth century, with Pascasio Radberto and Ratramno of Corbie: the first defender of the physical and material presence of Christ in the bread and wine; the second defender of a true and real but sacramental presence, not physical; it bursts forth openly, however, only later, with Berengarius of Tours (H 1088) who accentuates to such a point the symbolic and sacramental character of Christ in the Eucharist as to jeopardize faith in the objective reality of such a presence.

While at first it was said that Christ is present sacramentally in the Eucharist, or according to those in the East, mysteriously, now, with a language borrowed from Aristotle, it is said that he is present substantially, or according to substance. "Figura" no longer ...

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