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Reflections on Eucharist: 'I Believe All the Son of God Has Spoken' (Part 1 of 2)

2nd Advent Sermon of Pontifical Household Preacher

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 12, 2004 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of the second Advent sermon, delivered this morning to the Pope and officials of the Roman Curia, by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, the preacher for the Pontifical Household.

With his sermons in the Redemptoris Mater chapel of the Apostolic Palace, Father Cantalamessa is offering a series of Eucharistic reflections in the light of the "Adoro Te Devote." Next Friday, he plans to deliver his third and last sermon in preparation for Christmas. Part 2 of this sermon will appear Monday.

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Second Sermon
"I Believe All the Son of God Has Spoken"

A great scholar of Medieval texts has written that the Adoro Te Devote is "one of those harmonious and brilliant, very rich and simple compositions, which have served, more than many books, to form Catholic Eucharistic piety."[1] The history of the hymn is rather singular. It is usually attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, but the first testimonies of such attribution go back to no less than 50 years after the death of the Angelic Doctor, which occurred in 1274. However, even if the literary paternity is destined to remain hypothetical (as it is for the rest, the other Eucharistic hymns that go under its name) it is true that the hymn is in line with his thought and spirituality.

The text remained all but unknown for another two centuries, and it would have continued to be so if St. Pius V had not inserted it among the prayers of preparation for the Mass and thanksgiving, printed in the Missal he reformed in 1570. From that date the hymn was established in the universal Church as one of the Eucharistic prayers most loved by the clergy and the Christian people. It entered the Roman Ritual, published by Paul VI, after the liturgical reform, with the critical text established by Wilmart.[2]

The abandonment of Latin today risks driving the hymn back into oblivion from which it was extricated by St. Pius V. Therefore, it is to be hoped that the Year of the Eucharist will contribute to honoring it again. There are metric versions of it in the main languages, one in English, the great work of the Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins.

To pray with the words of the Adoro Te Devote means for us today to be inserted in the warm current of Eucharistic piety of the generations that preceded us, of so many saints who sang it. It means, perhaps, to relive emotions and memories that we ourselves experienced when singing it in certain grace-filled moments of our life.

1. Word and Spirit in the Consecration

One can speak of the Eucharistic mystery -- Cardinal Danneels has written -- "in the precise and clear language of the exegetes and theologians, which the Church will never be able to give up. But one can also use the language of the heart, of wonder, and of love ...; the language of the Holy Spirit, who is the very breath of the Church, the language of contemplation."[3] I believe that the beauty of the Adoro Te Devote lies in the fact that it brings together in itself, in an unsurpassable way, both of these languages; in it the most lucid theology is coupled with an uninterrupted impulse of the heart.

Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur,
sed audítu solo tuto créditur.
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius;
nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius

Translated as faithfully as possible, the second stanza of the Adoro Te Devote says:

Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth's own word there is no truer token.

The only observation about the critical text of this stanza relates to the last verse. As it is, whether in song or recitation, one is obliged by the metrics to break the word "veritatis" in half (veri - tatis), for which reason the variant seems preferable that changes the order of the words and reads "Nil hoc veritatis verbo verius."[4]

It is not that the senses of sight, touch and taste can themselves be deceived about the Eucharistic species, but that we can deceive ourselves in interpreting what they tell us. They are not deceived, because appearances are the proper object of the senses -- what is seen, touched and tasted -- and the appearances are really those of bread and wine. "In this sacrament," St. Thomas writes, "there is no deception. In fact, the accidents which are perceived by the senses really exist, while the intellect, whose object is the essence of things, is kept from falling into deception by faith."[5] Only later, in the wake of the philosophy of Descartes, were there theologians who suggested a different explanation, stating that the Eucharistic species have no objective consistency, but are simple modifications produced ...

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