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Sacris Solemniis

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The opening words of the hymn for Matins of Corpus Christi and of the Votive Office of the Most Blessed Sacrament, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas. The rhythmic stanza imitates the classical measures found in Horace and in several hymns of the Roman Breviary (see SANCTORUM MERITIS); but for whatever excellence the hymn lacks in respect of classical prosody it compensates in the interesting and intricate rhymic scheme. This may be illustrated by breaking up the stanza of four lines into seven. The sixth stanza, which is sometimes employed as a separate hymn at Benediction will serve to illustrate:

Panis angelicus Fit panis hominum: Dat Panis coelicus Figuris terminum: O res mirabilis! Manducat Dominum Pauper, servus et humilis.

The incisio (i.e. the coincidence of the end of a word with the end of a foot) is perfect throughout all the stanzas. With what rhythm should the hymn be recited? Translators vary much in their conception of an appropriate English equivalent. The first words suggest by the tonic accents English dactylics:

Lo! the Angelic Bread Feedeth the sons of men: Figures and types are fled Never to come again. O what a wondrous thing! Lowly and poor are fed, Banqueting on their Lord and King.

The felicitous Anglican translator, the Rev. Dr. J.M. Neale, used iambic metre:

He ordered in the wine Our Holy Offering, To be the Sacrifice Which Priests along should bring; For whom is meet and fit That they should eat of it, And in their turn to others give.

This fifth stanza is interesting for its own sake, as it calls attention to the plan of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Dr. Neale's translation does not follow strictly the rhymic scheme, which is better observed in a translation given in "Sursum Corda" (1908, p. 6). Shipley "Annus Sanctus", London, 1874, p. 192) gives Wallace's translation, the first stanza of which illustrates another metric form:

"Sing of that solemneve
When, as true heartsbelieve,
Christ gave the lamb and the paschal bread
Unto the chosen band
Met for the high command
God had of old on the fathers laid."

Caswall (Lyra Catholica, 1849) gave a condensed translation:

"Let us with hearts renewed,
Our grateful homage pay;
And welcome the triumphant songs
This ever blessed day." In his "Hymns and Poems" (1873) it appears revised as: "Let old things pass away
Let all be fresh and bright;
And welcome we with hearts renewed
This feast of new delight."

The revision (which also includes the change of "night" into "eve", and changes in the third and fourth lines of the sixth stanza ) appears in the "Lyra" of 1884 , in Shipley's Annus Sanctus ", and in the Marquess of Bute's translation of the Roman Breviary ; the revision is interesting as illustrating Caswall's zeal for literal betterment of the translation.. Wagner ("Origine et developpement du chant liturgique", translation of Bour, Tournai, 1904, p. 169) speaks of the gradual substitution of rhythm for metre in the hymns and refers to the "Sacris solemniis" as illustrative of "the two conceptions of verse . . . where the old verse and the rhythmic disposition of syllables meet peaceably together. Rhyme, also, was gradually introduced; this same hymn offers very instructive examples of it. It is a device of punctuation for the ear." Birkle ("Vatican Chant ", translation of Lemaistre, New York, 1904, p. 103) says: "The first three lines have three accents each — a weak accent upon the second and seventh syllable and the chief accent upon the tenth. The first half of the line concludes with the sixth syllable, which must be noticeable in the chanting. In the last verse the chief accent must be placed upon the sixth syllable" (but in the illustration he places an accent also upon the third syllable).


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