Eucharistic Encounter 32: Tantum Ergo

Hi, this is Fr. Rocky in the beautiful new Chapel of the Proclamation at our headquarters in Lincolnshire, Illinois. And today I have another story about the Holy Eucharist in our ongoing Eucharistic Encounters as we prepare for the National Eucharistic Congress in Indianapolis, July 17th through the 21st.

Today I want to share with you another hidden gem in the Church’s Liturgy, composed by St. Thomas Aquinas in 1264 for the feast of Corpus Christi. Last week we talked about the prayer he composed for himself, the Adoro Te Devote, and before that we explored the Lauda Sion, composed for before the Gospel at the Corpus Christi Mass. Today I want to share with you a Eucharistic hymn he composed for the Divine Office.

What’s the Divine Office? It’s prayers and hymns that every priest, religious, and consecrated person is required to recite every day. If you do it by yourself and in one sitting, it takes about an hour, but many split it into six to eight parts throughout the day. One is called the Tantum Ergo, and you’ve probably heard it before. It goes like this:

Tantum ergo Sacramentum 

Veneremur cernui 

Et antiquum documentum, 

Novo cedat ritui, 

Praestet fides supplementum 

Sensuum defectui. 

 That’s the Latin part, which I appreciate especially because it never changes. English requires you to be careful with the translation because our words are ever-evolving. In English, it goes like this: 

Down in adoration falling  

Lo, the Sacred Host we hail, 

Lo, our ancient forms departing, 

Newer rites of grace prevail, 

Faith for all defects supplying 

Where the feeble senses fail. 

What does it mean, “down in adoration falling?” Literally, it means, getting down on both knees and bowing reverently. We do this because we’re creatures, and God is our Creator. We’re humbling ourselves before Him, down on both knees and bowing in adoration! That is a physical representation of vulnerability – it’s good for us as human beings to do this.

I remember seeing this in the movie, “The Empire of the Sun,” in which a boy gets separated from his parents at the beginning of World War II while going from Japan to China. At one point, the ten-year-old pushes back on some soldiers who are attacking someone, which infuriates them. Then the little boy gets down on both knees and bows to them. They relented!

There was a priest who officiated at benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, which was full of incense with little to no air flow. At “down in adoration falling” he bent over in reverence, and then the poor guy passed out! They had to carry him out. No one will ever forget that!

Now, that’s not very common, but it’s a great reason to make sure your chapels have good air flow. And a good way to remember the reverence that we give to Christ while bowing before Him – we are expressing our vulnerability!

Discover the Tantum Ergo for yourself on the free Relevant Radio mobile app, in English and in Latin. Read it and meditate on it – it’s great nourishment for your faith.

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Rev. Francis J. Hoffman, "Fr. Rocky" is the Executive Director/CEO of Relevant Radio and a priest of Opus Dei.