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Catholic Activity: Eucharist Hymn: Ave Verum Corpus

“Hail true Body, born of the Mary.” The most famous setting of this text by 14th-century Pope Innocent VI is by Mozart, especially famous in our time because it was chosen by the New York Philharmonic for a concert following September 11, 2001. Whether listeners understood the underlying message is another matter.

The Mozart setting is justly celebrated, but the chant version is equally dramatic. It has three distinct sections, the first of which is repeated and made up of only five tones. The second section, again with a repeated melody line, develops the theme a third higher, while the last section contains the most overtly emotional line of any in this repertoire: “O Jesu Dulcis! O Jesu pie! O Jesu fili Mariae.” The lines are so emotional, in fact, the temptation might be to overdo them instead of letting them speak for themselves.

"Mozart set the Eucharistic hymn Ave Verum Corpus in June 1791. This setting was dedicated to his friend, Anton Stoll, who was chorus master of the parish church in Baden, and it was first performed in Baden at the Feast of Corpus Christi.

"It is possible that Mozart set this hymn, mindful of the Imperial ban on elaborate concerted music, or it is possible that he was working with the limitations of Stoll’s choir. One way or another, his setting is remarkable for its compact simplicity. There are a mere forty-six bars of music, with orchestral writing that serves to provide introduction, transition, and ending, and double the choral parts. The choral setting is simplicity itself, with the choir mostly singing the same text at the same time. This direct approach would suited a reform-minded Austria where textual clarity and brevity were all-important in church music."

Source:James C.S. Liu, M.D.

DIRECTIONS

Ave Verum Corpus natum de Maria Virgine. Vere passum immolatum in cruce pro homine: cuius latum perforatum aqua fluxit et sanguine. Esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine.

O Iesu dulcis! O Iesu pie! O Iesu Fili Mariae. Amen. (or: O clemens, O pie O dulcis Jesu, Fili Mariae.)

Hail, true Body, truly born of the Virgin Mary mild. Truly offered, wracked and torn, on the Cross for all defiled, from Whose love-pierced, sacred side flowed Thy true Blood's saving tide: be a foretaste sweet to me in my death's great agony.

O my loving, Gentle One, Sweetest Jesus, Mary's Son. Amen. (or: o gentle, o pious o sweet Jeus, Son of Mary.) (Translation by Fr. Edward Francis Garesche, SJ)

Activity Source: Crisis Magazine

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