The Adoro Te Devote

Author: Father Edward McNamara


The Adoro Te Devote

ROME, 25 MAY 2010 (ZENIT)

Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Can you confirm me that there is a new version of Adore Te Devote (published by the Vatican already some years ago)? Is this version compulsory? — R.M., Antwerp, Belgium

A: Effectively there are two variants of this beautiful hymn. Most of the variations occur in the first two verses. The substitution of the words "posset omni scélere" for "quit ab omni scélere" in the second-to-last verse and "cupio" for "sitio" in the closing one are practically the only other changes.

This hymn is usually attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) even though the earliest extant manuscript hails from about 50 years after his death. References to Aquinas' hymn in the writings of his Franciscan contemporary Jacopone da Todi (1228-1306, author of the Stabat Mater) tend to confirm its authenticity.

In spite of its saintly authorship the hymn never entered into the official liturgy and was only saved from obscurity when Pope St. Pius V included it among the prayers of thanksgiving after communion in his missal of 1570. Paul VI incorporated it into the Roman ritual, using a critical text established by the liturgist Dom André Wilmart.

The variations in the first verse are:

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

"Adóro devóte latens véritas / Te quae sub his formis vere látitas …"

And the second verse:

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

"Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, sed solus audítus tute créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; nihil Veritátis verbo vérius."

Taking into account the rules of poetic meter, it would appear that the second version is probably closer to the original, although the other version has been consecrated by centuries of use.

There are more than 16 known English translations, sometimes of one, sometimes of the other version. One translation of the common version goes:

"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.

"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."

On the other hand, the rendering by great Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) is partly based on the other variant. Likewise, it so closely imitates the original meter as to allow it to be sung to traditional chants.

"Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen, Who thy glory hidest 'neath these shadows mean; Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, Tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.

"Taste, and touch, and vision, to discern thee fail; Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil. I believe whate'er the Son of God hath told; What the truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold."

Debate regarding the text is usually between those who prefer "latens veritas" to "latens Deitas." There are good arguments for both choices. Thus, Father George Rutler defends "latens veritas" saying:

"The 'Adoro te' does not speak of the 'hidden God' but of the 'hidden truth' that is God. After Plato in his cave approached divinity "'neath these shadows mean,' and Moses better approached the Living Presence 'shrined within the cloud,' the eucharistic Church discerns the Lord himself really present, by an activity of faith upon reason. Saint Thomas sings the intricate economy of substance and accident at the heart of the 'sacrament of sacraments.'"

On the other hand, in a series of beautiful meditations on the text of this hymn (ZENIT 2004), Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, made the following argument:

"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 re-created 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)."

It is hard to decide which view is correct. Even Wilmart's critical text is not accepted by all scholars. Both alternatives, however, as Father Rutler and Father Cantalamessa show, offer sublime praise to the Blessed Sacrament.

Is there an obligatory version? The "Adoro devote" probably has more weight in official texts, although the recently published Compendium Eucharisticum presents the traditional "Adoro te devote" form.

I would therefore conclude that either variant may be legitimately used according to local custom.

* * *

Follow-up: The "Adoro Te Devote" [6-1-2010]

Related to our comments on the Adoro Te Devote (see May 25), an Indiana reader had inquired about the use of Latin in vernacular Masses. He asked: "It was stated that Latin may be used for the common prayers of the Mass including the Kyrie. The Kyrie is Greek. Does this mean that the equivalent Latin may be substituted? Also, I have heard Latin being used for introduction to the readings when the readings, including the Gospel, were in English. Also, at the conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer (in English), I have heard Latin. Is this permitted?"

It is a common faux pas to forget that Kyrie Eleison ("Lord, have mercy") is a Greek text within the Latin Mass, although it could also be legitimately considered — like blasé, chic, rendezvous and café in English — as a foreign import which has gained full citizenship. In this sense the liturgical Latin equivalent for Kyrie Eleison would be Kyrie Eleison. The Vatican occasionally uses different Latin invocations in some litanies and the prayer of the faithful but never in the Kyrie.

In general we can say that it is permitted to use Latin for the introduction to the readings. This is especially useful for international groups and allows everybody to sing the proper responses. The same could be said for other moments, such as the memorial acclamation, provided of course that most of the assembly is familiar with the Latin text.

The use of Latin for the doxology in vernacular recitation could be permitted to allow it to be easily sung, although the same melody usually works just as well for most vernacular translations.

As a general rule, however, multiple languages should not be used for the Eucharistic Prayer. If, for example, priests from several countries concelebrate for a congregation of one predominant language, then it would be preferable that Latin be used for the entire Eucharistic Prayer and the Our Father, with the rest of the Mass in the vernacular.


This article has been selected from the ZENIT Daily Dispatch
© Innovative Media, Inc.

ZENIT International News Agency
Via della Stazione di Ottavia, 95
00165 Rome, Italy

To subscribe
or email: with SUBSCRIBE in the "subject" field

Provided Courtesy of:
Eternal Word Television Network
5817 Old Leeds Road
Irondale, AL 35210