Monday, December 28, 2009

Transeamus usque Bethlehem

Transeamus usque Bethlehem, et videamus hoc verbum, quod factum est, quod Dominus ostendit nobis.  Et venerunt festinantes : et invenerunt Mariam, et Joseph, et infantem positum in præsepio.
Let us pass over unto Bethlehem, and let us see this Word, which was made, which the Lord hath shewn unto us.  And they went hastening: and they found Mary, and Joseph, and the Child placed in the manger.
— St Luke ii, 15b-16

This post is a plea for solemn Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction during Christmastide, by which we may intensify as at this time (as is most appropriate) our desire for and spiritual communion with Christ, Who became Man for us, that He might give His Flesh for us, to be our Bread, so we could become partakers of the Divine Nature:

But as from the Highest Place Thou didst for us humble Thyself, submit now to my humility, and as Thou didst consent to lie in the cave and in the manger of dumb beasts, so now consent also to enter in to the manger of my dumb soul and into my defiled body.
— Byzantine Rite, Prayers of Preparation before Holy Communion, 3rd Prayer "by St John Chrysostom"

It ought ever be remembered that one of the English-speaking world's favourite carols, "O come, all ye faithful" was originally written by an eighteenth-century Englishman, a Catholic recusant, written in Latin (only done into English in the nineteenth century), and intended for singing, not at Mass (as was unheard of then) but at Benediction at the chapel of the one of the London embassies of Catholic countries.

This hymn, then, was sung in Latin ere ever it was sung in the vernacular.  Proving this, I have a copy of A Companion to the Altar, or Compact Pocket Missal, for all the Sundays, Festivals of Obligation & Devotion &c. &c. in the Year (2nd edition, London: 1796), which gives this hymn as follows in four stanzas  - I copy out the English only, from the left-hand column (the Latin is given on the right):

The Prose, ADESTE FIDELES, sung from Christmas to the Octave of the Epiphany.
Ye faithful souls rejoice and sing,
To Bethlehem your trophies bring:
Before the new-born Angels' King,
Come let us him adore.
Come, &c.

True God of God, true light of light,
Borne in womb of Virgin bright:
Begot, not made, true God of might,
Come let us him adore.
Come, &c.

Angelic Choirs with joy now sing,
Th' heav'nly Courts with echoes ring,
Glory on high to God our King,
Come let us him adore.
Come, &c.

Jesus, whose Life this day begun,
The Father's co-eternal Son,
Glory to him be ever sung:
Come let us him adore.
Come, &c.

Adeste fideles is therefore addressed to Catholic worshippers, and the triple refrain, Venite adoremus Dominum, is an exhortation to adore Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance on the altar.

Is not Bethlehem "the House of Bread"?  Let us go over to Bethlehem, that is, to the church - the House of Bread - and to the holy altar thereof, whose tabernacle is the holy of holies wherein God rests under the sacramental signs, to behold the Word made flesh for us, concealed in form of bread, nay, not so much veiled as revealed therein by the outward sign: for bread is the staff of life, and the True Bread come down from heaven, better than the ancient manna, feeds us unto life eternal.

After all, what is a cratch or manger but the feeding trough for lowly animals?  Christ laid therein shews forth His extreme kenotic self-giving sacrifice, making Himself food for us debased and fallen creatures.

The Lord has shewn this unto us, that His Onlybegotten Son, Christ, is incarnate for us, having taken our nature upon Him: and He is not far from us, but even in His sacred humanity He is present on our altars, as He has willed.  We can go to Bethlehem!

In our Bethlehem, we will find the Child, God's Eternal Son, reposing in great humility, not displaying His Divine Majesty but rather manifesting His great goodness and desire to nourish us.  And going to Bethlehem, to our church, we shall not find Christ alone - no pretended religion bereft of the communion of saints - but we shall find Him, and His Holy Mother Mary, our Mother also, and St Joseph, Patron of the Universal Church.

Consider now the stanzas of Adeste fideles: we who believe are called urgently to come to Bethlehem, to behold Him Who is born the King of Angels; for He is God from God, Light from Light, true God, begotten not created - as the Nicene Creed sings - and yet (taking flesh) carried in the Virgin's womb.

The shepherds, being called, left their flocks abiding "in tempest, storm and wind" (as another carol exaggerates), and humbly ran to the cradle; so we too should hasten our footsteps, praising.  Likewise come the Magi, wise men, led by the star to Him; they fall down and worship, offering gold, incense and myrrh; so therefore we should offer our hearts to the Christ-Child, God our Jesus, the Eternal Word born a tiny Babe and speechless.

For He is the Splendour Eternal of the Everlasting Father: veiled in the flesh we shall behold Him, God an Infant, wrapt in swaddling bands!  (We may add, in unparalleled humility sacramentally present under the form of bread.)  For us He is born poor and needy, cradled in a manger - in a feeding-trough - and so we ought wish to embrace Him in all piety, loving Him Who so greatly first loved us: what ought we not do for Him as some poor recompense?

The choirs of the angels now sing in jubilation, now sings all heaven, Glory to God in the highest!  (Such is the ceaseless worship of the Godhead by all angels and saints; such is their worship of Christ Incarnate, of Christ's Real Presence.)  Therefore to Thee, O Jesu, born for us this day, be all glory, Thou the Eternal Father's Word made flesh.

What an act of faith to sing this in presence of the Blessed Sacrament!

"O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord."


Ttony said...

I hope you like this translation. It's useful to see through a different prism sometimes.

O come all ye faithful!
Triumphantly sing!
Come see in the manger
The Angels' dread King!
To Bethlehem hasten
With joyful accord;
Oh hasten! oh hasten!
To worship the Lord.

True Son of the Father,
he comes from the skies;
The womb of the Virgin
He did not despise;
Not made but begotten,
The Lord of all might,
True God of true God,
True Light of true light.

Hark! to the Angels,
All singing to Heaven,
"To God in the highest
High glory be given."

To Thee, then, O Jesus,
This day of Thy birth,
Be glory and honour
Through Heaven and earth!
True Godhead incarnate,
Omnipotent! Word,
Oh, hasten! oh hasten!
To worship the Lord.

Joshua said...

Very good - thanks for this!

Joshua said...

You've reminded me to update my post..

John F H H said...

Thank you for your interesting article, which reminds that the custom at Holy Trinity, Reading, whilst Fr.Brindley (of happy memory) was parish priest, was to use the final verse of Adeste fideles

"Yea, Lord we greet thee,
born this happy morning,
Jesu, to thee be glory given;
Word of the Father,
Now in Flesh appearing:
O come let us adore Him . . ."

as the Acclamation in the Eucharistic Prayer at Masses on Christmas Day and during the Octave.

Kind regards, and enjoy your trip,

John U.K.

Joshua said...

Yes, I've known priests here in Australia who use just "O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord" as the Memorial Acclamation at Mass.

It's gloriously incorrect and unliturgical, but so much the better for it!