“Feast of love divine”

Time, I feel, to “forget what lies behind and strain forward to what lies ahead”. Turning our attention away from the week just gone, we can look forward to receiving with thanksgiving “the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ Himself for us Christians to eat and to drink”.

During the week, I happened to come across a wonderful translation of the medieval hymn Pange Lingua, J.M. Neale’s version of which is apparently to be included in the new Lutheran Service Book. This version is from a Roman Catholic office book, but if anything is even more “Lutheran-friendly” than Neale’s translation:

Hail our Saviour’s glorious body,
Which his virgin mother bore;
Hail the blood which, shed for sinners,
Did a broken world restore;
Hail the sacrament most holy,
Flesh and blood of Christ adore!

To the virgin, for our healing,
His own Son the Father sends,
From the Father’s love proceeding,
Sower, seed and word descends;
Wondrous life of word incarnate
With his greatest wonder ends!

On that paschal evening see him
With the chosen twelve recline,
To the law he is obedient
In its feast of love divine,
Love divine, the new law giving
Gives himself as bread and wine!

By his word the Word almighty
Makes of bread his flesh indeed;
Wine becomes his very life-blood;
Faith God’s living Word must heed!
Faith alone may safely guide us
Where the senses cannot lead!

Come, adore this wondrous presence;
Bow to Christ, the source of grace!
Here is kept the ancient promise
Of God’s earthly dwelling place!
Sight is blind before God’s glory,
Faith alone may see his face!

Glory be to God the Father,
Praise to his coequal Son,
Adoration to the Spirit,
Bond of love, in Godhead one!
Blest be God by all creation
Joyously while ages run! Amen.

Pange Lingua, from Morning and Evening Prayer, p.310.

I particularly appreciated the verse printed in bold above, with its emphasis on the spoken word of the Word almighty, received by that faith which “alone may safely guide us/Where the senses cannot lead”, as that which makes the Sacrament what it is.

Echoes of Luther in the Small Catechism, in reply to the question, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?” (i.e. give us forgiveness, life and salvation):

Certainly not just eating and drinking do these things, but the words written here: “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” These words, along with the bodily eating and drinking, are the main thing in the Sacrament. Whoever believes these words has exactly what they say: “forgiveness of sins.”

This translation compares favourably with Neale’s version of that same stanza, which reads:

Word-made-flesh true bread he maketh
by his word his Flesh to be;
wine his Blood; which whoso taketh
must from carnal thoughts be free;
faith alone, though sight forsaketh,
shows true hearts the mystery.

For all I know, Neale’s may be a more faithful translation of the Latin. But the version quoted above is heartening in its clear concentration on what really counts in the Sacrament: the Word of Christ, and our faith that receives that Word as we eat and drink the Lord’s body and blood.

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