Ave Verum stirs the soul and memories of Rome


Catholic Register, 11 May 2018

A former student sent me a notice that caught my attention, for both artistic and pious reasons. The Cantata Singers of Ottawa will be at St. Joseph’s Church later this month where the entire program will consist of settings of the brief Eucharistic and Marian hymn, Ave Verum, including those of Lassus, Byrd, Mozart, Elgar, Liszt, Saint-Saëns and Poulenc. 

Coming just a week before Corpus Christi, it will be good artistic and spiritual preparation for that feast. No doubt the Ave Verum will be sung at more than a few Corpus Christi processions. Usually the Mozart setting is heard on such occasions, perhaps because it is quite meditative and simpler to sing.

The Ave Verum consists of only a few lines, summarizing that in the Eucharist we have the same Jesus, incarnate Son of God and son of Mary, crucified for our salvation, and viaticum for us at the moment of death. 

Ave verum corpus, natum de Maria Virgine/ vere passum, immolatum in cruce pro homine/ cuius latus perforatum fluxit aqua et sanguine:/ esto nobis praegustatum in mortis examine. O Iesu dulcis, O Iesu pie, O Iesu, fili Mariae. Amen.

An English translation:

Hail, true body, born of the Virgin Mary/ Truly suffered, died on the cross for mankind,/ From whose pierced side
flowed water and blood!/ Be for us a foretaste in the agony of death./ O gentle Jesus, O holy Jesus, O Jesus, Son of Mary. Amen.

The Ave Verum is a masterpiece of compactly expressed doctrine and piety. And in the hands of the master composers it becomes a thing not only of truth, but beauty.

But it is not for those reasons that I have a great devotion to the Ave Verum. As is often the case with music, it is for reasons of memory.

I remember the day, now more than 20 years ago, vividly: 26th July 1995. I was in Rome for a reunion of the seminar on Catholic social doctrine led by Michael Novak, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus and George Weigel. I was a student on the seminar in Kraków in 1994. A year later, we were in Rome and our group was invited to Castel Gandolfo for the morning Mass of Pope John Paul II. It was the first time I had ever been in the great saint’s presence.

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