Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Filipino hymn to the Most Blessed Sacrament

We are on the Monday within the suppressed Octave of Corpus Christi, a feast established on Monday, 11 August 1264, with the bull Transiturus de hoc mundo by Pope Urban IV (born Jacques Pantaléon, who before his pontificate was the Archdeacon of Liège, one of the original ecclesiasts petitioned by Saint Juliana of Liège to institute said feast), making this feast the first universal feast sanctioned by a Pope. Below is a copy of the Bull:


The first Mass, however, celebrated in honour of the Body of Christ was in 1246, having been established that year by Robert de Thourotte, Bishop of Liège, at the suggestion of his archdeacon (the future Pope Urban IV), after convening a synod. Urban IV, with the inscription of the feast in the universal calendar of the Church, especially requested Saint Thomas Aquinas to compose propers for the feast, with which impetus the Angelic Doctor produced four hymns and a sequence recognised until today for their excellence of form, sanctity, and universality (loudly quoting Pope Saint Pius X).

These five are: (1) Pange, lingua, gloriosi, a Eucharistic hymn commonly sung during Benediction and Processions, the Roman tune of which has Gallican provenance; (2) Sacris solemniis, a hymn for the Divine Office, sung at the Hour of Matins; (3) Adoro te devote, a Eucharistic hymn commonly sung during Benediction and Communion; (4) Verbum supernum prodiens, a hymn for the Divine Office, sung at the Hour of Lauds; (5) Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem, a sequence, whose melody is taken from Adam of Saint Victor’s Laetabundi jubilemus, sung at Mass after the Alleluia and before the Gospel.

The last two or other two penultimate verses of these hymns are often centoed and treated as hymns distinct from the complete text. We have for example, Tantum ergo Sacramentum from Pange, lingua, gloriosi; Panis angelicus from Sacris solemniis; Pie pellicane from Adoro te devote; O salutaris Hostia from Verbum supernum prodiens; Ecce panis angelorum from Lauda, Sion, Salvatorem. Of these centoes, two are very widely used in the Philippines: Tantum ergo Sacramentum and O salutaris Hostia.

We begin with O salutaris Hostia, as its provenance is not nebulous and its rendition is somehow closer to worldwide practice than that of Tantum ergo Sacramentum. The music for this hymn was composed by Rev. Fr. Alajos Werner (Hungarian: Werner Alajos, [ˈvɛrnɛr ˈɒlɒjoʃ], 14 July 1905 – 8 November 1978), a Hungarian Catholic priest and music teacher, who lectured in the Church Music Department of the Franz Liszt Music Academy, where he became good friends with Zoltán Kodály (Hungarian: Kodály Zoltán, [ˈkodaːj ˈzoltaːn]; 16 December 1882 – 6 March 1967). He was initially rejected when he applied to become a priest, but with the intervention of His Lordship, Count János Mikes (Hungarian: Mikes János, [ˈmikɛʃ ˈjaːnoʃ], 27 June 1876 – 28 March 1945) Catholic Bishop of Szombathely, who noticed his talent in music, he was allowed to pursue theological and musical studies, and was ordained on 17 June 1928. He went on to establish the Schola Cantorum Sabariensis upon his return to Szombathely in 1934 for boys from eight to fourteen years old, and the Schola Regia when he moved to Budapest in 1944 (the members of which practiced in bombed houses).

The Tantum ergo Sacramentum that is used in the Philippines is of Spanish origin. In old prayer books that were used in the Philippines prior to the advent of hand missals, and in old hymn books, the composer is usually credited as J. Carreras. The same name appears on an existing copy of the partiture in El Escorial, a previous Hieronymite monastery, which currently is occupied by Augustinians. It seems proper to identify (as the libraries possessing copies of the manuscript do) J. Carreras with José Rafael Carreras y Bulbena, an eminent Spanish church musician who was organist once in El Escorial. (Unfortunately, we have no access to the original sheet music as it has not yet been digitised by the concerned library.)

The current form of this hymn that survives in the Islands is quite interesting. It is usually sung either in quadruple time, which apparently is the case in Luzon, or first in quadruple time and then in triple time, which is the case in the Visayas. None of these is in agreement with the original published time signature, which is 3/4 all throughout. This is, in fact, the time signature printed in the old prayer books and hymn books mentioned above in passing, and in hymnals in Spain and Latin America. Below is a snippet of the hymn with an accompaniment by J. Alfonso.


The proliferation of so many notable hymns and motets in honour of the Blessed Sacrament is a testament to the centrality of the Real Presence of Our Lord in the liturgical life of Catholic Christendom, a conclusion that arises from the bull of Pope Urban IV, wherein the Supreme Pontiff notes that while each Mass we commemorate the Sacramental memorial, and each Maundy Thursday we commemorate its institution, together with the new commandment (the mandatum), it behooves the Apostolic See to establish a separate feast for the commemoration of the institution of the Holy Eucharist alone.

And so it came to pass that, as the 19th century drew to a close, His Lordship, Louis-Gaston Adrien, comte de Ségur, Bishop of Lille, on 21 June 1881, with the approval of Pope Leo XIII, organised the first formal Eucharistic Congress as a small gathering of faithful Catholics in his diocese with the purpose of bearing witness to the Real Presence of Our Lord in the Holy Eucharist, a granum synapis that eventually enraptured the whole world, and inspired each nation, to hold such events now known, as then were, as Eucharistic Congresses, styled either as International or National.

The First National Eucharistic Congress in the Philippines was held from 11 to 19 December 1929. Its official hymn was Pueblo filipino, written by Rev. Fr. José Fernández and composed by Dr. Francisco Santiago, the Father of the Kundiman, of the then Conservatory of Music of the University of the Philippines. (Dr. Santiago won the competition that year for the music of the official hymn, an achievement he considered to be the greatest moment of his life.) The hymn has three parts: an invitatory, a chorus, and three verses, styled as addresses by God, the Fatherland, and the Faith. (Unfortunately, we do not have a recording of this beautiful hymn.)

Eight years later, the 33rd International Eucharistic Congress was held in Manila from 3 to 7 February 1937. Its official hymn was Gloria a Jesús, written by the Filipino poet in Spanish Emeterio Barcelón y Barceló Soriano, and composed by the well-known (and now forgotten) Augustinian Recollect Fr. Domingo Carceller, whose hymn to the Nuestra Señora de Consolación y la Correa, a Recollect devotion, is now preserved amongst Spanish Recollects.

Here is a recording of the said hymn by Don Guillermo Gómez Rivera with the female trio billeted as Los tres corazones. Please take note that the lyrics on the YouTube page have errors. We have below the correct lyrics extracted from the official sheet music published as souvenir for the Congress, with a literal English translation. All but one word was altered from the original poem by Barcelón. In the third stanza, orbe (world) was used instead of tierra (land), perhaps to underscore the internationality of the event.


The words of this hymn are very beautiful. In the chorus, we speak of the Dios Hostia, in consonance with what Pope Urban IV called realis praesentia. The Host is God Himself, surveying His dominion, upraised from the hands of his ordained minister above His faithful climes. The Host is not just a mere representation or symbol of God, much less “a cracker,” or “a wafer,” according to what our endeared and strident enemies continuously hammer into the consciousness of the world. It is the Body of Christ.

In the first stanza is précised the ecclesiastic history of the Philippines, four hundred years nourished by the doctrines of Christ and of His Holy Church, a country whose first treasure is not its mountain of gold but the merits of the Cross. And the Philippines, an ever-loyal devotee of Mary, whose crowned images of the Blessed Virgin now number more than twenty, loved, loves, and shall continue to love the Holy Mother of God, the Θεοτόκος, the Deipara. One recalls the important dictum: Ad Jesum per Mariam.

[Note: Since in 2013, we are just eight years shy of the quincentennial anniversary of our evangelisation, we have altered the first line of the first stanza to make it chronologically coherent. From hace ya cuatro centurias (it hath been four centuries already), we have reworded the line as ya hace casi cinco siglos (it hath been almost five centuries already).]

In the second stanza, we encounter a very figurative description of the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament. The sol de la Eucaristía calls to mind the gilded and bejewelled custodia or the ostensorio, befitting of the majesty and grandeur of our Resurrected Lord, with rayos emanating from the viril, forming a magnificent sunburst that beams upon Christendom. And there upraised from above, It radiates blessing and charity to all mankind, just as the sun shines upon all, both Christians and heathens, both fervent faithful and contumacious heretics.

The Sun of the Eucharist (source).

In the third stanza is described the state of the world, corrupted by vice, a live volcano ready to implode, in such a way that it shall waste mercilessly away with its own passing desires. But amidst this darkness enshrouding the world, la noche del mundo, the Blessed Sacrament, the sunburst of the second stanza, steadfastly shines, burning, driving away, those origins of darkness.

We especially remember the two forces that did not hesitate to impose a hindrance to the Congress, albeit indirectly. First, we have the Communists, who intimidated the Catholics of Tondo into boycotting the Congress by not decorating their homes, and should they refuse to boycott, threatened to burn the neighbourhood. The conflagration did occur because one home refused to submit to Communist menaces, but read here what happened, and the miracle that occurred.

Second, we have the head of the schismatics, Gregorio Aglipay (fresh from having shared with Emilio Aguinaldo the same fate of being beaten by Manuel Luis Quezón in the 15 September 1935 Philippine presidential elections), who invoked the separation of Church and State in protesting the announcement of the Director of Posts to issue postage stamps in commemoration of the celebration of the Congress. He was already Unitarian by this time, so no question why he detested the Congress under the rhetoric of civic duty. His representative in the litigation was the prominent Cebuano Aglipayan and anti-Catholic, Vicente Sotto, also the ancestor of the famous Sottos today both in television and politics. Aglipay and his ilk were, of course, trumped. Read here the case digest.

Envidias, celos traidores? Coincidence? Wishful thinking? Nah, they exist.

It is not beyond belief, therefore, in supreme agreement with the theme of this Congress, that each of these stanzas tells of one of the three cardinal virtues: first, faith; second, charity; and third, hope.

left to right: Bishop OHara, Cardinal Dougherty, and Cardinal Pacelli

When the Congress was concluded, the final Mass of which was celebrated by the Papal Legate, Cardinal Dennis J. Dougherty, previously Bishop of Nueva Segovia and of Jaro, in which Mass His Excellency Gerald P. O’Hara, Bishop of Savannah, delivered the homily, Father James Gillis, editor of The Catholic World, was moved to write:
One who has not visited the Philippines and has not known the religiousness of its people will be awed to find that his conception of the spiritual life of this country has an estimation of it far below the real thing. The Eucharistic Congress just closed will live in my memory as an event which is exceeding in its manifestation of the consuming devotion of the people to Christ in the Holy Eucharist.
Yes, the Americans who first came to these Islands thought our ancestors were renegade spiritists and pagans. Protestant missions, having been previously and categorically proscribed during the Spanish era (apparently the only official policy in the Spanish Realms), as well as the first American Catholic prelates, were appalled to discover that the Philippines was fervently Catholic.

¡Viva Cristo Rey! ¡Viva Jesús en el Sacramento!

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