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Ad coenam Agni providi

by Gary D. Penkala

I. Original Latin

Ecce Agnus Dei mosaic The rightful place for hymns in the Roman Rite is in the Divine Office, the Liturgy of the Hours, where each hour contains an appropriate hymn. These hymns in their Latin form show great antiquity. One of the earliest of the Ambrosian hymns, dating from perhaps the 6th century, Ad coenam Agni providi, is sung as the Vesper [Evening Prayer] hymn during the first part of Eastertide (until Ascension). Here is the original text, in rather rustic Latin:

  1. Ad coenam Agni providi,
    stolis salutis candidi,
    post transitum maris Rubri
    Christo canamus principi.
  2. Cuius corpus sanctissimum
    in ara crucis torridum,
    sed et cruorem roseum
    gustando, Dei vivimus.
  3. Protecti paschæ vespero
    a devastante angelo,
    de Pharaonis aspero
    sumus erepti imperio.
  4. Iam pascha nostrum Christus est,
    agnus occisus innocens;
    sinceritatis azyma
    qui carnem suam obtulit.
  5. O vera, digna hostia,
    per quam franguntur tartara,
    captiva plebs redimitur,
    redduntur vitæ præmia!
  6. Consurgit Christus tumulo,
    victor redit de barathro,
    tyrannum trudens vinculo
    et paradisum reserans.
  7. Esto perenne mentibus
    paschale, Iesu, gaudium
    et nos renatos gratiæ
    tuis triumphis aggrega.
  8. Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
    qui morte victa prænites,
    cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
    in sempiterna sæcula. Amen.

II. Neale Translation

This is an elegant translation by John Mason Neale (1818-1866), an Anglican priest and hymn writer, noted for his famous carols, "'Good Christian Men, Rejoice" and "Good King Wenceslaus."

  1. The Lamb's high banquet we await
    in snow-white robes of royal state:
    and now, the Red Sea's channel past,
    to Christ our Prince we sing at last.
  2. Upon the Altar of the Cross
    His Body hath redeemed our loss:
    and tasting of his roseate Blood,
    our life is hid with Him in God.
  3. That Paschal Eve God's arm was bared,
    the devastating Angel spared:
    by strength of hand our hosts went free
    from Pharaoh's ruthless tyranny.
  4. Now Christ, our Paschal Lamb, is slain,
    the Lamb of God that knows no stain,
    the true Oblation offered here,
    our own unleavened Bread sincere.
  5. O Thou, from whom hell's monarch flies,
    O great, O very Sacrifice,
    Thy captive people are set free,
    and endless life restored in Thee.
  6. For Christ, arising from the dead,
    from conquered hell victorious sped,
    and thrust the tyrant down to chains,
    and Paradise for man regains.
  7. We pray Thee, King with glory decked,
    in this our Paschal joy, protect
    from all that death would fain effect
    Thy ransomed flock, Thine own elect.
  8. To Thee who, dead, again dost live,
    all glory Lord, Thy people give;
    all glory, as is ever meet,
    to Father and to Paraclete. Amen.

III. Papal Revision of Latin Text

Pope Urban VIII (1568-1644) was born Maffeo Vincenzo Barberini and baptized at the Cathedral of Florence. He earned a doctorate in law at the University of Pisa, and is noted expecially for various acts during his 21-year pontificate, like his consecrating the new Saint Peter's Basilica, his condmenation of the theories of Galileo, and his awarding membership in the papal choir to Gregorio Allegri (of Miserere fame). An intellectual and accomplished poet, he undertook (with debatable outcome) the reworking of the hymns from the Roman Breviary of Saint Pius V. He altered to a greater or lesser degree, 81 of the 98 Office hymns.

Here is his revision, dating from 1632, of the older hymn, Ad coenam Agni providi:

  1. Ad regias Agni dapes,
    Stolis amicti candidis,
    Post transitum maris Rubri,
    Christo canamus Principi.
  2. Divina cuius caritas
    Sacrum propinat sanguinem,
    Almique membra corporis
    Amor sacerdos immolat.
  3. Sparsum cruorem postibus
    Vastator horret Angelus:
    Fugitque divisum mare,
    Merguntur hostes fluctibus.
  4. Iam Pascha nostrum Christus est,
    Paschalis idem victima:
    Et pura puris mentibus
    Sinceritatis azyma.
  5. O vera cæli víctima,
    Subiecta cui sunt tartara,
    Soluta mortis vincula,
    Recepta vitæ præmia.
  6. Victor subactis inferis,
    Trophæa Christus explicat,
    Cæloque aperto, subditum
    Regem tenebrarum trahit.
  7. Ut sis perenne mentibus
    Paschale Iesu gaudium,
    A morte dira criminum
    Vitæ renatos libera.
  8. Deo Patri sit gloria,
    Et Filio, qui a mortuis
    Surrexit, ac Paraclito,
    In sempiterna sæcula. Amen.

IV. Common English Translation

Perhaps the most widely sung English translation of the Latin text is by Robert Campbell (1814-1868). Campbell, a Presbyterian lawyer who joined the Episcopal Church of Scotland, eventually returned home to the Roman Catholic Church. His tranlsation from 1849 (adapted by Geoffrey Laycock) is often sung to the tune Salzburg, by Jacob Hintze (1622-1702), wherein two stanzas of the original hymn are sung as one stanza of the new tune.

  1. [1.] At the Lamb's high feast we sing
    Praise to our victorious King,
    Who hath washed us in the tide
    Flowing from His piercèd side.
  2. Praise we Him whose love divine
    Gives the guests His Blood for wine,
    Gives His Body for the feast,
    Love the victim, love the priest.
  3. [2.] Where the Paschal blood poured,
    Death's dark Angel sheathes his sword;
    Israel's hosts triumphant go
    Through the wave that drowns the foe.
  4. Christ, the Lamb whose Blood was shed,
    Paschal victim, Paschal bread;
    With sincerity and love
    Eat we manna from above.
  5. [3.] Mighty Victim from the sky,
    Powers of hell beneath Thee lie;
    Death is conquered in the fight;
    Thou hast brought us life and light.
  6. Now Thy banner Thou dost wave;
    Vanquished Satan and the grave;
    Angels join His praise to tell –
    See o'erthrown the prince of hell.
  7. [4.] Paschal triumph, Paschal joy,
    Only sin can this destroy;
    From the death of sin set free,
    Souls re-born, dear Lord, in Thee.
  8. Hymns of glory, songs of praise,
    Father, unto Thee we raise;
    Risen Lord, all praise to Thee,
    Ever with the Spirit be.

V. New Translation

Finally, we offer a very contemporary translation by Kathleen Pluth, a hymn writer from the Washington DC area and CNP author [Hymns for the Liturgical Year]:

  1. The Lamb’s high supper, long foretold!
    In white salvation dress enstoled,
    let all his ransomed people sing —
    the Red Sea crossed — to Christ our King.
  2. Whose thirsting Body crucified,
    upon that altar where he died,
    and whose bright precious ruby Blood,
    have let us live our lives for God.
  3. He kept us, on that Paschal night,
    From that destroying angel’s might,
    And saved us in a foreign land
    From Pharoah’s dreaded cruel command.
  4. For lo, our Paschal Lamb is Christ,
    The guiltless Lamb is sacrificed,
    Sincerity’s unleavened Bread,
    His flesh he offered in our stead.
  5. O worthy sacrifice and true!
    All hell is torn apart by you.
    Your captive people are set free:
    Your life, the price of liberty.
  6. Now Christ arises from the grave,
    The victor from th’abysmal cave,
    And binds the tyrant, and restores
    The paradisal open doors.
  7. Be always in our minds, we ask,
    O Jesus, joy of this great Pasch;
    then those reborn by grace may be
    in Your parade of victory.
  8. O Jesus Christ, be glorified,
    who shining forth in triumph died
    whom with the Father we adore
    and Holy Spirit evermore.

Article written 10 May 2014

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