Our Communion anthem this week is one of very many settings of the Eucharistic text ‘Ave verum corpus’. The text (of which several slight variants exist) is first found in an Italian Franciscan manuscript of the 13th century and, unlike older Latin verse, makes use of end-rhyme and regular syllabic meter in the way that much English-language verse does. It is attributed in a 14th-century manuscript to a Pope Innocent (of which there were several; this may refer to Innocent III, IV, V, or VI).
The text –
Hail, true Body born of the Virgin Mary,
which truly suffered,
sacrificed upon the cross for humankind;
from whose pierced side flowed water and blood:
be to us a foretaste
at death’s reckoning.
– affirms the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament and asks that the Eucharist be a ‘foretaste of the heavenly banquet’, to use a common phrase found also in the Prayer Book Catechism:
Q. What are the benefits which we receive in the Lord’s Supper?
A. The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life. BCP 859
The composer of the present setting is Charles Gounod, a 19th-century French composer known for writing a great deal of church music (he famously wrote a melody setting the ‘Ave Maria’ using the first prelude from Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier as an accompaniment) as well as for his operas, especially Faust.