The "Adoro Te Devote"

And More on Blue Vestments

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ROME, MAY 25, 2010 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: Can you confirm me that there is a new version of Adore Te Devote (published by the Vatican already some years ago)? Is this version compulsory? — R.M., Antwerp, Belgium

A: Effectively there are two variants of this beautiful hymn. Most of the variations occur in the first two verses. The substitution of the words «posset omni scélere» for «quit ab omni scélere» in the second-to-last verse and «cupio» for «sitio» in the closing one are practically the only other changes.

This hymn is usually attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) even though the earliest extant manuscript hails from about 50 years after his death. References to Aquinas’ hymn in the writings of his Franciscan contemporary Jacopone da Todi (1228-1306, author of the Stabat Mater) tend to confirm its authenticity.

In spite of its saintly authorship the hymn never entered into the official liturgy and was only saved from obscurity when Pope St. Pius V included it among the prayers of thanksgiving after communion in his missal of 1570. Paul VI incorporated it into the Roman ritual, using a critical text established by the liturgist Dom André Wilmart.

The variations in the first verse are:

«Adóro te devóte, latens Déitas, quae sub his figúris vere látitas: tibi se cor meum totum súbicit, quia te contémplans totum déficit.»

«Adóro devóte latens véritas / Te quae sub his formis vere látitas …»

And the second verse:

«Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, sed audítu solo tuto créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; nil hoc verbo veritátis vérius.»

«Visus, tactus, gustus in te fállitur, sed solus audítus tute créditur. Credo quidquid dixit Dei Fílius; nihil Veritátis verbo vérius.»

Taking into account the rules of poetic meter, it would appear that the second version is probably closer to the original, although the other version has been consecrated by centuries of use.

There are more than 16 known English translations, sometimes of one, sometimes of the other version. One translation of the common version goes:

«O Godhead hid, devoutly I adore Thee,
Who truly art within the forms before me;
To Thee my heart I bow with bended knee,
As failing quite in contemplating Thee.

«Sight, touch, and taste in Thee are each deceived;
The ear alone most safely is believed:
I believe all the Son of God has spoken,
Than Truth’s own word there is no truer token.»

On the other hand, the rendering by great Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) is partly based on the other variant. Likewise, it so closely imitates the original meter as to allow it to be sung to traditional chants.

«Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen, Who thy glory hidest ‘neath these shadows mean; Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed, Tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.

«Taste, and touch, and vision, to discern thee fail; Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil. I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told; What the truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.»

Debate regarding the text is usually between those who prefer «latens veritas» to «latens Deitas.» There are good arguments for both choices. Thus, Father George Rutler defends «latens veritas» saying:

«The ‘Adoro te’ does not speak of the ‘hidden God’ but of the ‘hidden truth’ that is God. After Plato in his cave approached divinity «‘neath these shadows mean,’ and Moses better approached the Living Presence ‘shrined within the cloud,’ the eucharistic Church discerns the Lord himself really present, by an activity of faith upon reason. Saint Thomas sings the intricate economy of substance and accident at the heart of the ‘sacrament of sacraments.'»

On the other hand, in a series of beautiful meditations on the text of this hymn (ZENIT 2004), Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the Papal Household, made the following argument:

«There is another reason that impels us to keep to the traditional text. This, like other venerated Latin liturgical hymns of the past, belongs to the community of the faithful that have sung it for centuries, have made it their own and almost re-created it, no less than to the author who composed it, often, however, remaining anonymous. The popular text is no less valuable than the critical text and it is with it, in fact, that the hymn continues to be known and sung in the whole Church.

«In every stanza of the Adoro Te Devote there is a theological affirmation and an invocation which is the prayerful response of the soul to the mystery. The theological truth recalled in the first stanza refers to the manner of the presence of Christ in the Eucharistic species. The Latin expression ‘vere latitas’ is charged with meaning, it means: he is hidden, but he really is (where the accent is on ‘vere,’ only the reality of the presence) and it also means: he truly is, but hidden (where the accent is on ‘latitas,’ on the sacramental character of this presence).»

It is hard to decide which view is correct. Even Wilmart’s critical text is not accepted by all scholars. Both alternatives, however, as Father Rutler and Father Cantalamessa show, offer sublime praise to the Blessed Sacrament.

Is there an obligatory version? The «Adoro devote» probably has more weight in official texts, although the recently published Compendium Eucharisticum presents the traditional «Adoro te devote» form.

I would therefore conclude that either variant may be legitimately used according to local custom.

* * *

Follow-up: Blue Liturgical Vestments

Related to the question about blue vestments (see May 11), a reader from Ghana had asked: «Is it important or necessary that the color of the statues of the Virgin Mary and the saints in the church follow the liturgical colors? For instance, during Lent would you put violet around the Virgin Mary instead of white, or green during ordinary time? In these same periods or liturgical times, should the altar be changed to white on Thursdays for adoration or not?»

There is no law regulating the vesting of images of sacred images and hence no requirement to do so according to the liturgical seasons. However, where such a custom exists it is good to maintain it.

For example, the costume of the famous statue of the Infant of Prague venerated in the Czech capital’s church of Our Lady of Victory is frequently changed according to the feasts and seasons. There are many other shrines to Mary and the saints that have similar customs. These changes need not coincide with the liturgical seasons and may follow their own traditions.

It is still a widespread custom to place an antependium hanging down in front of the altar and varying in color according to the season or feast. While not obligatory, it is congruous to remove or change it to white for adoration, especially if the antependium is of a penitential hue.

A correspondent from the Philippines asked for details about the «Spanish privilege» of using blue vestments on the feast of the Immaculate Conception. This privilege was granted to Spain, its colonies, and Latin America by a decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites on Feb. 12, 1864. Since the Philippines was still a Spanish colony at that time, I believe they continue to enjoy the privilege.

This privilege would not apply to Belgium, from whence came one of our previous column’s questions. All remaining ties that Belgium had to Spain ceased with the Peace of Utrecht in 1715.

* * *

Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city a
nd your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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