Glory of Rome: 5 Latin Hymns Every Catholic Should Know

O salutaris Hostia, quae caeli pandis ostium!

Musical Notation Old Book

Listers, our study of the best hymns within the treasury of the Church continues with a look at the Latin hymns all Catholics should know. A previous look at the best English hymns can be found at 5 English Hymns All Catholics Should Know.

1. O Sanctissima

Mater amata, intemerata: ora, ora pro nobis!

Believed to be a traditional Sicilian mariners folk song, O Sanctissima is most often heard today on Marian feasts. In Germany and Spain, this hymn has become closely associated with Christmastide.

2. Tantum Ergo Sacramentum

Salus, honor, virtus quoque: sit et benedictio!

Really the last two verses of the larger hymn Pange Lingua Gloriosi, this sublime piece was written by the revered St. Thomas Aquinas, a talented hymnologist as well as theologian. Historically, the complete Pange Lingua hymn is associated most closely with the rites of Maundy Thursday and Corpus Christi. In more modern times, the Tantum Ergo has become a staple of the Roman rite of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

3. Salve Regina

O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria!

The “Hail, Holy Queen” in English — and one of the four principle Marian antiphons of the Roman Breviary — the Salve Regina dates at least to the 11th century. According to legend, St. Bernard of Clairvaux was moved by divine inspiration to add to the hymn the final three-fold petition to Our Lady. St. Alphonsus Liguori found this hymn so beautiful that he wrote an entire treatise on it in his book The Glories of Mary. Every Latin Catholic should strive to memorize this beautiful song of praise to our Mother.

4. O Salutaris Hostia

O salutaris Hostia, quae caeli pandis ostium!

Another hymn written by St. Thomas Aquinas, this piece is actually the last two verses of the Corpus Christi hymn Verbum Supernum Prodiens. Along with the Pange Lingua, this hymn was written at the request of Pope Urban IV, who instituted the Feast of Corpus Christi in AD 1264. Today, O Salutaris is most often heard in the ritual of Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.

5. Ave Verum Corpus

O Iesu dulcis, O Iesu pie, O Iesu, fili Mariae.

A beautiful Eucharistic hymn dating from the 14th century, this has often been attributed to one of the mediaeval Popes Innocent, though historians are unsure of its actual origin. In the days of the pre-Tridentine liturgies, it was not uncommon for this hymn to be sung during the elevation of the Host at the Mass. Today, Ave Verum is most often associated with Christmastide and Eucharistic liturgies.

  • Dixibehr

    Why Latin hymns?

    Remember, not all Catholics are of the Latin liturgical and spiritual tradition.

    BTW, Salve Regina was written by St. Isaac the Syrian.

    • DIXIBEHR,

      I agree with you that we Latin Rite Catholics would benefit from learning more about the other traditions in the Church.

      However, this article seems to be an episode in a series that will undoubtedly highlight some of the richness that you mention. If you look at the first two sentences, you will read:

      “Listers, our study of the best hymns within the treasury of the Church continues with a look at the Latin hymns all Catholics should know. A previous look at the best English hymns can be found at 5 English Hymns All Catholics Should Know.”

      So, the series appears to be moving outward from the English language (which is the language of this blog) to other languages. It would make sense to highlight Latin hymns in the second installment, considering that the vast majority of the people reading this site belong to that rite.

      I’m sure, if we’re patient, there will be hymns and chants from other traditions.

      • christian

        we are christians as means without christ I am nothing even though we have many chants in every liturgical masses the only way we most to do to save us and enter the kingdom of God is our prayers, faith, love, and respect to him and to others. But you are a very religious man and I believe in all of you and in you

    • CL Davis

      Do not worry, my friend! We will soon have a list of Byzantine hymns every Catholic should know.

      • Joaco

        Looking forward to that!

      • John

        I’m very excited to hear that. Possibly the hymns of the Byzantine Liturgy?

  • Thank you–Thank you–Thank you. William S.

  • mot

    Why Latin hymns? Why not?

    I prefer the Gregorian chant version of Salve Regina.

    • Ralph

      This is a beautiful chant as well however both this tone and the one above are both “Gregorian Chant.” The difference is this one is referred to as the “solemn tone” while the above is the “simple tone.”

  • Wills

    Oh for heaven’s sake, DIXBEHR. Why NOT Latin Hymns? Of course not all Catholics are Latin, but of the Latin hymns these are the ones one ought to know Why don’t YOU provide us a list of other hymns from other traditions? To value one is not to exclude the other.

  • It brings back memories of my grade school days. I think some hymns must be sung in Latin.

  • J.W. Cox

    I’m a fairly recent Roman Catholic; my parish doesn’t sing anything in Latin; only English words to these chant tunes.

    Do you know of any accurate English translations for these Latin hymns?

    Thanks

  • maureen

    lovely, lovely… especially in Latin. I can sing 3 of 5… will work on others!

  • Brad

    “Remember, not all Catholics are of the Latin liturgical and spiritual tradition.”

    Your point is?

  • Zen

    I love going to daily mass in our parish during the week. We get to sing a couple of these Latin hymns as well as the Agnus Dei! Yes, someone told me that Latin is a dead language. I made him listen to Salve Regina – that made him pause!!!

  • Bill

    Certainly. It is a shame that the so-called Latin Church has abandoned most of its beautiful Latin Hymns in favor of guitar lead junk.

    • Bob Winter

      I whole heartly agree with you Bill. Thankfully, the recently (5 to 10 yrs.) ordained priests in our area seem to be schooled in a more traditional musical genre. One can get a pretty good idea when a priest was ordained by how he celebrates the Liturgy.

    • Jose Jorrin

      I could not agree with you more. What a disservice we are doing to our children

  • J

    DIXIBEHR, google the phrase, “Democracy of the dead”.

  • This os OK. We are Jewish and like a variety of Jewish mucic and special music for the High Holy Days. Some one sent this to us. It is interesting but the Latin is not famalier and is apparantly done in a very large space with great acoustics. Anglican and Gregorian chants are much more intelagable.

  • Dominice

    I think the Veni Sancte Spiritus and the Veni Creator Spiritus should be included.

  • Patrick Phibbs

    Not sure how this fits into the theme of the posts but it’s always been a favorite!

    Miserere Mei, Deus

    ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fcWo1hKHu40&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    • CL Davis

      Patrick, though not a hymn per se, this Allegri piece has always been a favourite of mine. It so perfectly captures the emotional gravity of Psalm 51. Thanks for sharing!

  • I think only two of the five texts listed here are truly hymns; the rest are antiphons. For hymnody in the Latin rite, one must look to the Divine Office, where hymnody belongs. Hymns are otherwise alien to the Roman Liturgy, and are not found in the Mass. Instead, the Mass uses the psalter.

    The ‘best’ hymns of the Latin tradition would be those well-loved by composers over the centuries. So, ‘Veni Creator’, ‘Ave Maris Stella’, and ”Vexilla Regis’ to name just three great hymns to replace your three antiphons. There are other wonderful hymns, with great theology in the words and a distinctive tune. But these three are the most well-known, and “every Catholic should” know them because they are part of the heritage of the Church which she has contributed to Western culture. And, of course, they’re just very fine in and of themselves as expressions of our Faith!

  • Victress Jenkins [Miss]

    Years ago, our choir at St. Gregory’s Roman Catholic Church in Phoenix sang Alexander Peloquin’s “In Memory of You” in which he included Ave Verum Corpus” during the Holy Thursday mass @ communion time.

  • Don

    Does anyone else have a love for the Dies Irae ?

  • Gary Abraham

    At 76 years I have sad nostalgic memories of the Latin Mass and those hymns of the day. Not all were sung in Latin, but they had spiritual meaning. The lyrics of today are more often called “songs” by ministers. The majesty of those earlier services has been lost to us. The richness of the service is no more.

    Where there was once a reverent silence in church, it is a hothouse of chatter. Churches locked against all others for fear of vandalism, and used for Sunday service, concerts and non-religeous socials.
    What once was the House of God is now…what?

    Witness the congregations of yesteryear where several sunday sevices (Masses) were celebrated to nearly full churches. Other congregations likewise. Now, witness the fewer services of today and the decline in congregations.

    This is eveident in most other churches, with the possible exception of “New” Age Chistianity, and I feel they are in slow decline.

    Where are the pews of children that we used to see?

    There may be several solutions to this?

    Turn off the television, with their programmes of violence, and advertising mammon.

    Turn off the nonsensical use of cellphones, so people talk “face to face” instead of sending insults and gossip.

    Meals to be eaten at the table as a family.

    I am certain all will consider other ideas. I am equally certain there will be general laughter and dissention form those reading this. And that is another problem.

    But the biggest problem is that we will do nothing to resolve this. We no longer qualify as “martyr material, in case we are ridiculed. True?

  • carolyn smoke

    can you tell me where i can find the written music to O Salutarius

    • Mary Rose Gaughan

      This is so beautiful thank you for this post. It inspires me.

  • NicholasG

    Why, oh why, did VENI CREATOR SPIRITUS not make this list?

  • shchapman

    “Remember, not all Catholics are of the Latin liturgical and spiritual tradition.”

    Um…I think we ALL are of that tradition…for close to two-thousand years!

  • Maureen

    Oh, Gary Abraham, I too am from your generation; and you speak eloquently for me also.

    Might I also add: Where are the many Catholic schools, which were “attached” to just about every Church; where the nuns taught us so well, not only our corporal lessons, but a deeply abiding love of Christ, Mary, and Holy Mother the Church. Most importantly, it was affordable to EVERY Catholic child, who was a practicing member of the Church. Now,sadly, very few Catholic children can afford the luxury of such an education.

    In Catholic (all girls) highschool, we sang the responses, in Latin; and it was the most beautiful sound! I can still sing most of them, by memory. Ahhh, how I miss the Latin Mass.

    And yes, SHCHAPMAN, I am Irish (descent), and have always cherished the “Latin liturgical and spiritual tradition”, and always will.

    By the way, I have a book of Latin hymns, which I play often on my organ… this is some consolation to me. I would be glad to share the lyrics with anyone who would like to have them.

    Peace (pace)

    • Carlos Nunes

      Hello Maureen,
      In my heydays, in the church choir, we used to sing many of them ( in Goa). i can still hum them. But I would like to have my girls learn them. One is into piano and the other into violin. Would you be kind to share them with me please? My e-mail: nunescarl1@yahoo.co.uk. Thank you. Carlos

  • Alexandrus

    Beautiful. Just don’t forget the traditional hymn Salve Mater http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBLqsWt4msg

  • JUDE THEMBO

    indeed wonderful know as catholics

  • Ben7735

    Dixibehr: The Salve Regina was traditionally attributed to either St. Anselm of Lucca or St. Bernard of Clairvaux, but nowadays most historians agree it was likely composed by Hermann of Reichenau. I’ve never heard of it being attributed to St. Isaac the Syrian before.

  • Aida

    I miss the Holy Latin Mass with all my heart.

  • Ruben

    I loved “tantum ergo”, it brings back a lots of good memories. Where can I find ” adorote de vorte” sorry for misspelling ?

  • Augustine Ravi

    our catholic life is a wonderful tradition that our parents instilled in us.So are the Latin hymns.Thank you people for your work. Continue with the THE LORD’S blessings

  • These pious songs are directly linked with the holy ghost and heared to god. These songs are essential in daily mass so that these songs live forever.

  • Reading all these comments have made my day. I felt I was alone with my memories of the beautiful Latin Hymns. Now reading all your comments I again hope for a future with better music in the Roman Catholic Churches.

  • A. Backhurst

    “Anglican patrimony”, the term used in Pope Benedict XVI’s document setting up the personal ordinariates which allowed Anglicans to become Catholic while retaining elements of their identity. So while we are Catholic we are not very familiar with the Latin Rite and Latin hymns; however when I have been able to hear them am able to know the richness of them.

    http://www.thetablet.co.uk/news/184/0/cdf-defines-anglican-patrimony-for-ordinariate

  • During the pontificate of Pope Paul VI of happy memory, His Holiness asked to have distributed throughout the world a small booklet, “Jubilate Deo,” containing Latin hymns which, he thought, should be on the tip of every Catholic’s tongue. I recall receiving a copy from the Daughters of St. Paul. They no longer bring out this little publication.

    I asked a friend some years ago to scan my volume so I could post it online. But he forgot to do it and never returned my copy to me.

  • Dan

    I raise you Deo Gratias by Ockeghem… perhaps more as a specific musical piece. It uses a phrase we often take too lightly or never heed and weaves it into a beautiful chant that brings wonder and joy to mind.

  • CATHOLICS are elite of our Christian world. However, sadly and for various reasons we failed to accommodate the very Christ who not only redeemed us but even failed to abide by the concept of “Love of our neighbor” what to speak of the “Love of Jesus Christ” Himself. We are nowhere at fault because the imprint of having been baptized in to the sacred religion and having our names inscribed in to the annals of heavenly bliss right from the days of Christ Himself, we started professing to be the very crucifers of Jesus Christ, that too for various reasons.

    The magnanimity of free will bestowed on us even enabled us to find loopholes in others, which ultimately allowed some unscrupulous elements to point fingers at the Catholic Church itself. So the breakaway Catholics and unfaithful Christians make their mark under Protestants who in turn even floated their version of Christianity with identities which do not portray Christianity. We failed to abide by laws and norms of Divine Teachings, to only find ourselves classified as Orthodox, Syrian, Malankara etc. etc. with many even deserting the Vatican to profess an alienated Christianity. We have as a whole been unfaithful to Christ Himself as He Himself stated ”Some seeds fell by the way side which the birds of the air ate up, some on stony ground, some on thorns ….. “ but the few who managed to uphold the divine grace of having been enlisted by Jesus Christ Himself to carry the message of love to world around, ought to be grateful that our names were inscribed by Jesus Christ Himself, which is in fact the greatest gift by God.

    There is much to point out at Catholics going astray all around. However, the nearest that this writer can point out is about the state of Kerala in India where St. Thomas set foot in 52 A.D. whereafter practically half of its population had got converted to Christianity. Even so, today money and pompous lives by people have massacred the existence of divinity in and around the state. Scrupulous observance of Church precepts are being tossed about for pomp and aggrandizement, relieving people of even the little devotion or faithfulness existing within them.

    So, the chant that was made out centuries earlier under the Eucharistic Hymn namely “Tantum Ergo” [Down in adoration falling] only leaves traces of love for the real Jesus Christ which the founding fathers and Jesus’ apostles or disciples had bequeathed to us. Who is to blame? Our weakness to fight the demon and the monstrosity of our sins!

  • Muy adecuada la informacion, en verdad que me hicieron cambiar de perspectiva con tan acertado articulo. felicidades y gracias por compartirlo.

  • Brian Rackley

    Thank you for posting these hymns. I have been a Catholic now for 6 years and know these hymns very well – in fact hearing some of them was part of what drew me in to the Church. I’m wondering now what should be the next step? I know the Antiphons of the BVM, the Angelus prayer, etc. I think I need to brush up on the Te Deum and attend Vespers and Benediction more often.

    I’m surprised no-one above has mentioned this, but all these hymns and more are available in books and cds of Solesmes Abbey. http://www.solesmes.com.