Tantum Ergo Cantavistis

Can ‘Tantum Ergo’ (from Thomas Aquinas’ longer hymn ‘Pange Lingua’) be used in a Protestant church?

Tantum ergo sacramentum
Veneremur cernui:
Et antiquum documentum
Novo cedat ritui:
Praestet fides supplementum
Sensuum defectui.

‘So great a sacrament, therefore,
Let us reverence with heads bowed down [cernui],
And let the old custom [documentum]
Yield to the new rite;
Let faith provide a supplement
For the failure of the senses.’

Nothing necessarily transubstantiationist here: that we feed on Christ in the body and the blood is clearly not discernable to our physical senses, and faith alone can know, on the basis of Scripture. The union with Christ to which this mystery is connected is indeed a mighty work of God that we ought to reverence, and God shall be honoured for his gracious act. Therefore do we leave behind the Old Testament sacrifices typifying the once-for-all sacrifice of the Christ, and celebrate the far greater rite in which we partake of Christ more fully than did believers of old.

Any issues I’m just not seeing here?


2 responses to “Tantum Ergo Cantavistis

  1. Do you want churches to sing it in Latin, or in a translation like the fine one above? And why bow down to the sacrament?


    • A translation would be good, seeing as most of us need the hymn to be in English to understand it. I think the translation above does convey the sense of the Latin, but we need a singable one, and for non-transubstantiationist worship I don’t want to use Edward Caswall’s rendering:

      Down in adoration falling,
      Lo! the sacred Host we hail;
      Lo! o’er ancient forms departing,
      newer rites of grace prevail;
      faith for all defects supplying,
      where the feeble senses fail.

      It’s not that we should be bowing down to bread and wine, I think, as if we have a Christ made out of those things, but really we’d mean the sacrament itself (not bread and wine by metonymy): what we reverence is the work of the Holy Spirit, while we adore and give thanks to the Christ, who gave himself for us.


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