Not all that long ago, I discovered the music of Ēriks Ešenvalds – I had never heard his name before. He writes quite a lot of sacred music, and I find that a lot of it gives me a sense of consolation. It’s very prayerful, and seems to touch something quite profound in me.
One of my favourite works by Ešenvalds is his “O Salutaris Hostia”. It’s one of the most consoling pieces of music I know; it calms my soul. It’s like taking a step into a different place, to rest with God.
I know little about sacred music tradition, and it hadn’t occurred to me until today to look up the Latin text and its translation and context.
Here it is:
- O salutaris Hostia,
- Quæ cæli pandis ostium:
- Bella premunt hostilia,
- Da robur, fer auxilium.
- Uni trinoque Domino
- Sit sempiterna gloria,
- Qui vitam sine termino
- Nobis donet in patria.
- (Literal) Translation:
- O, salutary Victim,
- Who expandest the door of heaven,
- Hostile armies press,
- Give strength; bear aid.
- To the Triune Lord,
- May there be everlasting glory;
- that life without end He
- to us give in our homeland.
I’m sure I don’t understand all the context of the text, but it is a cry for help to God, for protection and strength. And the word ‘homeland’ has particular resonance for me, given that I’ve left my (geographical) homeland, and that there seems to be an invisible but very definite wall between here and ‘home’… So this is asking God to be my home, and my family, to defend me and to keep me safe…
And then I learned too that this is a Eucharistic hymn, written by St Thomas Aquinas. It belongs in the context of Lauds (Morning Prayer), as part of the Divine Office (imagine starting a day like that…). And it is used for the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
I’m really moved by the fact that this was a hymn for Eucharistic Adoration. If you’ve read around my blog a bit, you will know that I’ve been quite drawn to the religious life for some time. And the fact is that I’m very much drawn to religious orders in which Sisters pray in front of the Blessed Sacrament, and that’s as an Anglican, not a Catholic, and a still relatively new Anglican at that. I didn’t grow up with this experience, I learned about this form of prayer only 6 or 7 years ago, on retreat with the Jesuits. It’s had a powerful draw on me ever since.
So to have loved this music and then to learn that this is what it was written for, that was a moving moment for me today.