Painting of the Child Jesus with a crown of flowers by Carlo Dolci (1616-1686)
Over forty years ago, when I was taking my first steps in what would be a life-long monastic pilgrimage, I visited a certain Trappist abbey. A marvelously warm and open laybrother with twinkling eyes and a French Canadian accent greeted me in the porter’s lodge and, from that moment, there grew between us a bond of friendship and of prayer. Brother G. had a particular devotion to the Office of the Most Holy Name of Jesus and, in particular, to the hymns of that Office. Opening his somewhat battered copy of the Cistercian Day Hours, he would ask me to pray the Dulcis Iesu Memoria with him. He never tired of repeating it.
Today, being the feast of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, in the traditional Benedictine calendar, I thought I might share with my readers selected verses of the hymns of Vespers, Matins, and Lauds. Attributed for a long time to Saint Bernard (1090-1153), more recent scholarship suggests that Saint Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) may be the author of this beautiful poem on the mystical love of Jesus. In any case, it is relatively certain that the Iubilus Rithmicus de Amore Iesu is the work of a 12th century English Cistercian.
Jesu, the very thought of thee / With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see, / And in thy presence rest!
Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame, / Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest name, / O Saviour of mankind!
O hope of every contrite heart! / O joy of all the meek!
To those who fall how kind thou art, / How good to those who seek!
But what to those who find? Ah, this / Nor tongue nor pen can show:
The love of Jesus, what it is, / None but his lovers know.
O Jesu, light of all below! / Thou Fount of life and fire!
Surpassing all the joys we know, / And all we can desire!
O Jesu, King most wonderful! / Thou conqueror renowned!
Thou sweetness most ineffable! / In whom all joys are found!
Stay with us Lord; and with thy light / Illume the soul’s abyss;
Scatter the darkness of our night, / And fill the world with bliss!
Jesu, thy mercies are untold, / Through each returning day;
Thy love exceeds a thousandfold / Whatever we can say.
Celestial Sweetness unalloyed! / Who eat thee hunger still;
Who drink of thee, yet feel a void, / Which thou alone canst fill.
Thrice happy he, who living thee, / Doth thy true sweetness know:
All else becomes but vanity / Thenceforth to him below.
O Jesu, thou the beauty art / Of angel worlds above;
Thy name is music to the heart, / Enchanting it with love.
For thee I yearn, for thee I sigh; / When wilt thou come to me,
And make me glad eternally / With the blest sight of thee.
Thy presence with me I desire / Wherever I may be;
This, Lord is all that I require / For my felicity.
Thy kiss is bliss beyond compare, / A bliss forevermore;
O, that thy visits were less rare, / And not so quickly o’er!
Now have I gained my long desire, / Now what I sought is mine;
Now is my heart, O Christ, on fire / With thy true love divine.
O fairest of the sons of day! / More fragrant than the rose!
O brighter than the dazzling ray / That in the sunbeam glows!
O thou whose love alone is all / That mortal can desire!
Whose image doth my heart enthrall, / And with delight inspire.
O thou in wom my love doth find / Its rest and perfect end;
O Jesu, Saviour of mankind! / And their eternal friend.
Lead where thou wilt, I follow thee, / And will not stay behind;
For thou hast torn my hear from me, / O Glory of our kind!
To him, praise, glory without end, / And adoration be;
O Jesu, grant us to ascend, / And reign in Heaven with thee.