14th-century text is a meditation on the Real Presence
Mozart wrote this setting of “Ave verum corpus” while visiting his wife, Constanze, who was pregnant with their sixth child, and staying in Baden bei Wien, Austria. During the visit, he met with Anton Stoll, a friend who was music director of the parish St. Stephan, Baden. Mozart wrote the melody for Stoll, who performed it first in St. Stephan’s to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi.
The text of “Ave verum corpus” is a 14th-century hymn, which is credited to Pope Innocent VI. During the middle ages it was sung at the elevation of the Host during the consecration of the Mass, as well as finding use during Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.
The text is a meditation on the Real Presence of Jesus in the Sacrament, tied to the Catholic conception of redemption found through suffering:
Hail, true Body, born
of the Virgin Mary,
having truly suffered, sacrificed
on the cross for mankind,
from whose pierced side
water and blood flowed:
Be for us a foretaste [of the Heavenly banquet]
in the trial of death!
O sweet Jesus, O holy Jesus,
O Jesus, son of Mary,
have mercy on me. Amen
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