The Malta Independent 24 April 2019, Wednesday

100 years of T’Adoriam Ostia Divina

Malta Independent Tuesday, 23 April 2013, 12:46 Last update: about 6 years ago

A holy hymn

One of the most popular Maltese hymns sung during the distribution of Holy Communion during Holy Mass in our churches in Malta and Gozo is undoubtedly Nadurawk Ja Hobz tas-Sema (We adore you, O Heavenly Bread). This hymn – like many others including the National Anthem – was written by Malta’s national poet Reverend Fr Carmelo Psaila, otherwise popularly known as Dun Karm, who was born in Haz-Zebbug, Malta, on 18 October 1871 and died a week short of his 90th birthday on 13 October 1961. The hymn was written in the first months of the year 1913, precisely 100 years ago.


An Italian version

During my first year lecturing on the Maltese language at the Università degli Studi (L’Orientale) in Naples in 1991, I realised that, in some churches, the hymn T’Adoriam Ostia Divina was often sung. It was the melody of this hymn which struck me and drew my attention to the fact that it was an Italian version of the Maltese hymn.


A popular hymn

One day I approached the Capuchin who was playing the hymn on the organ in the Capuchins’ church in Mergellina, Naples, and asked him to show me the music and the lyrics in Italian.

“It is a very popular hymn,’ Fr Egidio, OFM, Cap. told me. ‘It is old and many of the faithful know it by heart. We do not know either the name of the author of the lyrics or who composed its music,’ he continued.

Fr Egidio and I entered into a long discussion during which I told him that the hymn had been penned by Maltese priest and poet Dun Karm, while the music was composed by compatriot Maestro Joseph Caruana, to be sung during the International Eucharistic Congress held in Malta. He gave me a photocopy of the hymn – words and music – without, of course, the name of either the author of the lyrics or the composer of the music.

Whenever I asked about this hymn in Italy, everyone agreed that it was very popular; many people – especially the elderly – knew it by heart, but nobody knew who had written it or where it came from.


The International Eucharistic
Congress of 1913

This was the XXIVth International Eucharistic Congress and it was held in Malta between 23 and 27 April 1913. Cardinals from Catania, Palermo, Pesaro, Sivilia, and Westminster, and Bishops from Algiers, Argentina, Beirut, Canada, Carthage in Africa, England, Eritrea, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Jerusalem (Patriarch), New Zealand, Pietra, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Scotland, Sicily, Spain, and Syria were among the delegates who participated.

The main objective of this gathering is to promote an awareness of the central place of the Eucharist in the life and mission of the Catholic Church. The daily celebration of the Eucharist is at the very heart of the week-long Congress, the wider programme of which includes liturgical events, cultural events, catechesis, and testimonies. The major activities of the event in Malta took place in Floriana, Mosta and Valletta.


The history of the hymn

The vicissitudes of the hymn were narrated by Dun Karm himself in the magazine Il-Habbar (1924) and Il-Malti, the quarterly journal of the Akkademja tal-Malti (Academy of Maltese [Authors]) of March 1944.

In Il-Malti Dun Karm starts with a premise: "I would have never spoken about this hymn, had some events not given it international recognition.”

Then he tells how, early in 1913, when preparations for the programme of activities associated with the Congress to be held in Malta later that year had already begun, he was approached in Strada Reale (today’s Republic Street) by Maestro Joseph Caruana. Maestro Caruana asked him for some lines to which he could add music for a hymn which would be sung by children during the Holy Communion and processions held during the Congress.

The following day, Dun Karm gave Maestro Caruana three stanzas, but these were pleasing to neither one nor the other.

“Wait until tomorrow,” Dun Karm begged Maestro Caruana. “I hope I’ll have something better for you.”

In fact, the following day, Dun Karm gave the maestro the poetic lines of the hymn still sung today in many churches in Italy: ‘T’Adoriam, Ostia Divina’. Dun Karm also adds that he himself suggested the melody – “a motif from a traditional Maltese song that I must have heard a thousand times sung by young Maltese women tending the family’s outdoor crops.” This pleased Maestro Caruana, who scribbled the musical notes on a piece of paper which he took out of his pocket there and then. The music of the hymn was also ready the following day.’


A hymn in Italian

In 1913, Dun Karm was over 41 years old and he had started writing poetry in Maltese the previous year. At the beginning of his writing career he used to write and publish poems, essays, and articles in Italian – the established language of culture in Malta.

But still, Dun Karm had to write the Eucharistic hymn in Italian because it was only in that language that it could be sung by the Maltese and by anyone who – official dignitaries included – came to Malta from many countries, for the Congress. And that is also why both poet and maestro thought it appropriate to have the hymn printed too, so that both Maltese and foreigners could have a copy while singing it. Dun Karm and the maestro approached one of the best booksellers and printers on the island and even offered him the copyright of the hymn. However their proposal failed to convince and the hymn remained on paper.


The hymn is printed

The director of the religious Institute for Children (tad-Duttrina) of St Publius’ church in Floriana printed some copies of the lyrics and provided some copies of the musical score written by hand. It was the children of this institute – and with them many others who were to receive Holy Communion for the first time – who had to sing the hymn after Holy Communion, in the Floriana church, during the Congress. But on these copies both the name of Dun Karm, as well as that of Maestro Caruana, were left out.

The original hymn in Italian:

T’Adoriam Ostia Divina


T’adoriam, Ostia divina,

t’adoriam, Ostia d’amor.

Tu dell’angelo il sospiro,

tu dell’uomo sei l’onor.

Ritornello:      T’adoriam, Ostia divina,

t’adoriam, Ostia d’amor.


T’adoriam, Ostia divina,

t’adoriam, Ostia d’amor.

Tu dei forti la dolcezza,

tu dei deboli il vigor. (Rit.)


T’adoriam, Ostia divina,

t’adoriam, Ostia d’amor.

Tu salute dei viventi,

tu speranza di chi muor. (Rit.)


T’adoriam, Ostia divina,

t’adoriam, Ostia d’amor.

Ti conosca il mondo e t’ami,

tu la gioia d’ogni cuor. (Rit.)


The hymn in Italy

The hymn seems to have pleased all those who heard it sung.

“Cosi si canta in Paradiso” (“It is like this that they sing in Heaven”) was the comment made by the Archbishop of Syracuse (most probably Mgr Luigi Bignami) who was near Dun Karm, on a balcony overlooking Strada Reale, in Valletta, when he heard the hymn being sung as a procession of the Eucharistic Congress was passing by.

The secretary of the Bishop of Acireale asked for a copy of the words and music to take home with him. Then the hymn was printed in Arcireale, together with a note claiming copyright and forbidding its printing by others!

Maltese Mgr L. Farrugia – who had been responsible for a booklet commemorating the Congress – started to make the sign of the cross when Dun Karm told him that it was he who had written the hymn.

It has been reported that thousands of young children had received their First Holy Communion during one of the Congress activities. On a postcard – one of a set commemorating the International Eucharistic Congress – it is said that 12,000 children had received their first Holy Communion during one of the activities of the Congress. I would like to acknowledge a scan of this postcard – together with several others – which were cordially given to me by Dr Anthony Abela Medici, author of Maltese Picture Postcards: The Definitive Catalogue, Vol. I: The Early Years – 1898 – 1906, Malta, 2009.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the hymn spread through Italy and elsewhere – together with copies printed without the name of either the author or the maestro.


The hymn in Maltese

In Malta, the hymn kept continued to be sung, even after the Congress, especially on such occasions as Corpus Christi (the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus) and during the Ora Santa (Holy Hour).

Meanwhile, alongside the Italian version contained in his book entitled L’XXIV Congress Eucaristicu Internazionali f’Malta, Fr Domenico Azzopardi, OP, gave a Maltese translation, written in the Maltese orthography of the period:


1.               Inkejjmuc, ja Alla Ostia

                           Inkejjmuc, ja Ostia ta mhabba,

                  Inti ix-xeuka tal Angli,

                  Int tal bniedem il gieh.

                           Inkejjmuc, ja Alla Ostia,

                           Inkejjmuc, ja Ostia ta mhabba.


2.               Inkejjmuc ...

                  Int il hleuua tal kauuijîn

                  Int is-sahha tal mrajjdîn

                           Inkejjmuc ...


3.               Inkejjmuc ...

                  Inti is-sahha tal hajjin,

                  Inti it-tâma tal mejtîn,

                           Inkejjmuc ...


4.               Inkejjmuc ...

                  Li chiecu id-dinja tgharfec u thobboc

                  Inti il ferh ta cull kalb.

                           Inkejjmuc ...


5.               Inkejjmuc ...

                  Sliem ghalic Alla mohbi u cbir

                  Inti is-Sid ta secoli collha

                           Inkejjmuc ...


Other translations started to surface in Maltese villages, but Dun Karm lamented that these were not harmonious with either the rhythm or the melody.

To immediately cater for this “distress” – as he called it – the poet translated the hymn into Maltese himself and had it printed in the magazine Il-Habib (30/09/1924), several copies of which were distributed in Malta and Gozo.


An experience

It seems that the hymn also gained popularity in countries to which delegates at the Malta Congress had taken a copy back home with them.

Once, in 1931, Dun Karm was given a copy of a booklet with hymns which the children and youths of the congregation I Paggi d’Onore del SS. Sacramento, of Rome, sing daily in their church. Among these he found his, entitled Inno di Adorazione, with neither his nor Maestro Caruana’s name.

Dun Karm wrote to the president of the Congregation and asked that, in the event of another edition – and not for his or Maestro Caruana’s personal pride, but only for the sake of the hymn being Maltese – a note be added acknowledging it to be Maltese, and saying when and how it was written.

To this request the Congregation’s president, Mrs Levarani, informed Dun Karm that the congregation had obtained a copy of the hymn from Palermo and she had done her best to make it popular. Moreover, in L’Amico dei Pargoli (March, 1932) and in Tarcisio (April, 1932) she wrote: ‘We have learnt from Valletta that the music for the popular hymn T’Adoriam Ostia Divina which is sung by the Paggi d’Onore di Roma and in other parts of Italy and elsewhere, was composed by the famous Maestro G. Caruana and was sung for the first time on the occasion of the International Eucharistic Congress held in Malta in 1913.” (translated from the Italian.) And, as evidenced by these words, the name of Dun Karm, was again left out.

Dun Karm said nothing about this.

Such seems to have been the fate of this hymn – to spread without the author’s name. In fact, it was published in many editions of hymn books, some of which I have seen and none of which carry the name of either the poet or Caruana.

In the rest of his account, Dun Karm says he was happy that his hymn had become popular and continued to be sung, as he had been informed in a letter sent from Rome in 1936 by Maltese Mgr Fr Paul Galea, during the International Eucharistic Congress held there. Mgr Galea wrote: “...I cannot express the joy I felt when I heard the singing of your T’Adoriam … everybody was singing it, and I would not be lying if I tell you that it was the preferred hymn.”

Dun Karm, above all, was happy for the fact that the hymn “had entered the heart of anyone who understands the meaning of the Sacrament of the Eucharist,” to the extent that, in both the original in Italian and in the translations into other languages, it was sung with the greatest enthusiasm at each of the International Congresses held ever since.’


Italian, Maltese and English versions

Forty three years after its composition, the T’Adoriam was published in Italian and Maltese with the original five stanzas, and in English (with six stanzas) attributed to H. St Lavin, SJ, by M.C. (for Maria Caruana – Maestro Giuseppe Caruana’s daughter), in Innijiet Popolari – b’muzika ta’ Giuseppe Caruana, Florence, 1956, pp. 10-11.

The poet’s Italian version was cited supra. The Maltese translation and the English version run as follows:

Nadurawk ja Hobz tas-Sema

Nadurawk, ja Hobz tas-sema;

Frott l-Imhabba l-izjed bnin.

Ghalik l-angli dlonk titniehed,

Inti l-hena tal-bnedmin.

Ritornell  Nadurawk, ja Hobz tas-sema

Frott l-Imhabba l-izjed bnin.


Nadurawk, ja Hobz tas-sema;

Frott l-Imhabba l-izjed bnin.

Int is-sahha tal-qawwija,

Int il-farag tad-dghajfin. (Rit.)


Nadurawk, ja Hobz tas-sema;

Frott l-Imhabba l-izjed bnin.

Int il-qawma ta’ min raqad,

Inti l-ghaxja tal-hajjin. (Rit.)


Nadurawk, ja Hobz tas-sema;

Frott l-Imhabba l-izjed bnin.

Jalla d-dinja taghraf thobbok,

Inti l-hena tal-bnedmin. (Rit.)


Nadurawk, ja Hobz tas-sema;

Frott l-Imhabba l-izjed bnin.

Insellmulek, Alla mohbi,

Inti biss tahkem is-snin. (Rit.)


Host Divine, we bow in worship

Host Divine, we bow in worship,

Host Divine, we sing thy praise,

Thou desire of all the angels

Glory of our humble ways.

Refrain:        Host Divine, we bow in worship,

Host Divine, we sing thy praise,


Host Divine, we bow in worship,

Host Divine, we sing thy praise,

To the strong Thou givest meekness

And the weak to strength dost raise.        (Ref.)


Host Divine, we bow in worship,

Host Divine, we sing thy praise,

Thou salvation of the living

Hope of those whom death dismays.       (Ref.)


Host Divine, we bow in worship,

Host Divine, we sing thy praise,

May thy children know and love Thee,

For the world thy love displays.         (Ref.)


Host Divine, we bow in worship,

Host Divine, we sing thy praise,

Hail, o God of hidden splendour

Lord of time through endless days.           (Ref.)


Host Divine, we bow in worship,

Host Divine, we sing thy praise,

Thou desire of all the angels

Glory of our humble ways.         (Ref.)


In the Maltese translation, Dun Karm changes the sense of some Italian phrases – and with them the original concept. Among these one may observe the following Italian = Maltese = English rendering:


Ostia Divina = Hobz tas-Sema = Bread of Heaven

Ostia d’amor = frott l-imhabba l-izjed bnin = fruit of love

Tu de l’angelo il sospiro = ghalik l-angli (dlonk) titniehed = for you angels sigh

dell’uomo sei l’onor = Inti l-hena tal-bnedmin = You’re the happiness of mankind

speranza di chi muor = qawma ta’ min raqad = resurrection for the dead

salute dei viventi = ghaxja tal-hajjin = evening meal for the living

Tu gloria d’ogni cor = il-qlub huma henjin = the hearts are happy

Ave,Dio nascocto e grande = Insellmulek Alla mohbi = we hail you o hidden God

Tu dei secoli il Signor = Inti biss tahkem is-snin = You’re the only one who rules

over time.


It is worth noting that, in the Maltese version, some of the original words by Dun Karm have been replaced: ‘dghajfin’ (weak) in the fourth line of the second stanza, was over time replaced by ‘fqajrin’ (poor) – who knows how or why, while ‘qawma’ (resurrection) and ‘ghaxja’ (evening meal) in the third and fourth lines respectively of the third stanza, perhaps because of a certain phonetic resemblance, have been replaced with ‘qawwa’ (strength) and ‘ghaxqa’ (great delight) – words which are more appealing and have an immediate meaning.

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