Tuesday, December 26, 2017

A Proper Hymn for St Stephen

The Roman Divine Office is traditionally much more conservative than other Uses in the adoption of new texts, and this is particularly true in regard to its use of hymns. Of the 39 Saints named in the Roman Canon apart from the Virgin Mary, only John the Baptist and the Apostles Peter and Paul have their own hymns, the latter only at Vespers; all the rest have hymns taken from the common offices. Of the seven common offices of Saints, only that of Several Martyrs has a separate hymn for each of the three major hours. The Virgin Mary’s common office, adapted from the Office of the Assumption, also has three hymns, which are used on nearly all of Her feasts, in the Saturday Office, and in the Little Office as well. Exceptions like the Matins hymn of the Immaculate Conception are quite late.

One of the gems which is therefore not found in the historical Roman Use is a proper hymn for St Stephen, Sancte Dei pretiose; it was used by the Old Observance Carmelites, Premonstratensians, and the Use of Sarum, just to name a few. Most of these Uses have it at either Matins or Lauds, with the common hymn for one martyr at Lauds or Matins, and again at Vespers. When it originally composed in the 11th century, it had only three stanzas; a number of others were added to it later, but do not seem to have caught on. In this recording, the music turns into a kind of early polyphony at the 2:00 mark; but the second stanza is then repeated, and the doxology is not included.


Sancte Dei pretiose
Protomartyr Stephane,
Qui virtute caritatis
Circumfultus undique
Dominum pro inimico
Exorasti populo. 
O Precious Saint of God,
Stephen, the First Martyr,
Who, by virtue of charity
Surrounded on every side
Didst pray to the Lord
For the hostile people.
Funde preces pro devoto
Tibi nunc collegio,
Ut, tuo propitiatus
Interventu, Dominus
Nos, purgatos a peccatis
Jungat caeli civibus.
Pour forth prayers now for
The assembly devoted to thee,
That, appeased by thy inter-
vention, the Lord, may
cleanse us from sin,
And join us to the citizens
of heaven.
Gloria et honor Deo
Usquequaque Altissimo,
Una Patri, Filioque,
Inclyto Paraclito,
Cui laus est et potestas
Per aeterna saecula. Amen.
Glory and honor to God
The most high in every place;
The same to the Father,
and the Son, to the glorious
Paraclete; to whom belong praise
and might for all ages. Amen.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: