Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Music for First Vespers of the Assumption

In the Roman Rite, there are traditionally only three hymns generally used on feasts of the Virgin Mary. These are Ave, Maris Stella, which is sung at Vespers, Quem terra at Matins, and O gloriosa Domina at Lauds; the second and third of these were originally two parts of the same hymn, divided for liturgical use. Among the many other hymns composed in the Middle Ages in honor of the Virgin, a standout is O quam glorifica, an anonymous composition of the ninth century, possibly earlier, which was adopted by several churches for use on the Assumption. At Sarum, it was sung at First Vespers of the feast, while the Parisian Use placed it at Matins, and from these extended it to the Little Office of the Virgin. It was incorporated into the Latin version of the Liturgy of the Hours, although it was not assigned to the Assumption, but to Lauds of Our Lady’s Queenship on August 22, which is now the de facto octave of the Assumption. This is a piece whose complex Latin meter makes for a rather odd word order, and a prime example of a work to which translation perhaps does more than a little injustice. It is here sung by the Trappist monks of Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, in a recording from 1958; the Cistercian tradition also places it at first Vespers of the feast.


quam glorifica luce coruscas,
Stirpis Davidicae regia proles!
Sublimis residens, Virgo Maria,
Supra caeligenas aetheris omnes.
O with how glorious light thou shinest,
royal offspring of David’s race!
dwelling on high, O Virgin Mary,
Above all the regions of heaven.
Tu cum virgineo mater honore,
Caelorum Domino pectoris aulam
Sacris visceribus casta parasti;
Natus hinc Deus est corpore Christus.
Thou, chaste mother with virginal honor,
prepared in thy holy womb
a dwelling place for the Lord of heaven;
hence God, Christ, was born in a body.
Quem cunctus venerans orbis adorat,
Cui nunc rite genuflectitur omne;
A quo te, petimus, subveniente,
Abjectis tenebris, gaudia lucis.
Whom all the word adores in veneration,
before whom every knee rightfully bends,
From whom we ask, as thou comest to help,
the joys of light, and the casting away
   of darkness.
Hoc largire Pater luminis omnis,
Natum per proprium, Flamine sacro,
Qui tecum nitida vivit in aethra
Regnans, ac moderans saecula cuncta.
  Amen.
Grant this, Father of all light,
Through thine own Son, by the Holy Spirit,
who with liveth in the bright heaven,
ruling and governing all the ages.
  Amen.

The Sarum and Dominican Uses also have a special Magnificat antiphon for First Vespers of the Assumption, much longer than those typically found in the Roman Use.

Aña Ascendit Christus super caelos, et praeparavit suae castissimae Matri immortalitatis locum: et haec est illa praeclara festivitas, omnium Sanctorum festivitatibus incomparabilis, in qua gloriosa et felix, mirantibus caelestis curiae ordinibus, ad aethereum pervenit thalamum: quo pia sui memorum immemor nequaquam exsistat. – Christ ascended above the heavens, and prepared for His most chaste Mother the place of immortality; and this is the splendid festivity, beyond comparison with the feasts of all the Saints, in which She in glory and rejoicing, as the orders of the heavely courts beheld in wonder, came to the heavenly bridal chamber; that She in her benevolence may ever be mindful of those that remember her.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: