Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Medieval Hymn for Eastertide

Many medieval breviaries, including those of the Sarum Use, the Cistercians, Carmelites and Premonstratensians, have a hymn for the Easter season which is not found in the Roman Breviary, Chorus novae Jerusalem by St Fulbert, bishop of Chartres, who died in 1029. The original version of the Latin text, and the English translation of John Mason Neale (1867), are given below. In this recording, the monks of the French abbey of Ligugé sing the revised version which Dom Anselmo Lentini made for the Liturgy of Hours; the differences are explained in the notes below the table.

Chorus novae Jerusalem,
Novam meli dulcedinem,
Promat, colens cum sobriis
Paschale festum gaudiis.
Ye Choirs of New Jerusalem!
To sweet new strains attune your theme;
The while we keep, from care releas’d,
With sober joy our Paschal Feast:
Quo Christus, invictus leo

Dracone surgens obruto;
Dum voce viva personat,
A morte functos excitat.
When Christ, Who spake the Dragon’s
Rose, Victor-Lion, from the tomb,
That while with living voice He cries,
The dead of other years might rise.
Quam devorarat improbus
Praedam refudit tartarus,
Captivitate libera
Jesum sequuntur agmina
Engorg’d in former years, their prey
Must Death and Hell restore to-day:
And many a captive soul, set free,
With Jesus leaves captivity.
Triumphat ille splendide
Et dignus amplitudine,
Soli polique patriam
Unam facit rempublicam
Right gloriously He triumphs now,
Worthy to Whom should all things bow;
And, joining heaven and earth again,
Links in one commonweal the twain.
Ipsum canendo supplices
Regem precemur milites
Ut in suo clarissimo
Nos ordinet palatio
And we, as these His deeds we sing,
His suppliant soldiers, pray our King,
That in His Palace, bright and vast,
We may keep watch and ward at last.
Esto perenne mentibus
Paschale, Jesu, gaudium,
Et nos renatos gratiae
Tuis triumphis aggrega.

(in the recording, but not in the
original text) 
Per saecla metae nescia
Patri supremo gloria,
Honorque sit cum Filio
Et Spiritu Paraclito. Amen.
Long as unending ages run,
To God the Father laud be done;
To God the Son our equal praise,
And God the Holy Ghost, we raise.

A literal translation of the hymn’s first two lines read “Let the choir of the new Jerusalem bring forth the new sweetness of a song.” The word “meli – song” is the genitive singular form of the Greek word “melos” (as in “melody”); this is unusual in Latin, and the line was emended in various ways. The Premonstratensians, e.g., changed it to “nova melos dulcedine – Let the choir of the new Jerusalem being forth a song with new sweetness.” Dom Lentini disturbed the original text less by changing it to “Hymni novam dulcedinem – the new sweetness of a hymn.”

This manuscript of the mid-11th century (British Library, Cotton Vesp. d. xii; folio 74v, image cropped), is one of the two oldest with the text of this hymn.
Unfortunately, he then decided to remove altogether the original doxology, which is unique to this hymn, in favor of his re-written version of the double doxology used at most hymns of the Easter season.

Esto perenne mentibus
Paschale, Jesu, gaudium,
Et nos renatos gratiae
Tuis triumphis aggrega.

Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui morte victa praenites,
Cum Patre et almo Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula.

“Be to our minds the endless joy of Easter, o Jesus, and join us, reborn of grace to Thy triumphs. – Jesus, to Thee be glory, who shinest forth, death being conquered, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto eternal ages.”

It is not difficult to figure out the rationale behind this change, since it appears in other features of the reform as well. As Fr Hunwicke wrote four years ago, “The post-Conciliar reforms made much of Easter being 50 days long and being one single Great Day of Feast. They renamed the Sundays as ‘of Easter’ rather than ‘after Easter’, and chucked out the old collects for the Sundays after Easter ...  because they didn’t consider them ‘Paschal’ enough.” (The “old” collects to which he refers are all found in the Gelasian Sacramentary in the same places they have in the Missal of St Pius V.) Likewise, St Fulbert’s original conclusion makes no direct reference to Easter.

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