Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Lenten Hymn for Compline “Christe, Qui Lux Es et Dies”

The breviary and missal of St Pius V derive from the liturgical tradition used by the Papal curia in the high Middle Ages, formally codified at the beginning of the 13th century in a document known as the Ordinal of Pope Innocent III (1198-1216). This tradition was extremely conservative, and relative to many others (e.g. Sarum), much simpler. In the Divine Office, this simplicity is most evident at Compline, which follows the changes common to all Hours in the Easter season, and often varies the doxology of the hymn, but never the hymn itself, nor the chapter, or the antiphon of the Nunc dimittis.

All of these elements, plus the antiphon of the Psalms, were commonly varied for specific seasons and feast days in almost all other Uses of the Roman Rite, although the Psalms (4 – 30, 2-6 – 90 – 133) were the same in all of them every day until the Psalter reform of St Pius X. One of the most common customs in this regard was to sing the hymn Christe, qui lux es et dies in Lent, in place of the default hymn Te lucis ante terminum. The use of this hymn is first attested ca. 500 in the Regula Virginum of St Caesarius of Arles, who prescribes it for the whole year, except Eastertide. It was long attributed to St Ambrose, but this attribution is no longer accepted.

Here is a splendid recording by The Sixteen in alternating chant and polyphony, the latter by the English composer Robert White (ca. 1538-74). The English translation in the table below is by Daniel Joseph Donahoe, from the second series of his Early Christian Hymns (1911), with a slight amendment of the first verse. (His translation does not include the doxology, which I have here rendered in prose.)
Christe qui lux es et dies,
Noctis ténebras détegis,
Lucísque lumen créderis,
Lumen beátum prædicans.
O Christ, who art our light and day
That drivest the shades of night away
The sun, to guide our steps aright
In blessed life and saving light.
Precámur, sancte Dómine,
Defénde nos in hac nocte:
Sit nobis in te réquies,
Quiétam noctem tríbue.
O Holy One, we cry to thee,
This night our strong defender be,
Our souls from sin and danger keep,
And bring us rest and quiet sleep.
Ne gravis somnus írruat,
Nec hostis nos surrípiat:
Nec caro illi conséntiens
Nos tibi reos státuat.
Let no temptations vile or vain,
Or evil will our slumber stain,
Lest by the power of hell beguiled,
Our souls be darkened or defiled.
Oculi somnum cápiant,
Cor ad te semper vígilet:
Déxtera tua prótegat
Fámulos qui te díligunt.
But while our eyes are closed in sleep,
Still let our hearts sharp vigil keep ;
Let thy right hand be with us still
To shield and save from every ill.
Defénsor noster, áspice,
Insidiántes réprime:

Gubérna tuos fámulos
Quos sánguine mercátus es.
Dear Jesus, hear our cry and bless;
All thoughts and deeds of wrong
Our guard, our guide, our ruler be,
Whom thou hast bought upon the tree.
Meménto nostri, Dómine,
In gravi isto córpore:

 Qui es defénsor ánimæ,
Adesto nobis, Dómine.
Remember, Lord, our need and woe,
How weak are we, thy strength
O thou, the soul’s best advocate,
Haste, haste and help our feeble state.
Deo Patri sit glória,
Ejusque soli Fílio,
Cum Spirítu Paráclito,
Et nunc et in perpétuum.
To God the Father glory,
And to His Only Son,
With the Spirit, the Paraclete
Both now and forever.
Lent is also the period for the most common variant (although still rather less common than any of the others) to the short responsory, which is still used by the Dominicans. The first part of it is sung only once at the beginning.

R. br. In pace in idipsum, * dormiam et requiescam. V. Si dedero somnum oculis meis, et palpebris meis dormitationem, dormiam et requiescam. Gloria Patri... dormiam et requiescam. (In peace at once I will sleep and take my rest. V. If I shall give sleep to my eyes, and slumber to my eyelids...)
This was also used in the Sarum liturgy, and hence we have this very beautiful polyphonic version by another English composer, John Sheppard (ca. 1515-58), sung very well in this recording by Stile Antico.

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