Sunday, 24 March 2013

Latin prayer of the week: Vexilla Regis

I thought this week I would focus on a Passiontide hymn, Vexilla Regis Prodeunt.

This hymn is traditionally sung from Passion Sunday, including on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the Altar of Repose.

It was written by Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitier, and was first sung in 569 when a relic of the True Cross, sent by the Byzantine Emperor Justin II at the request of St. Radegunde, was carried to her monastery of Saint-Croix at Poitiers.

The opening verse is:

Vexilla regis prodeunt,
fulget crucis mysterium,
quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.

Or:

Abroad the regal banners fly,
now shines the Cross's mystery:
upon it Life did death endure,
and yet by death did life procure.

Interpretation

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, "Vexilla" has been interpreted symbolically to represent baptism, the Eucharist, and the other sacraments. Vexilla are the military standards of kings and princes, so the vexilla of Christ are the cross, the scourge, the lance, and the other instruments of the Passion "with which He fought against the old enemy and cast forth the prince of this world".

There are in fact a number of different versions of the hymn - it is one of those whose Latin has been 'improved' by assorted Popes and others, plus had new verses added, others dropped at various times.

As a result, the version in the Roman Breviary gives the second half of the verse as: qua vita mortem pertulit, / et morte vitam protulit.

Still here is one for you to enjoy (from Choral wiki):

Vexilla Regis prodeunt;
fulget Crucis mysterium,
[quo carne carnis conditor
suspensus est patibulo.]

Confixa clavis viscera
tendens manus, vestigia,
redemptionis gratia
hic immolata est hostia.

[Quo vulneratus insuper
mucrone diro lanceae,]
ut nos lavaret crimine,
manavit unda et sanguine.

Impleta sunt quae concinit
David fideli carmine,
dicendo nationibus:
regnavit a ligno Deus.

Arbor decora et fulgida,
ornata Regis purpura,
electa digno stipite
tam sancta membra tangere.

Beata, cuius brachiis
pretium pependit saeculi:
statera facta corporis,
[praedam tulitque tartari.] 3

Fundis aroma cortice,
vincis sapore nectare,
iucunda fructu fertili
plaudis triumpho nobili.

Salve, ara, salve, victima,
de passionis gloria,
qua vita mortem pertulit
et morte vitam reddidit.

O Crux ave, spes unica,
hoc Passionis tempore!
 [or: in hac triumphi gloria!]
piis adauge gratiam,
reisque dele crimina.

Te, fons salutis Trinitas,
collaudet omnis spiritus:
[quos per Crucis mysterium
salvas, fove per saecula.] 4 Amen.


The Royal Banner forward goes,
The mystic Cross refulgent glows:
Where He, in Flesh, flesh who made,
Upon the Tree of pain is laid.

Behold! The nails with anguish fierce,
His outstretched arms and vitals pierce:
Here our redemption to obtain,
The Mighty Sacrifice is slain.

Here the fell spear his wounded side
With ruthless onset opened wide:
To wash us in that cleansing flood,
Thence mingled Water flowed, and Blood.

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song, of old:
Unto the nations, lo! saith he,
Our God hath reignèd from the Tree.

O Tree! In radiant beauty bright!
With regal purple meetly dight!
Thou chosen stem! divinely graced,
Which hath those Holy Limbs embraced!

How blest thine arms, beyond compare,
Which Earth's Eternal Ransom bare!
That Balance where His Body laid,
The spoil of vanquished Hell outweighed.

---

Hail wondrous Altar! Victim hail!
Thy Glorious Passion shall avail!
Where death Life's very Self endured,
Yet life by that same Death secured.

O Cross! all hail! sole hope, abide
With us now in this Passion-tide:
New grace in pious hearts implant,
And pardon to the guilty grant!

Thee, mighty Trinity! One God!
Let every living creature laud;
Whom by the Cross Thou dost deliver,
O guide and govern now and ever! Amen.

Translation from "The Psalter of Sarum": London 1852.

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