Gregorian Chant: The Eternal Song

by Sr Fidelis  

Changing Light

One of my most favorite things about our church is the way it reflects light at different times of the day, and throughout various seasons of the year. The morning light has been different for several weeks now.  It’s paler and softer, and has lost the intensity of summer’s rays.

The chant reflects these changes as well. On the Sunday following the autumnal equinox (this past Sunday), a new hymn tune marks this transition of seasons. It is referred to as the “winter” hymn tune, and will be used until Ash Wednesday. Often these hymns link the natural and the spiritual, because they are so closely intertwined.  God speaks to us through the beauty and transition of our physical world, just as he speaks to our spirits.  Below are several verses from the Sunday Lauds winter hymn — credited to Ambrose of Milan (340 -397).  There’s much reference to both light and darkness — a theme that was important as the days became progressively shorter. Christ and the light are also synonymous in these early hymns.

Aetérne rerum cónditor,                             O eternal author of all things,
noctem diémque qui regis,                         You who rule the night and the day,
et témporum das témpora                          and give the times of the seasons
ut álleves fastídium.                                     to lighten our weariness.

Praeco diéi iam sonat                                   The herald of day is already sounding
noctis profúndae pérvigil,                          ever watchful of the deep night,
noctúrna lux viántibus                               a light by night to wayfarers,
a nocte noctem ségregans.                         separating night from night.

Tu, lux, refúlge sénsibus                              O you, the light, shine on our senses,
mentísque somnum díscute;                       and dispel the sleep of our soul;
te nostra vox primum sonet                        to you before all else let our voice resound,
et vota solvámus tibi.                                    and let us pay our vows to you.   

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