Today is Christ born;
today the Savior has appeared;
today the Angels sing,
the Archangels rejoice;
today the righteous rejoice, saying:
Glory to God in the highest. Alleluia!
These are the words of the beautiful antiphon: Hodie Christus natus est, found originally at the end of the Lauds service for Christmas day. As I pondered what to share this week, surrounded by so much rich and meaningful music, this antiphon sprang to mind – a fairly simple but also more well-known piece. The text has been used by many composers over the centuries, Sweelink, Poulenc, and more recently Britten who used the Gregorian chant in its original version and helped make it a better know piece to many.
The melody starts with a sort of trumpet call – Hodie Christus natus est! – 3 notes rising. Each time the word Hodie (today) is restated we hear that same pattern, and as it builds to the final statement the tune rises to its highest point – today the righteous rejoice, saying: Glory to God in the highest. Alleluia!
Some images below show this antiphon’s history – the oldest written version found in the Hartker manuscript, Saint Gallen, Switzerland, 10th century. It was surely being sung even before that but passed on orally. The next version is from a 16th century manuscript, thought to be from a Latin American country, a piece likely brought over to the Americas with early missionaries. Finally we have the most current version, type-set as we’d see it today. It’s incredible to imagine all those over the centuries and across the globe joining in this prayer at Christmas! Enjoy the sound link below to hear the antiphon.