Hail Thee, Festival Day!

Salve festa dies is a Latin hymn written by the Roman Christian poet St. Venantius Fortunatus (c.530-c. 610).  In its English form Hail Thee, Festival Day—sung to the tune by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams—it is often performed on Easter Sunday.  It is a splendid hymn, using the return of Spring as a metaphor for the new life which Christ brought to the world through his Resurrection.

Venantius, who served as bishop of Poitiers in France, devoted his life to the cause of Christian literary elegance.  As poet to the Merovingian court, he added cultural refinement to a rather rough and barbaric institution.  He thus kept alive the spirit of classical culture—albeit in a new, Christian key.  Venantius’ other literary productions include the hymns Vexilla regis prodeunt (“The Royal Banners Forward Go”) and Pange lingua gloriosi (“Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle”), both widely used during the Passion Week liturgy.  It’s easy to see why Venantius’ hymns have stood the test of time—they are majestic, have rich theological content, and use vivid natural imagery to draw the mind to the Christian mysteries.

Here is the text of the hymn in English and Latin, courtesy of catholicculture.org, followed by a stirring performance.

Hail, thou festive, ever venerable day! whereon hell is conquered and heaven is won by Christ. (Repeat after each verse) Salve, festa dies, toto venerabilis aevo. qua deus infernum vicit et astra tenet. (Repeat after each verse)
Lo! our earth is in her spring, bearing thus her witness that, with her Lord, she has all her gifts restored. Ecce renascentis testatur gratia mundi omnia cum domino dona redisse suo.
For now the woods with their leaves and the meadows with their flowers, pay homage to Jesus’ triumph over the gloomy tomb. Namque triumphanti post tristia Tartara Christo undique fronde nemus, gramina flore favent.
Light, firmament, fields and sea, give justly praise to the God that defeats the laws of death, and rises above the stars. Legibus inferni oppressis super astra meantem laudant rite deum lux polus arva fretum.
The crucified God now reigns over all things; and every creature to its Creator tells a prayer. Qui crucifixus erat, deus ecce per omnia regnat, dantque creatori cuncta creata precem. Salve, festa dies.
O Jesus! Saviour of the world! Loving Creator and Redeemer! Only­begotten Son of God the Father! Christe salus rerum, bone conditor atque redemptor, unica progenies ex deitate patris.
Seeing the human race was sunk in misery deep, thou wast made Man, that thou mightest rescue man. Qui genus humanum cernens mersisse profundo, ut hominem eriperes es quoque factus homo.
Nor wouldst thou be content to be born; but being born in the flesh, in the same wouldst thou suffer death. Nec voluisti etenim tantum te corpore nasci, sed caro quae nasci, pertulit atque mori.
Thou, the author of life and of all creation, wast buried in the tomb, treading the path of death, to give us salvation. Fexequias pateris vitae auctor et orbis, intras mortis iter dando salutis opem.
The gloomful bonds of hell were broken; the abyss shook with fear, as the light shone upon its brink. Tristia cesserunt infernae vincula legis expavitque chaos luminis ore premi.
The brightness of Christ put darkness to flight, and made to fall the thick veils of everlasting night. Depereunt tenebrae Christi fulgore fugatae et tetrae noctis pallia crassa cadunt.
But redeem thy promise, I beseech thee, merciful King! This is the third day; arise, my buried Jesus! Pollicitam sed redde fidem, precor, alma potestas: tertia lux rediit, surge, sepulte meus.
Tis not meet that thy Body lie in the lowly tomb, or that a sepulchral stone should keep imprisoned the ransom of the world. Non decet ut humili tumulo tua membra tegantur, neu pretium mundi vilia saxa premant.
Throw off thy shrouds, I pray thee! Leave thy winding sheet in the tomb. Thou art our all; and all else, without thee, is nothing. Lintea, precor, sudaria linque sepulchro: tu satis es nobis et sine te nihil est.
Set free the spirits that are shackled in limbo’s prison. Raise up all fallen things. Solve catenatas inferni carceris umbras et revoca sursum quidquid ad ima ruit.
Show us once more thy face, that all ages may see the light! Bring back the day which fled when thou didst die. Redde tuam faciem, videant ut saecula lumen, redde diem qui nos te moriente fugit.
But thou hast done all this O loving conqueror, by returning to our world: death lies defeated, and its rights are gone. Sed plane inplesti remeans, pie victor, ad orbem: Tartara pressa iacent nec sua iura tenent.
The greedy monster, whose huge throat had swallowed all mankind, is now thy prey, O God! Inferus insaturabiliter cava gruttura pandens, qui rapuit semper, fit tua praeda, deus.
The savage beast now trembling vomits forth the victims he had made, and the lamb tears the sheep from the jaw of the wolf. Evomit absorptam trepide fera belua plebem et de fauce lupi subtrahit agnus oves.
O King divine! lo! here a bright ray of thy triumph – the souls made pure by the holy font. Rex sacer, ecce tui radiat pars magna triumphi, cum puras animas sancta lavacra beant.
The white­robed troop comes from the limpid waters; and the old iniquity is cleansed in the new stream. Candidus egreditur nitidis exercitus undis atque vetus vitium purgat in amne novo.
The white garments symbolize unspotted souls, and the Shepherd rejoices in his snowlike flock. Fulgentes animas vestis quoque candida signat et grege de niveo gaudia pastor habet.
Hail, thou festive, ever venerable day! whereon hell is conquered and heaven is won by Christ. Salve, festa dies, toto venerabilis aevo. qua deus infernum vicit et astra tenet.

 

 

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