Swedish: Den signade dag
Text: Nordic daysong from the Middle Ages Tune: Nordic folk melody 1569
1. O day full of grace that now we can see
Come down from the heavens to cheer us.
It shines with the brightest of pure clarity
With gifts that Christ gave to be near us.
O Lord, God Almighty, shine down on us all,
Preserve us from sin and from sorrow.
2. O Day full of grace, most blessed of days,
The hour of the birth of our Savior,
When light in the darkness, the brightest of rays,
God’s powerful word came from heaven.
And shepherds could hear in the angel’s bright song
The day of salvation was given.
3. The most holy cross that the Lord himself bore To save us from sin and temptation, He set between me and the tempter’s great power; Each day he will guard and protect me. Now God’s only Son for my sake has come down, That I should be his own forever.
4. If leaves on the trees, or the fields of green grass, Could speak or had tongues filled with praises And all of the birds and the animals sang And spoke with the voices of angels, They never could fully sing praise to the Lord, Christ Jesus our Lord and redeemer.
5. A bird by itself can fly up to the heav’ns, The wind in his wings lifts him higher. The hills all can hear as the rivers all sing The coastlands are joining God’s choirs, As earth joins its voices with heavenly song To Jesus our Lord and our Savior.
6. O let us now praise him and pray to our God Each moment as time wanes and waxes. Our prayers give us power to keep his commands To watch with all those who are suffering. Our lives we will give to do God’s holy work As long as the days we are granted
7. Each day we are given is never so long As nighttime will be when life’s over. Our work will be ended and silenced our song As we will be buried and covered. They’ll bear our dust out, and our sleep will be long, We’ll rest in the grave till the dawning.
8. Think back to the time and those most blessed days
Our Savior lived here as our brother.
Made holy our lives and he filled them with grace
Yes, he is our Daystar, no other.
The cross we can see at the end of the way,
Foreshadows the bright Easter morning.
9. For when we shall leave for the heavenly land And pass through death’s dark bitter valley We leave all our trust in our Savior’s dear hand And sorrow will turn into gladness. Protect all our comings and goings, O God. The Father the Son and Spirit.
Tr. Gracia Grindal
Vadstena, on the eastern shore of Lake Vättern in southeast Sweden. The haze over the lake on the warm summer evening scatters the glorious colors of the late northern sunset, making the line between sky and water imperceptable. One could easily imagine the sound of the medieval monks and nuns singing this day song at Matins as the sun rose in the east in high midsummer or on the dark morning of Christmas. It is very old, one can feel it in these performances. I cannot hear the beginning of this hymn without being transported to that time.
It goes way back, to when Christian communities were being built in the north. Maybe even earlier than the religious order established by St. Birgitta in 1344. Birgitta (1303-1373) married when she was fourteen. She and her husband, Ulf Gudmarsson, had eight children, six of whom survived infancy. Already as a young woman she was known for her good works and acts of charity. She and her husband made a pilgrimage to St. James of Santiago de Campostela. On their return, he died. Bridget almost immediately became a member of the Third Order of St. Francis, devoting herself to prayer and good works.
She began working to found a religious community in Vadstena, The Order of the Most Holy Savior. It was unusual in that it included both men and women, a joint community with a cloister for each, but an Abbess over both.
In 1350, while Europe was still in the grip of the Black Death, she traveled to Rome for the Jubilee. Remarkably she and her daughter, who became St. Catherine of Sweden, survived. At the time the papacy was in bad shape and had left Rome for Avignon. She remained in Rome seeking to have her new order authorized by the Pope. It took until 1370 when Pope Urban V did authorize it.
While in Rome she directed the building of the Abbey of the Bridgettine Order. She agitated for the return of the papacy to Rome and made pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Bethlehem during this time, having settled permanently in Rome. A remarkable woman whom Pope John Paul II in 1999 declared co-patroness of Europe. In announcing that, Pope John Paul commended her for her profound sense of the mystery of Christ and the Church.
Although there is nothing connecting Saint Birgitta to this hymn, I have every reason to believe it would have been sung by the monks and nuns in the Abbey she built. Thinking of the dedication of those early religious to bringing the Gospel to the far regions of the North, the words of the seventh stanza strike me as particularly rich. "Think back to the time and those most blessed days/Our Savior lived here as our brother,/Made holy our lives and he filled them with grace." Remembering Vadstena, and St. Birgitta, and the evening I sat in the gathering dusk by Lake Vättern, as the gentle waves lapped on the shore, the holiness of life and the grace of our Lord Jesus fills my heart with song.
Who wrote this hymn is swathed in the mists of the past. It was used for the morning services of the hours in the monastery. One sees the usual references to the sun and references to the church year and the story of Jesus and his work for our salvation, Christmas, Holy Week, and Easter. In addition, it prepares us for dying. It was included in the Svederg Hymnal of 1695 and revised for the 1819 Swedish hymnal by Wallin. The tune that we find in the Swedish hymnal has similarities to the folk tune. That is the melody preferred by the folk singers here.
Adolf Fredriks Bachkör
Nils Lindberg Arr. Swedish Radio Choir
St. Jakobs Kammer kor
Swedish congregation singing tune in the hymnal
Anders Widmark Jazz Trio