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HYMN FOR PENTECOST Hail Thee, Festival Day

English: Hail thee, Festival Day

Latin: Salve festa dies

Pentecost. Emil Nolde

Text: Venantius Honorius Clementianus Fortunatus (530-609) Tune: Gregorian Chant, Ralph Vaughan Williams

R/Hail, glad festival day! Blest day to be hallowed forever, day wherein Christ arose, breaking the kingdom of death.

[Easter:] 1 Lo, the fair beauty of earth, from the death of the winter arising, every good gift of the year now with its Savior returns. [Refrain]

2 He who was nailed to the cross is God and the ruler of all things; all things created on earth worship the maker of all. [Refrain]

3 Mourning they laid you to rest, the author of life and creation; treading the pathway of death, life now bestowing on all. [Refrain]

4 God of all pity and power, let your word be assured to the doubting: light on the third day returns; rise, Son of God, from the tomb! [Refrain]

[Ascension:] 1 Christ in his triumph ascends, who had vanquished the devil's dominion; bright is the woodland with leaves, brilliant the meadows with flowers. [Refrain]

2 Daily the loveliness grows, adorned with glory of blossom; heaven its gates now unbars, flinging its increase of light. [Refrain]

3 Jesus, the health of the word, enlighten our minds, great Redeemer, Son of the Father supreme, only-begotten of God! [Refrain]

4 Praise to the giver of good! O Lover and Author of concord, pour out your balm on our days;

Order our days in your peace. [Refrain]

[Pentecost:] 1 Lo, in the likeness of fire, on those who await his appearing, he whom the Lord foretold suddenly, swiftly descends: [Refrain]

2 Forth to the faithful he comes with sevenfold mystical offering, pouring on all human souls infinite riches of God. [Refrain]

3 Hark! for in myriad tongues Christ's own, his chosen apostles, preach to the ends of the earth Christ and his wonderful works. [Refrain]

4 Praise to the Spirit of life, all praise to the fount of our being, light that now lightens all, life that in all now abides.

REFLECTION I watched the white piece of paper being passed from the front row of the Luther College Faith in Life chapel to me as we were singing this hymn, new to most of us. It had just been printed in the new Lutheran Book of Worship (1978). It finally reached me, the addressee, from the wonderfully crochety Professor of Art, Orville Running, a great friend and colleague. I open it up. “Send it back,” were the beautifully written words on the page.

I had been on the text committee for the LBW and everyone in the crowd knew it as they were struggling to figure out what was the refrain and what was the stanza on the pages before them in the hymnal. This appeared to be a disaster. Unfortunately. The tune by Vaughan Williams was highly regarded and the text one of the oldest in Christendom.

But this crowd filled with many accomplished singers could not sing it.

Oddly enough, experiences like this teach you something. In this case, for me, on the one hand, it was that the singing instructions needed to be more clear, but on the other, it made the hymn memorable.

And why not? It goes back over 1500 years in the Christian tradition.

Fortunatus reading his poems to Queen Rhadegunda Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1862).

Like many of our Easter through Pentecost hymns, it compares the natural season of spring to the great festivals of Easter, Ascension and Pentecost. While that doesn’t work in the Southern Hemisphere, that should not mean we in the north can’t use those images, as they can use their images of nature in their hymns. I find it unconvincing that we refrain from using the nature around us because it doesn’t work someplace else. Our faith is deeply incarnational—Christ didn’t come as an idea or abstraction, he came to a specific place and time in the flesh. We can’t picture him if we don’t put him in the flesh in a physical setting. It is also important to see pictures of him in any kind of culture and context, but he should also be in ours. “Bright is the woodland with leaves.” At the same time, the hymn assures us that this good news will go to the ends of the earth. That is the message of Pentecost. Christ will be born in any of us anywhere. The Spirit does that work in us, and it is like springtime.

Now empowered by the Spirit we are to take the Gospel with us wherever we go. When we speak of Jesus, he rides forth on our words which he makes flesh in the bodies of our hearers. He does the work, we just have to speak of him..This birthing shakes up everything. For this reason we are commanded to preach the word in and out of season. And look around ourselves to see the blossoming of the earth, blossoming just as the word we have planted will blossom and take root in the hearts of those who have heard this news.

HYMN INFO Fortunatus is the last Christian poet of the Roman era. He wrote in Latin so his words could be used by the church as long as it spoke Latin exclusively. Later it was translated into the vernacular for us. Fortunatus was converted as a young man as he was studying in Ravenna. He was suffering an eye disease and went to the church where he saw a lamp burning in front of the altar of St. Martin of Tours. He put a drop of the oil from the lamp in his eyes and was healed. In gratitude he took a pilgrimage to the shrine of the saint in Tours. He remained there and became a member of the Abbey founded by Queen Rhadegunda, the much abused wife of the cruel Frankish pagan King Lothair. Fortunatus fell in love with her, chastely, and lived with her for the rest of her life. It is one of the great love stories of all time. He wrote many hymns for the church year—Hymns for all the Festivals of the Christian year—which was lost, although some of his texts survived. His most famous hymn is the "Royal Banners" written, it is said, after he watched a pilgrimage returning home from Jerusalem with relics of the Holy Cross. In 599 he became Bishop of Poitiers. There is a Gregorian chant version and Ralph Vaughan William tune which is probably the preferred tune.

LINKS Choir of Trinity College Cambridge singers

Orchard Enterprises

Catholic singers (Gregorian chant)

Gregorian Chant

NB New Pentecost hymn on John 20 with a lovely melody

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