Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Feast of Pentecost

This ancient hymn for the day of Pentecost is used as a processional in many places, though it's not for everyone. The musical setting is a bit more complex than a standard hymn, beginning with a refrain and proceeding to two different, alternating melodies for the stanzas.

Hail thee, festival day!
Blest day that art hallowed forever;
Day when the Holy Spirit
Shone on the world with God's grace.

Lo! in the likeness of fire,
On them that await her appearing,
She whom the Lord foretold,
Suddenly, swiftly, descends.

Down from the heavens she comes
With her sev'nfold mystical off'ring,
Pouring on all human souls
Infinite riches of God.

Hark! in a hundred tongues
Christ's own, the chosen Apostles,
Preach to a hundred tribes
Christ and his wonderful works.

Praise to the Spirit of life,
All praise to the Fount of our being,
Light that dost lighten all,
Life that in all dost abide.

God the Almighty, who fillest
The heav'n, the earth and the ocean,
Guard us from harm without,
Free us from evil within.

God, who art Giver of all
Good gifts and lover of concord,
Pour thy balm on our souls,
Order our ways in thy peace.

Venantius Fortunatus, 6th cent.;
tr. Gabriel Gillett, 1906; alt.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

The original Latin text Salve, festa dies (Hail thee, festival day) by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus is much longer, and there are other modern hymns also taken from it for Easter and Ascension. It became popular in his time and stanzas were added by others over time. In fact, much of this Pentecost text is apparently not by Fortunatus, but derives from a later medieval version used as a Pentecost precessional in York.

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