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Breviary Hymns of the Rosary

Breviary Hymns of the Rosary

The proper office granted by Leo XIII (5 August, 1888) to the feast contains four hymns which, because of the pontiff's great devotion to the Rosary and his skilful work in classical Latin verse, were thought by some critics to be the compositions of the Holy Father himself. They have been traced, however, to the Dominican Office published in 1834 (see Chevalier, "Repertorium Hymnologicum", under the four titles of the hymns) and were afterwards granted to the Dioceses of Segovia and Venice (1841 and 1848). Their author was a pious client of Mary, Eustace Sirena. Exclusive of the common doxology (Jesu tibi sit gloria, etc.) each hymn contains five four-lined stanzas of classical dimeter iambics. In the hymn for First Vespers (Coelestis aulae nuntium) the Five Joyful Mysteries are celebrated, a single stanza being given to a mystery. In the same manner the hymn for Matins (In monte olivis consito) deals with the Five Sorrowful Mysteries and that for Lauds (Jam morte victor obruta) with the Five Glorious Mysteries. The hymn for Second Vespers (Te gestientem gaudiis) maintains the symmetrical form by devoting three stanzas to a recapitulation of the three sets of myteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious), prefacing them with a stanza which sums up all three and devoting a fifth to a poetical invitation to weave a crown of flowers from the "rosary" for the Mother of fair love. The compression of a single mystery" into a single stanza may be illustrated by the first stanza of the first hymn, devoted to the First Joyful Mystery:

Coelestis aulae nuntius,

Arcana pandens Numinis,

Plenam salutat gratia

Dei Parentem Virginem.

"The envoy of the Heavenly Court,

Sent to unfold God's secret plan,

The Virgin hails as full of grace,

And Mother of the God made Man"


The first (or prefatory) stanza of the fourth hymn sums up the three sets of mysteries:

Te gestientem gaudiis,

Te sauciam doloribus,

Te jugi amictam gloria,

O Virgo Mater, pangimus.

The still greater compression of five mysteries within a single stanza may be illustrated by the second stanza of this hymn:

Ave, redundans gaudio

Dum concipis, dum visitas,

Et edis, offers, invenis,

Mater beata, Filium.

"Hail, filled with joy in head and mind,

Conceiving, visiting, or when

Thou didst bring forth, offer, and find

Thy Child amidst the learned men."

Archbishop Bagshawe translates the hymns in his "Breviary Hymns and Missal Sequences" (London, s. d., pp. 114-18). As in the illustration quoted from one of these, the stanza contains (in all the hymns) only two rhymes, the author's aim being "as much as possible to keep to the sense of the original, neither adding to this, nor taking from it" (preface). The other illustration of a fully-rhymed stanza is taken from another version of the four hymns (Henry in the "Rosary Magazine", Oct 1891). Translations into French verse are given by Albin, "La Poésie du Bréviaire with slight comment, pp. 345-56.


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