HENEVER a Franciscan priest says the Traditional Latin Mass, there are a few variations. For example, during the Confíteor, the name of Saint Francis is added. I am told these small liturgical changes are not nearly as drastic of other orders, such as the Order of Preachers (“Dominicans”) or the Premonstratensians (“Norbertines”). However, there are some special feasts that Franciscan priests utilize when they say the Extraordinary Form: October 4th is an example. It is the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, and it has special Mass propers, including a Sequence! The “sign” it mentions is the SACRED STIGMATA which Saint Francis received.
I have created a recording of this hauntingly beautiful Sequence (Sanctitatis Nova Signa) because we will be singing it on October 4th here in Las Vegas. My intention was to just record it for my reduced Schola—the fewer singers you have, the more certain they have to be of the music. There is very little room for error; a single misstep can easily cause a train wreck in a hymn of this length! But as I worked on it, I found it to be so incredibly beautiful that I decided I had to share it with you. I do not know of any other recordings in existence, although perhaps there is one out there somewhere that I haven’t found yet.
* PDF Download • “Sanctitatis Nova Signa” (Single Page)
—SEQUENCE for 4 October: Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.
Here’s a direct link to the YouTube file.
You can download a literal English translation by Father Aquinas Byrnes:
It appears someone has attempted a metrical translation of all ten verses. A different attempt at a metrical translation can be found here. “Sanctitátis nova signa prodiérunt laude digna” has two melodies. The recording above is the secondary option with an alternate melody. The first option given for this Sequence sounds very similar to the melody of the LAUDA SION on the feast of Corpus Christi—but it isn’t quite the same. In some ways, learning a piece of plainchant that is similar but not identical is more difficult than learning a completely new melody.
Father Francisco Nahoe, OFM Conv, very kindly shared this with us:
In 1228, Pope Gregory IX (d. 1241) canonized Saint Francis of Assisi, barely two years after his death on 3 October 1226. The 13th century had already seen a profusion of composed poetic tropes aggregated to the Roman rite, especially following the interlectionary chants. We might, then, have expected the early appearance of a sequence for the Poverello. Indeed, the Renaissance scholar, Friar Luke Wadding (1588-1657) ascribes the Sanctitatis nova signa to the first biographer of the saint, Friar Thomas of Celano (1185-1260), best known for the Requiem sequence, Dies iræ, a paradigm of medieval piety. The association of Celano with the sequence for October 4 suggests a close relationship between Franciscan hagiography and the liturgical celebrations of the Order.
Twenty quatrains of iambic tetrameter, the text of the Sanctitatis extolls both the virtue of Saint Francis and the miraculous signs that underscore his holiness, the stigmata in particular. Wadding assigns a second sequence to Celano, the Fregit victor virtualis, composed in tercets. We associate at least two other sequences with the feasts of Saint Francis: Lætabundus, which re-works the now suppressed Christmas sequence, attributed to Cardinal Thomas of Capua (d. 1243), and Caput draconis, attributed by Friar Salimbene to Pope Gregory, formerly Ugolino di Conti, the cardinal Protector of the Friars Minor. Sanctitatis nova signa, however, was the only sequence to have appeared in any of the gradualia published in the last few centuries.
There are three versions of the Missale Romano-Seraphicum: Conventual, Observant and Capuchin. The Sanctitatis sequence is obligatory in the latter two, but not in the Conventual edition. Moreover, the sequence has two settings in the Graduale Romano-Seraphicum.
HERE SEEM TO HAVE BEEN numerous hymns written to honor Saint Francis of Assisi. Scroll to the bottom of the page, and you’ll encounter Franciscan plainchant books containing at least twenty different hymns; but I would like to emphasize one hymn in particular, Decus Morum Dux Minorum, which does something I’ve never seen before. The ending of each line is the title of a famous hymn! Online, I have seen certain parties criticize the Brébeuf hymnal because of its strong emphasis on the ancient Catholic hymns. Yet, Decus Morum reminds us how important these hymns were to Catholics. Having worked on the Brébeuf snippets index, I can attest to the fact that the ancient hymns (in yellow highlight below) form the core of the Brébeuf hymnal.
Notice the astonishing Latin rhymes of the first and third lines:
Readers will remember Phoebe Wing, who published a review of the FSSP Sacred Music Symposium. Miss Wing has transcribed Palestrina’s setting of this wonderful medieval hymn to Saint Francis: Decus morum dux minorum.
ATHER Valentine Young, a Franciscan priest who died in January of this year, has written: “The Liber Usualis took care of most of our liturgical needs. We had supplements to take care of our special Franciscan feasts, both for the Masses and Office. We also had a Cantuale with special Franciscan hymns. I still have a copy of ours.” These are the Franciscan plainchant books I’ve been able to locate:
* PDF Download • CANTUALE ROMANO-SERAPHICUM (193 pages)
—Franciscan plainchant published in 1922.
* PDF Download • GRADUALE ROMANO-SERAPHICUM (178 pages)
—Franciscan plainchant published in 1924.
* PDF Download • CANTUALE ROMANO-SERAPHICUM (403 pages)
—Franciscan plainchant published in 1951.
* PDF Download • Missae Propriae Ordinis Fratrum Minorum (192 pages)
—Franciscan plainchant published in 1951.
My colleague, Jeff Ostrowski, uploaded those books back in 2015.