THROUGHOUT THE MIDDLE AGES, the musical tradition of the Church accumulated hundreds of Sequences, Latin hymns that were chanted just before the Gospel reading and were proper to the particular liturgical day or season. With the liturgical reforms of Pope Pius V in 1570, though, the Church’s collection of Sequences in the Roman rite was reduced to just four:
1) Victimae paschale laudes (11th c.) at Easter
2) Veni Sancte Spiritus (12th c.) at Pentecost
3) Lauda Sion Salvatorem (c. 1264) at Corpus Christi
4) Dies Irae (13th c.) for All Souls Day and Masses for the Dead 1
In 1727, the number of Sequences in the Roman rite was expanded to five with the restoration of the Stabat Mater dolorosa (13th c.) for the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows.
One may wonder why the Feast of the Nativity of the Lord was left off of Pope Pius V’s list, given that major feasts of similar status, such as Easter and Pentecost, had their Sequences included. There is, in fact, a Sequence for Christmas which, although left out of the Roman rite, has been preserved in the Dominican rite. This Sequence, called Laetabundus (Joy abounding…), is sung by the Dominicans at Christmas, Epiphany, and Candlemas.
Dominican friars Fr. Stefan Ansinger, OP and Fr. Alexandre Frezzato, OP have produced this lovely recording of the Sequence as part of their work for the YouTube channel OPChant:
The English translation reads:
Let the choir of all the faithful exult in their joy. Alleluia.
The Virgin’s womb hath given us the King of Kings! O wonderful mystery!
The Angel of the great Counsel is born of the Virgin, the Sun is born of a Star!
The Sun knows no setting; the Star is ever shining, ever bright.
As a star gives forth its ray, so does the Virgin her Child.
The star loses naught of its purity by the ray it yields, so neither does the Virgin by her Child.
The lofty cedar of Libanus comes down into our valley, making itself little as the hyssop.
He that is the Word of the Most High God deigns to take a body unto himself; he assumes our flesh.
Isaias had foretold all this; and the Jews, though they knew the prophecy by heart, see not its accomplishment in this mystery.
If they will not believe their Prophets, let them believe the Sybils, who thus sang:
‘Unhappy people, delay not, believe, at least, the ancient oracles! Why wilt thou be cast off, O chosen nation?
This is the Child of whom thy books tell thee: he is the Son of a Virgin-Mother.’ Alleluia.
As Advent draws to a close, let us mark well and with joyful expectation the coming of “the Son of a Virgin-Mother,” and with her let us long for him “with love beyond all telling”! 2
NOTES FROM THIS ARTICLE:
1 Four hundred years later, the liturgical reforms of Pope Paul VI in 1970 removed the Dies Irae from the Requiem Mass and transferred it to the Liturgy of the Hours for the 34th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
2 From the Preface from December 17 until Christmas Eve.