Over the next four weeks as we prepare for and celebrate the season of Advent, I would like to offer translations and versifications of four sequences appearing in the Sarum rite (1) marking the four Sundays of the season. My interest in sequences has grown as I have been exploring how the established texts of particular liturgies were embellished and enriched by later texts arising from meditative reflection on the established texts. (2)
My source for these Sarum sequences is Charles Buchanan Pearson, Sequences from the Sarum Missal, with English translations (London: Bell and Daldy, 1871), though I have also consulted F[rederick] E[dward] Warren, The Sarum Missal in English (London: A. Moring Ltd, 1911) which employs Pearson’s versifications. These sources concur that the sequence was chanted after the Gradual and Alleluia. (3)
The following first presents the Latin text with a slavishly literal translation by yours truly below each line; Pearson’s versification (4) of the text follows. Please note that I am quite conscious of my limitations as a Latinist, so if any would want to correct my base translation I would be grateful.
Salus eterna, indeficiens mundi vita,
Eternal health/salvation, unfailing life of the world,
Lux sempiterna, et redemptio vere nostra,
Light everlasting, and truly our redemption:
Condolens humana perire saecla, per tentantis numina,
Grieving that the ages of human history be lost through the wiles of the Tempter,
Non linquens excelsa, adisti ima propria clementia.
[Yet] not leaving behind the [heavenly] heights, You came down with Your mercy.
Mox Tua spontanea gratia assumens humana
Soon by your voluntary grace taking up human nature,
Quae fuerunt perdia, omnia salvasti terrea,
That had been laid waste, you have saved all earthly things,
Ferens mundo gaudia.
Bringing joys to the world.
Tu animas et corpora
O Christ, make expiation for
Nostra, Christe, expia,
Our souls and bodies,
Ut possideas lucida
So that You might be master of
Both us and our radiant dwellings.
Adventu primo justifica;
By [your] first Coming, justify [us];
In secondo nos libera;
In [your] second [Coming], free [us],
Ut cum, facta luce magna,
So that, the great light having been created,
You will judge all things.
Compti stola incorrupta
Having been adorned with incorruptible clothing,
Nosmet tua subsequamur mox vestigia quocumque visa. Amen.
May we and yours soon follow your footprints to whatever place is shown. Amen.
Perhaps in support of his theory that Sequences arose out of the prolongation of the melody on the “a” syllable concluding the chanted “Alleluia,” Pearson notes: “Sequences during the Sundays in Advent…furnish specimens of those ending in A in each verse, — a rule, however, rarely without exception; nor does it appear always possible to divide them into lines consisting of the same number of syllables.” (5)
Thou for ever our salvation,
Thou the life of all creation,
Thou our hope of restoration,
Thou the never-failing Light;
Grieving for man’s loss impending,
By the tempter’s wiles pretending,
Camest down Thine aid extending,
Leaving not the starry height.
In our flesh Thy glory veiling,
All on earth, in ruin failing,
Thou didst save by might prevailing,
Bringing joy to all our race.
Grant, O Christ, Thine expiation,
Unto us Thine own creation,
Take us for an habitation,
Cleansed for Thyself to grace.
By Thy first humiliation
Grant us, Lord, justification;
When again in exaltation
Thou shalt come, O set us free.
When in glory manifested
Thou the secret heart hast tested,
In unsullied robes invested
May we closely follow Thee!
As for this sequence exhibiting “meditative reflection on the established [official liturgical] texts,” it seems to me more an engagement with the season of Advent itself rather than a poetic elaboration of particular nuances of the scriptural readings assigned to this Sunday. Both the pre-Vatican Roman rite and the Sarum use seem to employ the same texts assigned as Epistle (Romans 13:11-14) and Gradual [Psalm 24/25; 2 – 3) but diverge on the Gospel assigned to the celebration: Matthew 21:1-9 for the Sarum use and Luke 21:25-33 for the Roman Rite. Perhaps some communities of either tradition might wish to sing Pearson’s versification of the Sarum sequence for the First Sunday of Advent to a familiar 88.87 hymntune as part of their Eucharistic worship or in the Divine Office.
(1) Or “Sarum use” or “Use of Salisbury.” This collection of liturgical texts and ceremonies is a variant of the Roman Rite, probably established by St. Osmund, Bishop of Salisbury and Richard Poore in the 11th C. Used throughout southern England, becoming common to most of England, Wales, Ireland and (at a later period) Scotland until the reign of Queen Mary I in the 16th C, it influenced the Anglican liturgy as found in the Book of Common Prayer. I presume that some influences from the Sarum rite are also found in the present orders of worship employed by the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter, created by the Vatican in 2012 for people nurtured in the Anglican tradition who wish to worship in communion with [Roman] Catholicism.
(2) For a helpful overview of textual, musical and performance issues connected with the singing of the sequence see David Hiley, Western Plainchant: A Handbook (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993) 172-195.
(3) “The reading of the Epistle being ended, the ‘Gradual’ and ‘Alleluia’ were chanted; during which, to add dignity to the reading of the Gospel,…a procession was formed, consisting, according to Sarum use, of the deacon bearing the ‘text’ [a book of the four Gospels, beautifully bound, and used, not to be read from, but as a ‘Pax’ for the faithful to kiss], preceded by a thurifer, candle-bearer, and cross-bearer, and the subdeacon carrying the book out of which the deacon was to read the Gospel. The passage of the procession from the altar, and its ascension to the pulpit or rood-loft, occupied some minutes, and, to avoid a break in the chanting between the Alleluia and the Gospel, the final ‘a’ of the Alleluia was prolonged by a run or cadence, called a ‘Neuma,’ extending sometime to nearly a hundred notes.” Pearson, Sequences, v-vi. Pearson espouses the theory that the Sequence arose as texts were assigned to the “Neuma” so that the melody might be more easily remembered (but cf. Hiley for alternative theories).
(4) “I have not thought it necessary to endeavor to reproduce the double rhyme of the original, which, however suitable to the genius of the Latin language, unavoidably fetters the choice of words at the command of an English translator, reducing him either to acquiesce in a periphrasis or a weak word to serve the rhyme, or to sacrifice the latter in order to give vigour and truth to the translation. It seemed to me best to accept the latter alternative.” Pearson, Sequences, viii-ix.
(5) Pearson, Sequences, 5.