This Day Belongs to Christ

By a tradition handed down from the apostles which took its origin from the very day of Christ’s resurrection, the Church celebrates the paschal mystery every eighth day; with good reason this, then, bears the name of the Lord’s day or Sunday. For on this day Christ’s faithful are bound to come together into one place so that; by hearing the word of God and taking part in the eucharist, they may call to mind the passion, the resurrection and the glorification of the Lord Jesus, and may thank God who “has begotten them again, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, unto a living hope” (1 Pe 1:3). Hence the Lord’s day is the original feast day, and it should be proposed to the piety of the faithful and taught to them so that it may become in fact a day of joy and of freedom from work. Other celebrations, unless they be truly of greatest importance, shall not have precedence over the Sunday which is the foundation and kernel of the whole liturgical year. (Sacrosanctum Concilium 106)

The Second Vatican Council would not have pointed out the meaning of the Sunday so clearly if it had actually been evident to everyone. For many centuries Roman Catholics celebrated liturgy—mainly Eucharist—on Sunday, but they did not celebrate the Sunday. Instead, the liturgical readings and prayers referred to a feast that happened to fall on the respective Sunday.

I do not know much about English hymnals, but in Germany there is almost no tradition of hymns for Sunday per se. German poets and composers have created entrance hymns, offertory hymns, communion hymns, Easter hymns, Advent hymns, Christmas hymns, a lot of Marian hymns etc., but no Sunday hymns.

The new 2013 German Gotteslob edition provides a remedy for the first time: This hymnal has a section called Sunday. To be honest, there is only one hymn in this section, but one is better than nothing, and this very hymn is remarkable. You can see and hear it in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Dxt4GYywcs.

The melody, composed by a Benedictine monk in 1939, is in a vivid dance-like triple meter. The text was written as part of a longer poem by Peter Gerloff, a former Protestant pastor who converted to Catholicism and currently serves as a married parish priest in Northern Germany.

Dieser Tag ist Christus eigen,
und das erste Morgenlicht
will von seinem Leben zeugen,
das die Todesnacht durchbricht.

This day belongs to Christ,
and the first morning light
wants to bear witness of his life
that bursts the night of death.

The first stanza refers to Rev 1:10 (the “Lord’s day”) and to Sunday morning: the day and time when Christ’s resurrection was revealed to the first witnesses (e.g. Jo 20:1) with whom the church aligns herself in the liturgy. The poetic expressions of light and night, life and death, are so common for biblical and liturgical approaches to cosmic symbolism that they should not need any further explanation.

Wenn wir sein Gedächtnis feiern,
Untergang und Auferstehn,
wird sich unsere Zeit erneuern,
wird er menschlich mit uns gehn.

When we celebrate his memorial,
demise and resurrection,
our times will be renewed,
he will humanly walk with us.

Like SC 106 the second stanza refers to the Eucharist as the Lord’s memorial (1 Cor 11:24–25) on Sunday and stays with cosmic symbolism: The “renewal of time” might call to mind the New Jerusalem (Rev 21–22), baptism as the entrance into a new life (Rom 6:3–11), and several prophetic announcements in the Old and New Testament. According to SC 8, Christian liturgy is a “foretaste of the heavenly liturgy,“ an anticipation of our own salvation. Jesus who “humanly” accompanies the church in her celebration is of course a reference to the experience by the Emmaus disciples (Luke 24:13–49) which happened on a Sunday as well: the Sunday of Easter.

Segne, Herr, den Tag der Tage,
dass die Welt dein Kommen spürt.
Löse Mühsal, Streit und Plage,
dass für alle Sonntag wird!

Bless, Lord, the day of days,
so that the world can sense your coming.
Remove tribulation, strife, and affliction,
so that it becomes Sunday for everyone!

The third and final stanza continues to show Sunday in its eschatological meaning of anticipation of Christ’s coming, the foreseen world as a world of peace—by the way, with the sign of peace in the Eucharist as an eschatological symbol. I very much appreciate the final line of this hymn: Christians do not celebrate Sunday for their own sake, but for the world’s sake, as you can see e.g. in the Eucharistic Prayer and in the Universal Prayer. The church represents the entire world before God. Being Christian is a privilege since it provides a close relation to God, but it is also an obligation: to serve the world e.g. by praying for the world and representing the world in the face of God.

In my eyes the hymn Dieser Tag ist Christus eigen is very well-made “sung theology” with regard to the Sunday, in full accordance with the Council’s teaching, taking up major aspects of New Testament symbolism. I have used this hymn several times in lectures to show a contemporary example of the relation between lex orandi (in the hymnal) and lex credendi (in Sacrosanctum Concilium). Unfortunately, there is one downer: I have never sung this hymn in a parish liturgy. Even eight years after its introduction, many gems of the Gotteslob hymnal have remained undiscovered land.

3 comments

  1. If anyone watches the video, I recommend you continue on to hear the recording from Bistum Wuerzburg — it’s only organ, no words, but played in a manner so colorful and sprightly that it cannot but win one over. Really a delightful tune, and very much in keeping with the tenor of the text. Sung theology indeed.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kACavz4qUbk

  2. Your post reminded me of a French hymn I encountered in the 1970s and never forgot: “Jour du Seigneur! Dieu nous rassemble, son eglise…” It seemed such a perfect hymn to begin Sunday Mass with (although I remember nothing but this first line).

  3. The ‘English Hymnal’ (1933 Edition) has a section for ‘Sunday’ but it contains only 2 hymns. One is a lovely poem by Edmund Spenser (1553-1599) ‘Most glorious Lord of life …’ set to the equally good tune ‘Farley Castle.’ It also has Office Hymns for Sundays elsewhere in the book.

    The ‘New English Hymnal’ (1986) has four hymns for ‘Sunday.’ They are Charles Wesley’s ‘Come, let us with our Lord arise,’ Spenser’s poem, and two further hymns, one by H.W.W Baker and the other by Isaac Watts. It gives two Office Hymns for Sundays.

    Both editions contain a large collection of ‘General Hymns’ in which there are many that will be appropriate for Sundays in particular, such as ‘O Love, how deep, how broad, how high’ and Peter Abelard’s magnificent ‘O what their joy and their glory must be.’ I guess this accounts for the small number of ‘Sunday specific’ texts.

    However, it is a feature of the Latin Rite that Sunday kept as the Lord’s Resurrection Day is not as highly profiled as it is in the Byzantine Tradition, with its great collection of hymns for Sundays in the ‘Octoechos.’

    AG

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