Catholic CornucopiadCheney

Ut queant laxis

O for thy spirit

The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal

  1. Ut queant laxis resonare fibria
    Mira gestorum famuli tuorum,
    Solve pollute labii reatum,
       Sancte Joannes.
  2. Nuntius celso veniens olympo,
    Te patri magnum fore nasciturum,
    Nomen, et vitæ seriem gerendæ
       Ordine promit.
  3. Ille promissi dubius superni,
    Perdidit promptæ modulos loquelæ:
    Sed reformasti genitus preemptæ
       Organa vocis.
  4. Ventris obstruso recubans cubili,
    Senseras Regem thalamo manentem:
    Hinc parens, nati meritis, uterque
       Abdito pandit.
  5. Sit decus Patri, genitæque Proli,
    Et tibi compar utriusque virtus,
    Spiritus semper, Deus unus, omni
       Temporis ævo.
  1. O for thy spirit, holy John, to chasten
    Lips sin-polluted, fettered tongues to loosen;
    So by thy children might thy deeds of wonder
       Meetly be chanted.
  2. Lo! A swift herald, from the skies descending,
    Bears to thy father promise of thy greatness;
    How he shall name thee, what thy future story,
       Duly revealing.
  3. Scarcely believing message so transcendent,
    Him for season power of speech forsaketh,
    Till, at thy wondrous birth, again returneth
       Voice to the voiceless.
  4. Thou, in thy mother’s womb all darkly cradled,
    Knewest thy Monarch, biding in His chamber,
    Whence the two parents, though their children’s merits,
       Mysteries uttered.
  5. Praise to the Father, to the Son begotton,
    And to the Spirit, equal power possessing,
    One God whose glory, through the lapse of ages,
       Ever resoundeth.
Author: Paul the Deacon (720-799). Meter: Sapphic and Adonic. Translation a cento from The Hymner, based on a translation by W. J. Blew, in the meter of the original. There are about twenty translations of this beautiful hymn. Liturgical Use: Hymn for Vespers. The hymns given below for Matins and Lauds are parts of this hymn. The translations are in blank verse. In reading care should be taken to observe the caesura which in Sapphic verse occurs generally after the fifth syllable. There is an article on this hymn in the Cath. Encycl., and another on Paulus Diaconus its author.
  1. “That thy servants may be able to sing thy deeds of wonder with pleasant voices, remove, O holy John, the guilt of our sin-polluted lips.” Laxis fibris is intended to express a good condition of the voice, freedom from hoarseness, etc., “with vocal cords well strung.” St. John is invoked for ailments of the throat, and he is even considered a special patron of singers. The Saint’s miraculous birth is recorded in detail in Luke 1. The whole chapter should be read. Zachary, the father of the Precursor, lost his voice on account of his disbelief in the Angel’s promise (Luke 1, 19), and again “his tongue was loosed” (laxis fibris) at the naming of John (Luke 1, 64). This stanza is of special interest to musicians as the syllables marked in italics were those chosen by Guido of Arezzo (990-1050) for the syllabic naming of the notes Ut, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La. The famuli mentioned in this stanza are the choir who (as Zachary recovered his voice at the naming of John) would implore their patron to endow them with voices worthy of singing the praises of one so illustrious.
  2. “A messenger from highest heaven discloses in due order to thy father that thou wouldst be born great, thy name, and the whole course of the life thou wouldst lead.” Nuntius, the Archangel Gabriel (Luke 1, 19). Nomen, John (Luke 1, 13). Seriem vitæ gerendæ (cf. Luke 1, 15-17).
  3. “He (Zachary) doubtful of the heavenly promise lost the power of ready speech; but when born, thou didst restore the organs of the lost voice.” The disbelief of Zachary is recorded in Luke 1, 18; the penalty in verse 20; the restoration of the power of speech in verse 64.
  4. “Still resting in the concealed abode of the womb, thou didst perceive thy King reposing in His chamber: thereupon both parents by the merits of their son revealed hidden things.” The last two lines of this stanza are obscure. In the translation given above the two parents are Zachary and Elisabeth; and the mysteries they uttered are Elisabeth’s “Blessed art thou among women,” etc. (Luke 1, 42-45), and Zachary’s “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,” etc. (Luke 68-79). However, there is no lack of translators who ignore the masculine uterque and the singular nati and translate quite as literally as Archbishop Bagshawe:
    “The two Mothers then, on account of their Babes,
    Things hidden unfold.”
    In this interpretation the two parents are Mary and Elisabeth, and the whole stanza gives us a picture of the Visitation. The “hidden things” uttered by Elisabeth are the same as those mentioned above (Luke 1, 42-45), and Our Lady replies in her incomparable Magnificat (Luke 1, 46-55). This is the better interpretation.
  5. “Glory be to the Father, and to the only-begotten Son, and to Thee, O Spirit, power eternally equal to Them both, one God, forever and ever.”