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Vesper Hymns of the Psalter

The Hymns of the Breviary and Missal

The theme, or subject matter, of the Vespers hymns for the week is the work of the six days of creation as recorded in the first chapter of Genesis. The Saturday hymn, which is a hymn in honor of the Most Holy Trinity, forms the only exception. The work of each of the six days is explained in the article on Hexæmeron, in the Cath. Encycl.

The authorship of these six hymns is not definitely known. The series develops in an orderly manner the work of creation, devoting four stanzas to the work of each day. There is strong probability that these hymns are the work of one and the same author, and that that author is no other than the illustrious Pope and Doctor of the Church, St. Gregory the Great (540-604). In this connection it is interesting to record the opinion of the editors of the carefully edited Historical Edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1909): “The set,” in their opinion, “must have come from one author, and it is not improbable that that author was St. Gregory” (p. 21). And again: “The series as a whole is probably rightly identified with a set of hymns for every evening in the week, which Irish records describe as having been sent by St. Gregory to St. Columba. The ancient preface to Columba's hymn Altus prosator describes the coming of St. Gregory’s messengers with gifts, including a set of hymns for the evenings of the week, and the sending by St. Columba of his hymns to St. Gregory in return. The series is not unworthy of such an author, and the hymns go far to justify the tradition that ascribes to that most versatile of popes a place among the Hymn-writers” (p. XVII). See also the article on Hymnody, by Father Clemens Blume, S.J., in the Cath, Encycl., Vol. VII., p. 602.

The Benedictine editors of the works of St. Gregory credit him with eight hymns (Opera, Paris, 1705); H. A. Daniel in his Thesaurus Hymnl. Vol. I, assigns him three others. The Lucis Creator optime given below is one of the eight hymns assigned him by the Benedictine editors.

The translations of these hymns in Part I of Mr. Orby Shipley’s Annus Sanctus are from the Primer of 1706, and are in all probability the work of the poet John Dryden, who was received into the Church in 1685.