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Musical Musings: Easter

Victimæ paschali laudes

by H.T. Henry
Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett

This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Kevin Knight, who has undertaken a project to transcribe an online version of the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia.

Victimæ paschali laudes immolent Christiani. The first stanza of the Easter sequence. Medieval missals placed it on various days within the octave, but the Roman Missal assigns it daily from Easter to the following Saturday inclusively. On the authority of an Einsiedeln manuscript of the eleventh century, its authorship has been ascribed to Wipo. With less apparent reason it has been ascribed to Notker Balbulus by Cardinal Bona, to Robert II of France by Durandus, and even to Adam of Saint Victor (although found in manuscripts antedating his birth). It shares with certain of Notker's sequences their varying stanzaic form and almost casual assonance, but makes an advance in the frequency of rhyme; it thus marks a transition from the Notkerian sequences to the regular rhymic and stanzaic form of those of Adam of Saint Victor. As the only sequence in quasi-Notkerian form retained in our Missal, it is of great interest hymnologically. "Vos" in the line "Præcedet vos in Galilæam," in the typical Missal (1900), was replaced in the Vatican Graduale (1908) by "suos," the original word; this brings the line into appropriate syllabic conformity with the similar line in the preceding stanza, "Et gloriam vidi resurgentis." Although the lines in any one stanza will vary in syllabic length, a comparison of stanzas will show perfect numerical correspondence in the lines. Thus, stanzas 2 and 3:

Agnus redemit oves
Christus innocens Patri

Mors et vita duello
Conflixere mirando;
Dux vitæ mortuus
Regnat vivus.
The first two lines in the stanzas have seven syllables each; the third line has six; the fourth line, four. The chant melody is the same for each stanza. Another melody is found for the next two stanzas, which are also in perfect syllabic correspondence:
Dic nobis, Maria.
Quid vidisti in via?
Sepulchrum Christi viventis
Et gloriam vidi resurgentis.

Angelicos testes.
Sudarium et vestes.
Surrexit Christus spes mea;
Præcedet suos in Galilæa.
Finally, comparing the original sixth stanza (omitted in the reform of the Missal by the Council of Trent, when, also, "suos" was changed into "vos" and "Amen. Alleluia." was added to the sequence), perfect correspondence is again found:
Credendum est magis soli
Mariæ veraci
Quam Judæorum
Turbæ fallaci.

Scimus Christum surrexisse
A mortis vere.
Tu nobis victor
Rex miserere.
Amen. Alleluia.
Dr. Neale, in his Epistola (published in Daniel, IV), speaks (p.22) of the wonderful art of building proses or sequences, and expresses (p.10) his surprise at the deep ignorance, displayed by liturgists, of the rhythm of the Notkerian proses. Daniel also (V, p.58) is shocked at the judgment of Frantz: that the text is trivial, considered as poetry, and that the sequence has retained its popularity because of its good melody. The text of the Victimæ paschali laudes has , however, so rarely appeared in correct form, that the syllabic correspondence cannot be perceived. Modern commentators often replace "surrexisse," "suos" by "vos," and omit "vidi" from the fourth stanza. The apparently irregular rhythms and casual rhymes or assonances have combined to give pause to translators, who render the sequence in our regular English stanza (as C.S. Calverley):
Our salvation to obtain
Christ our Passover is slain:
Unto Christ we Christians raise
This our sacrifice of praise,
or (like Caswall) rhyme with apparently equal casualness:
Forth to the paschal Victim, Christians, bring
Your sacrifice of praise:
The Lamb redeems the sheep. . .
What thou sawest, Mary, say,
As thou wentest on the way. . .
or vary the verse lengths while keeping rhyme (like C.B. Pearson in the Baltimore Manual of Prayers), or frankly adopt prose (like the version in the Missal for the Use of the Laity London 1903).

This "magnificent sequence . . . this triumphal hymn" (P. Wagner) assumed a scenic character as early as the thirteenth century, became a portion of the Office of the Sepulchre, entered into many paschal Mystery Plays, and served as a model for many imitations in honour of the Blessed Virgin and the saints.

MEARNS and JULIAN in Dict. of Hymnology (london, 1907), 1222-4, 1722, with bibliographical references; to the list of trs. add: BAGSHAWE, Breviary Hymns and Missal Sequences (London, s.d.), no. 80; ESLING in Catholic Record, V, 12; DONAHOE, Early Christian Hymns, S. II (Middletown, Conn., 1911); and prose tr. in Missal for the Use of the Laity (London, 1903). KAYSER, Beitrage zur Gesch. u. Erklarung der altesten Kirchenhymnen, II (Paderborn, 18886), 37-60, with variant texts, rubrics, in full, of the Sepulcri Officium. comment. WAGNER, Origine et Developpement du Chant Liturgique, etc., tr. BOUR (Rome, Tournai, 1904), 264-5, gives corrected test: "It became quite as celebrated as the Media vita of Notker . . . In Germany it has maintained a glorious popularity even down to our own times through the hymn Christus ist erstanden." Wagner adds that he published in the Gregoriusblatt (1896), no. II sq., two imitations "which could be sung to the triumphant and much-loved melody of Wipo." JOHNER, A New School of Gregorian Chant (New York, 1906), 15: "the melody is imbued with a spirit of triumphal joy . . . The jubilant scimus Christum surrexisse . . . should be sung with emphasis and solemnity, tempo moderato, not dragged." The tr. of LEESON, omitted from the hist. ed. of Hymns Ancient and Modern (London, 1909), is given by OULD, Book of Hymns (Edinburgh, 1910). BATES, The English Religious Drama (New York and London, 1893), omits "vidi" and has "vos" for "suos." COURTHOPE, History of English Poetry, I (London and New York, 1895), 394-5, omits "vidi" and has "vos" for "suos," dates the beginning of modern drama from the use of the Victimæ paschali laudes in the Sepulcri Officium and the representations thence developed. THOMPSON in DUFFIELD, The Latin Hymn Writers and Their Hymns (New York, 1889), thinks the undoubted poems of Wipo do not "show the fine ear for rhythm" which the author of the Victimae paschali laudes must have possessed. The sequence was one of those Easter hymns in which Luther took such delight. He calls this a "very beautiful hymn," especially finding delight in the second verse "Mors et vita. . ."

Transcribed by Michael T. Barrett
Dedicated in honor of the Passion of Our Lord

The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.

See New Advent Catholic Website

See also Victimæ paschali laudes from Booklet of Chant, Volume 2 [CNP Catalog # 2002]

and Praises to the Paschal Victim, English setting by Alex Hill [CNP Catalog # 3033]

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