Best Advent Hymn

I have published on this Hymn before but want to post on it again at the beginning of Advent in hopes that a few of you who have the influence and ability may see that this hymn in used in your parishes for Advent at some point.

For my money the best Advent hymn ever written is Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come Redeemer of the Nations) written by St. Ambrose in the 4th Century.

One of the beautiful things about the ancient Latin Hymns is how richly theological they are. Not content to merely describe the event in question, they give sweeping theological vision and delve into the more hidden mysteries of each event.

So here we are beginning Advent and Jesus is coming, get ready! Well yes, but he is not just coming, he is redeeming, dying, rising, ascending and reigning at the Father’s Right Hand! But how can we get all that into an Advent Hymn? Well, just below you can read the text and see how.

Full vision – But for now ponder the theological point that hymns like this make. And it is this: that no act of God can merely be reduced to the thing in itself. Everything God does is part of a sweeping master plan to restore all things in Christ, to take back what the devil stole from us! Too often we see the events of our redemption in a disconnected sort of way, but it is all really one thing, and the best theology connects the dots. It is not wrong for us to focus on one thing or another, but we must not forget it is all one thing in the end.

Without this reminder, we can develop a kind of myopia (a limited vision) that over-emphasizes some aspect of redemption and thus harms the rest by a lack of balance. In the 1970s and 80s we had all resurrection all the time, but no passion or death.

Christmas too has its hazards as we get rather sentimental about the “baby Jesus” but miss other important aspects of his incarnation. The passion and death are present in his birth in homeless poverty, the swaddling clothes, the flight into Egypt and so forth. The Eucharist is evident in his birth at Bethlehem (House of Bread) and his being laid in a manger (feed box for animals). His glory as God and his ultimate triumph are manifest in the Star overhead and the Angels declaration of glory! You see it is all tied together and the best theology connects the dots.

So with that in mind I present you to this wonderful Advent hymn so seldom sung in our Catholic Parishes. It can be sung to any Long Meter tune but is usually sung to its own melody (Puer Natus – see video below). I give here only the English translation but the PDF you can get by clicking here: ( VENI REDEMPTOR GENTIUM) contains also the Latin text. I think the poetic translation reprinted here is a minor masterpiece of English literature and hope you’ll agree. Enjoy this sweeping theological vision of the mystery of advent caught up into the grand and fuller vision of redemption.

Among the theological truths treated in this brief hymn are these: His title as Redeemer, his virgin birth, his inclusion of the Gentiles, his sinlessness, his two natures but one person, his incarnation at conception, His passion, death, descent into hell, ascension, his seat at the Father’s right hand, his divinity and equality with the Father, his healing and sanctification of our humanity so wounded by sin, his granting us freedom and eternal life, his renewing of our minds through the light of faith, his opening of heaven to us.

Not bad for seven verses! St. Ambrose, Pray for us! And now the hymn:

Come, thou Redeemer of the earth,
Come testify thy virgin birth:
All lands admire, all times applaud:
Such is the birth that fits our God.

Forth from his chamber goeth he,
That royal home of purity,
A giant in twofold substance one,
Rejoicing now his course to run.

The Virgin’s womb that glory gained,
Its virgin honor is still unstained.
The banners there of virtue glow;
God in his temple dwells below.

From God the Father he proceeds,
To God the Father back he speeds;
Runs out his course to death and hell,
Returns on God’s high throne to dwell.

O Equal to thy Father, thou!
Gird on thy fleshly mantle now;
The weakness of our mortal state
With deathless might invigorate.

Thy cradle here shall glitter bright,
And darkness breathe a newer light,
Where endless faith shall shine serene,
And twilight never intervene.
All laud, eternal Son, to thee
Whose advent sets thy people free,
Whom with the Father we adore,
And Holy Ghost, for evermore.

This video gives you an idea of what the hymn tune for Veni Redemptor Gentium sounds like. The words in this version are slightly different but the hymn tune is perfect. Try not to dance as it is sung. You can find the melody for this hymn tune in the hymn tune index of most hymnals. This hymn tune is called “Puer Natus.” The words to this hymn however can be sung to any Long Meter (LM) hymn tune.

16 Replies to “Best Advent Hymn”

  1. I chose Ambrose as my patron in large measure on the strength of such powerful writing. He is such a treasure for us, along with his brother and sister.

  2. Dear Monsignor; A beautiful hymn indeed, made even more lovely when sung by the Choir of St Albans Abbey (UK). Many thanks for the link.

  3. About 40 years ago I obtained a record (before the advent of CDs) of an Anglican service for “Advent Sunday” consisting of Advent carols and readings. It was made in King’s College Cambridge (UK) and it is an example of what treasures the C of E has kept when the Catholic Church has closed its eyes. This beautiful hymn (may I call it “Carol”?) is featured along with another eight beauties and it is to my distress that I can no longer find my copy of this recording. The readings (Nine lessons and Carols) are superbly presented.
    Thank you very much for this reminder…..even if it is of something which I seem to have lost!

  4. BBC3 has a delightful program called Choral Evensong – I listen to it all the time. Enjoy! You have 2 more days to listen to an Advent Carol Service by St John’s College, Cambridge

    There are dozens of CD’s of Advent services with carols – here are just a few:

    and this one which is not available until 25 Dec:

    1. Just want to point out that the BBC3 which Marc refers to is BBC Radio 3 as opposed to the television channel BBC3.

  5. Oh, Monsignor! Try not to dance–how unlike you! (I suspect your tongue was squarely in your cheek with that one) Dancing is one of the images that comes into my mind when I am especially in tune with Christ–even though I am among the most staid of folks otherwise. I might not be dancing in the flesh, but in my mind, why not? 🙂

  6. Msgr,

    It might be worth mentioning that the wonderful English translation is yet another offering from the pen of the Rev. John Mason Neale (1818-1866). He was an Anglican priest of very Catholic leanings and a prolific hymn writer.

    The tune, known under a number of titles, most commonly called Puer Nobis or Puer Natus appeared in Petri’s Piae Cantiones and in Praetorius’ Musae Sioniae. The form that we know was probably Praetorius’ work and is an adaptation of the incipit and chant from which it takes its name. It is truly a joyous carol which lends credence to the origin of carols as street dances.

  7. The Pope’s brother is a musician. He should be in charge of the Vatican choir. I have watched Mass from St. Peters Basilica for Christmas and Easter. The choir sounds nothing like these traditional English Anglican singers. The boys have little discipline. I think it is a shame.

  8. Lately I’ve undertaken a pleasant Advent penance of memorizing the glorious Psalm 19 (in the Douay-Rheims I’m using, Psalm 18); so stanza 2 of the hymn leapt out at me:

    Forth from his chamber goeth he,
    That royal home of purity,
    A giant in twofold substance one,
    Rejoicing now his course to run.

    And here’s from the Psalm:

    He hath set his tabernacle in the sun
    and he as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber
    hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way


  9. I have done this hymn to the melody for Conditor Alme Siderum…otherwise know as Creator of the Stars of night. It is beautiful when done accapella after the Communion chant.

  10. We are singing the Conditor Alme Siderum this Advent. First Latin piece in this parish in many, many years.
    All due to the changes in the Mass.

  11. Incomparable, and a good “chaser” for Saint-Saens’ magnificent “Tollite Hostias”. Free performances by hundreds of choirs worldwide — at their web sites.

    Nadolig Llawen.

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