The Vexílla Regis Meditation Hymn
Vexilla Regis was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the liturgy. Fortunatus wrote it in honor of the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross which had been sent to Queen Radegunda by the Emperor Justin II and his Empress Sophia. Queen Radegunda had retired to a convent she had built near Poitiers and was seeking out relics for the church there. To help celebrate the arrival of the relic, the Queen asked Fortunatus to write a hymn for the procession of the relic to the church.
The hymn has, thus, a strong connection with the Cross and is fittingly sung at Vespers from Passion Sunday to Holy Thursday and on the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross. The hymn was also formerly sung on Good Friday when the Blessed Sacrament is taken from the repository to the altar. The text given below is the full text of Fortunatus' hymn, but verses 2, 4, and 7 are omitted when the hymn is used liturgically. The last two verses which form the concluding doxology are not by Fortunatus, but is rather the work of some later poet.
Vexílla Regis pródeunt;
Fulget Crucis mystérium,
Qua Vita mortem pértulit,
Et morte vitam prótulit.
Quæ, vulneráta lánceæ
Mucróne diro, críminum
Ut nos laváret sórdibus,
Manávit unda et sánguine.
Impléta sunt quæ cóncinit
David fidéli cármine,
Regnávit a ligno Deus.
Arbor decóra et fúlgida,
Ornata Régis púrpura,
Elécta digno stípite
Tam sancta membra tángere.
Beáta, cuius brácchiis
Prétium pepéndit sǽculi,
Statéra facta córporis,
Tulítque prædam tártari.
Sequens stropha dicitur flexis genibus.
O Crux, ave, spes única,
Hoc Passiónis témpore
Piis adáuge grátiam,
Reísque dele crímina.
Te, fons salútis, Trínitas,
Colláudet omnis spíritus:
Quibus Crucis victóriam
Largíris, adde prǽmium.
Abroad the regal banners fly,
Now shines the cross’s mystery;
Upon it Life did death endure,
And yet by death did life procure.
Who, wounded with a direful spear,
Did, purposely to wash us clear
From stain of sin, pour out a flood
Of precious water mixed with blood.
That which the prophet-king of old
Hath in mysterious verse foretold,
Is now accomplished, whilst we see
God ruling nations from a tree.
O lovely and refulgent tree,
Adorned with purpled majesty;
Culled from a worthy stock, to bear
Those limbs which sanctifièd were.
Blest tree, whose happy branches bore
The wealth that did the world restore;
The beam that did that body weigh
Which raised up hell’s expected prey.
The following verse is said on bended knee.
O Cross, our one reliance, hail!
This holy Passiontide avail
To give fresh merit to the saint,
And pardon to the penitent.
Blest Trinity, salvation’s spring,
May every soul thy praises sing;
To those thou grantest conquest by
The holy cross, rewards apply.