Catholic Activity: Vexilla Regis Prodeunt
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.
Latin from Analecta Hymnica. Translation by Walter Kirkham Blount (d 1717). This translation, which is considered the best ever done of Vexilla Regis, appeared in his Office of Holy Week (Paris, 1670).
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 the nations form a Tree.
O lovely and refulgent Tree, adorned with purpled majesty; culled from a worthy stock, to bear those limbs which sanctified 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.
Hail Cross, of hopes the most sublime! Now, in the mournful Passion time; * grant to the just increase of grace, and every sinner's crimes efface.
Blest Trinity, salvation's spring may every soul Thy praises sing; to those Thou grantest conquest by the Holy Cross, rewards supply. Amen.
Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross: On this triumphant day.
VEXILLA Regis prodeunt; fulget Crucis mysterium, quo carne carnis conditor suspensus est patibulo.
Confixa clavis viscera tendens manus, vestigia, redemptionis gratia hic immolata est hostia.
Quo vulneratus insuper mucrone diro lanceae, ut nos lavaret crimine, manavit unda et sanguine.
Impleta sunt quae concinit David fideli carmine, dicendo nationibus: regnavit a ligno Deus.
Arbor decora et fulgida, ornata Regis purpura, electa digno stipite tam sancta membra tangere.
Beata, cuius brachiis pretium pependit saeculi: statera facta corporis, praedam tulitque tartari.
Fundis aroma cortice, vincis sapore nectare, iucunda fructu fertili plaudis triumpho nobili.
Salve, ara, salve, victima, de passionis gloria, qua vita mortem pertulit et morte vitam reddidit. -
O Crux ave, spes unica, hoc Passionis tempore! piis adauge gratiam, reisque dele crimina.
Te, fons salutis Trinitas, collaudet omnis spiritus: quos per Crucis mysterium salvas, fove per saecula. Amen.
In Festo Exaltationis Sanctae Crucis: in hac triumphi gloria!
Activity Source: Thesaurus Precum Latinarum