of Merry Light and Happy Voices
by Lexiann Grant
“Lumen hilare sanctae…Dignus es in tempore quovis sanctis vocibus celebrari…”
Literal Latin Phos Hilaron portion.
The first time I truly slowed and focused my nightly prayers, and began the discipline of reading Evening Prayer, the line, “You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices” grabbed my complete attention.
This sentence comes from the Phos Hilaron, a vespers chant that could be the first hymn in the ancient Christian church. It is unique, as it is not based upon specific Scripture as so many other chants are.
I was awed by the phrase, “praised by happy voices,” and later with each succeeding line. Reading grew into liturgical prayer, and these days I often sit with each phrase in lector divina.
In the tradition of lectio divina, following are several translations. I highlighted phrases or words that leapt out to me. Chant, pray and enjoy them.
Armenian and Russian Orthodox liturgies use similar translations, adding “alleluia” in Easter: “Joyous, holy light of the glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, vivifying Father: Jesus Christ. Having come to the setting of the sun, we have seen this evening light.
Let us praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit of God, and together let us say, Amen.
Make us worthy for all time to bless with a voice, with a song, the name of glory of the all-holy Trinity who has given life, and for which the world glorifies thee.”
Mixed eastern Orthodox, outside of Russia:
“O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee.”
Roman Catholic Liturgy of the Hours hymn by Wm Storey:
“O radiant light, O sun divine of God the Father’s deathless face,
O image of the light sublime that fills the heav’nly dwelling place.
O Son of God, the source of life, Praise is your due by night and day;
Our happy lips must raise the strain of your esteemed and splendid name.
Lord Jesus Christ, as daylight fades, as shine the lights of eventide,
We praise the Father with the Son, the Spirit blest and with them one.”
If possible take some time to listen to the sung Phos Hilaron:
A hauntingly beautiful beautiful version of Phos Hilaron sung at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, San Francisco.
“Oh blazing, cheerful, holy light,” single-voice chant of Phos Hilaron in English from the Orthodox Catholic church of America; translated by Rt. Rev. Dr. Stephen Duncan.
Further reading: Interesting account of the history of the Phos Hilaron on the United Methodist Church’s History of Hymns web page.