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Sacra Jam Splendent
The opening words of the hymn for Matins of the Feast of the Holy Family. The Holy See instituted the feast in 1893, making it a duplex majus (greater double) and assigning it to the third Sunday after Epiphany. Leo XIII composed the three hymns (Vespers, Matins, Lauds) of the Breviary Office. The hymn for Matins contains nine Sapphic stanzas of the classical type of the first stanza:
Sacra jam splendent decorata lychnis
Templa, jam sertis redimitur ara,
Et pio fumant redolentque aerrae
(A thousand lights their glory shed
On shrines and altars garlanded,
While swinging censers dusk the air
With perfumed prayer.)
The hymns for Vespers (O lux beata caelitum) and Lauds (O gente felix hospita) are in classical dimeter iambics, four-lined stanzas, of which the Vespers hymn contains six and the Lauds hymn seven exclusive of the usual Marian doxology (Jesu tibi sit gloria). All three hymns are replete with spiritual unction, graceful expression, and classical dignity of form. They reflect the sentiment of the pope in his letter establishing a Pious Association in honour of the Holy Family and in his Encyclical dealing with the condition of working-men.
Translations of the three hymns are given in HENRY, Poems, Charades, Inscriptions of Leo XIII (Philadelphia, 1902), with Latin text, pp. 104-15, and comment., pp. 282-84. The hymns for Vespers and Lauds are translated by BAGSHAWE, Breviary Hymns and Missal Sequences (London, s.d.), nos. 52, 53.