Monday, October 29, 2012

The laudes regiae: Christ conquers

Today happens to be the feast of Christ the King according to the 1962 calendar. My good friend asked me to direct our schola in San Antonio today in his place since he was set to serve Mass as master of ceremonies, so I took advantage of the opportunity to have us sing one of my all-time favorite chants in the Church's vast treasury: Christus vincit. Also called the laudes regiae throughout history, Christus vincit is an acclamation which asserts Christ as the king of kings. It pulls no punches, calling out: Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat. "Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands." I'm not very politically minded these days, but the placement of this feast in the 1962 calendar at the last Sunday of October has the convenient advantage of being celebrated right before the American political cycle on election years. It reminds us that no matter who becomes president, this entire world is ultimately under a monarchy, whether we wish to acknowledge the fact or not.

Christus vincit is an acclamation of a style that reaches back to ancient Rome. Praises of victory and honor were shouted or chanted to Roman generals, consuls, or emperors who entered the Eternal City in triumph after a great battle. Charlemagne, a barbarian king who fashioned himself a ruler in the tradition of the old Empire, adopted Roman traditions such as the acclamations for his own use. It's said that at his coronation as Emperor of the Romans in A.D. 800, he adopted Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat for his own personal motto. Those words formed a chant which was used in the coronations of the Holy Roman Emperors for centuries hence. 

 This version by the early music group Sequentia is based on a text from Charlemagne's time. It's from an album appropriately named 'Chant Wars'.

It's no surprise that the laudes regiae were most popular in Charlemagne's native France. Not only was it sung during the holy anointings of the French kings, it was also featured every year at the Cathedral of Notre-Dame-de-Paris. On Easter Sunday, the King himself would process into the cathedral (considered the King's own parish), with the royal praises made both for him and the risen Christ. The French tradition then made its way to England courtesy of the Norman Conquest. Thus, the laudes regiae would also be heard in the coronations of the Kings of England from the time of the Conquest to the Reformation. The oldest manuscript we have of laudes regiae in England is for the coronation of William the Conqueror's wife, Matilda, as queen in 1068. For the curious, you can view the full text here

This version above was recorded by the Westminster Abbey Choir for the feast of Saint Edward the Confessor. It's based on a Sarum melody of the laudes.

Christus vincit continued to appear in the coronations of the Popes well after most of the crowns of Europe had fallen. Even after the the post-Vatican II Popes gave up the practice of coronation, though, Christus vincit has been heard in this context as recently as the inauguration Mass of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005 (below).

Our schola sang an edition published by the CMAA (this one), which I believe is a monastic version. It's the very same one used in this following video.

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.
Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands.
I. For the Church
Exaudi, Christe.

Ecclesiae sanctae Dei, supra regnorum fines nectenti animas: salus perpetua!

Redemptor mundi. Tu illam adjuva.

Sancta Maria. Tu illam adjuva.

Sancte Joseph. Tu illam adjuva.

Sancte Michael. Tu illam adjuva.

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.
Give ear, O Christ.

To the holy Church of God, uniting the faithful beyond the limits of kingdoms: may she have everlasting weal!

Redeemer of the world. Grant her assistance.

Holy Mary. Grant her assistance.

Holy Joseph. Grant her assistance.

Holy Michael. Grant her assistance.

Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands.
II. For the Pope
Exaudi, Christe.

[Benedicto] Summo Pontifici, in unum populos doctrina congreganti, caritate: Pastori gratia, gregi obsequentia.

Salvator mundi. Tu illum adjuva.

Sancta Maria. Tu illum adjuva.

Sancte, Petre. Tu illum adjuva.

Sancte Paule. Tu illum adjuva.

Sancte Benedicte. Tu illum adjuva.

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.

Give ear, O Christ.

To the Supreme Pontiff [Benedict], who gathereth into one all peoples through doctrine, in charity: let there be dignity for our Shepherd, and obedience for his flock.

O Savior of the world. Grant him assistance.

Holy Mary. Grant him assistance.

Holy Peter. Grant him assistance.

Holy Paul. Grant him assistance.

Holy Benedict. Grant him assistance.

Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands.

III. For the local Bishop
Exaudi, Christe.

[Gustavo] (archi-)episcopo et omni clero sibi commisso pax et virtus, plurima merces.

Sancte [Antoni]. Tu illum adjuva.

Sancte [Pie Decime]. Tu illum adjuva.

Christus vincit, christus regnat, Christus imperat.

Rex regum. Rex noster.

Spes nostra. Gloria nostra.
Give ear, O Christ.

To [Gustavo] our (Arch)bishop and to every cleric committed to him: let there be peace and strength, and a great bounty of good.

Holy [Anthony]. Grant him assistance. (diocesan patron)

Holy [Pius X]. Grant him assistance. (parish patron)

Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands.

King of kings. Our King.

Our Hope. Our Glory.
IV. For rulers and citizens
Exaudi, Christe.

Magistratibus et omnibus concivibus nobiscum orantibus: cordis vera quies, votorum effectus.

Auxilium christianorum. Tu illos adjuva.

Sancte Michael. Tu illos adjuva.

Sancte Benedicte. Tu illos adjuva.

Sancte [N.]. Tu illos adjuva.

Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat.

Ipsi soli imperium, laus et jubilatio, per infinita saecula saeculorum. Amen.

Tempora bona habeant! Tempora bona habeant redempti sanguine Christi!

Feliciter! Feliciter! Feliciter!

Pax Christi veniat! Regnum Christi veniat! Deo gratias. Amen.
Give ear, O Christ.

To the magistrates and all fellow citizens praying with us: let the effect of their devotions be true rest for the heart.

O Help of Christians. Grant them assistance.

Holy Michael. Grant them assistance.

Holy Benedict. Grant them assistance.

Holy [N.]. Grant them assistance. (national, local patrons)

Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ commands.

Let all power, praise, and jubilation be to Him alone, through endless ages to ages. Amen.

May they have prosperous times! May they have prosperous times by the redemptive blood of Christ!

Joyously! Joyously! Joyously!

Let the Peace of Christ come! Let the reign of Christ come! Thanks be to God. Amen.
My final thought: why the discrepancy between the dates for the feast of Christ the King in the old and new calendars? I did some cursory reading to find out why. The feast was originally established in 1925 by Pope Pius XI in the encyclical Quas Primas. It was a response to the growing trends of communism, fascism, nationalism, and all the other -isms that would blow up into World War II. The date was to be on the last Sunday of October for two reasons: first, on a Sunday to ensure maximum attendance by the laity, and second, at the end of October so it would complement All Saints and All Souls Day, making a sort of triduum of holy days. Pope Paul VI's revision of the Roman calendar in 1969 then moved Christ the King to the last Sunday of the liturgical year before Advent, so that the feast would have a more eschatological significance. The feast was retitled "Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe", and its place at the end of the year would recall the Last Judgment.

Despite all Paul VI's liturgical blunders, I can't profess that one placement is inherently better than the other. They both make sense, for different reasons.


  1. So now we have a reason to celebrate Christ the King twice.

  2. Charlemagne (Karl der Grosse) was born in modern-day Germany, not modern-day France!

  3. Many thanks for this wonderful introduction to the laudes regiae. I've just added a footnote to my translation of the 1067 Carmen de Triumpho Normannico - The Song of the Norman Conquest to give a bit of background on the laudes regiae at the first performance in England at William the Conqueror's consecration, Christmas Day 1066.

    805. Taliter aecclesiam laudes modulando requirit •

    In this manner, to the singing of the Laudes Regiae,[133] the king sought the church

    806. Rex et regalem ducitur ad cathedram •

    And was conducted to the royal throne.

    807. Laudibus expletis turba reticente canora •

    The melodious Laudes complete, the crowd kept quiet.

    [133] The Laudes Regiae, also known as Christus vincit, praises victory and honor and derived from the tradition of chanting to Roman generals, consuls or emperors who entered Rome in triumph after great battle. Charlemagne adapted the tradition for his reign, using Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christus imperat for his personal motto. The Laudes Regiae had become a traditional accompaniment to Frankish royal consecrations by 1066. The oldest surviving manuscript of the Laudes Regiae in England was written for Queen Matilda’s consecration in 1068.