Welcome to EWTN GB - Global Catholic Television Network - Copyright ©
HomeArticleAdvent Vespers and St. Ambrose of Milan

Advent Vespers and St. Ambrose of Milan

Advent Vespers and St. Ambrose of Milan

Starry night. (photo: RealCG Animation Studio / Shutterstock)


“Creator of the stars of night/Thy people’s everlasting light/Jesu, Redeemer, save us all/And hear Thy servants when they call.”

Stephanie Mann, December 22, 2018

During Advent and Lent, our parish, Blessed Sacrament, offers a Holy Hour, Vespers, and Benediction each Sunday in the late afternoon. Followed by attendance at the evening Mass at 5:15, the celebration of Evening Prayer, chanted as in choir (alternating verses side to side across the aisle of the church), the incensing of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance, the Sacrament of Confession offered for penitents: the afternoon and evening is a great reflective and sacramental event.

Adoration for half an hour is an excellent preparation for receiving Holy Communion at Mass. And as the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship notes: “The Liturgy of the Hours is in itself an excellent preparation for the fruitful celebration of the Eucharist because it fosters those dispositions necessary, such as faith, hope and love, devotion and a spirit of sacrifice.” The General Instruction also indicates the connection between Vespers and the Sacrifice of the Mass:

We also call to mind our redemption, through the prayer we offer ‘like incense in the sight of the Lord’, and in which ‘the raising up of our hands’ becomes ‘an evening sacrifice.’ This ‘evening sacrifice’ ‘may be more fully understood as that true evening sacrifice which was given in the evening by our Lord and Saviour when he instituted the most holy mysteries of the Church at supper with his apostles; or which on the following day he offered for all time to his Father by the raising up of his hands for the salvation of the whole world.’

We (clergy and laity) also fulfill the desires of the Fathers at the Second Vatican Council by celebrating the Liturgy of the Hours in public, as expressed in Sacrosanctum Concilium.


Creator of the Stars of Night

Using the Mundelein Psalter, we chant the psalms and canticles using “simple yet beautiful Gregorian-based modes composed for this Psalter.” Each psalm, canticle, and hymn has a single line of notation to be chanted in unison. Through the chant, we proclaim the words clearly and reflectively, responding in choir. The hymns are also set to chant-based modes and melodies.

During the first part of Advent (through Dec. 16), our Evening Prayer hymn is “Creator of the Stars of Night,” a translation of a hymn, “Conditor alme siderum,” that has been chanted at Vespers for centuries. This hymn has an interesting history because it was one of the hymns of the Office revised by Pope Urban VIII in the 17th century. Pope Urban VIII was born Maffeo Barberini at Florence in April 1568; he was elected pope on Aug. 6, 1623, and died at Rome on July 29, 1644. During his pontificate, he instituted several reforms and dealt with the Galileo matter; he was guilty of nepotism as he promoted his nephews, but he was also a great patron of the arts. Gian Lorenzo Bernini designed and built the great baldachino and cathedra in St. Peter’s Basilica during his reign.

Another project Urban undertook was the revision of the Roman Breviary in the 1620s; Pope St. Pius V had approved a revision in 1569 but Pope Urban wanted to revise the hymns to conform to 17th-century standards for classical Latin.

In 1985, however, when Pope St. John Paul II approved the latest revision of the Roman Breviary, the traditional Ambrosian style hymn was restored. As Vincent A. Lenti commented in an article published in the Fall 1993 issue of Sacred Music

It is now almost universally conceded that the 17th century revision of the Latin hymnal was a mistake, . . . One commentator [7] has wisely observed that “Ambrose and Prudentius took something classical and made it Christian; the revisers and their imitators took something Christian and tried to make it classical. The result may be pedantry, and sometimes perhaps poetry; but it is not piety.”

The translation we sing is by the great Anglo-Catholic hymnist John Mason Neale, based upon the original Latin hymn:


Creator of the stars of night,
Thy people’s everlasting light,
Jesu, Redeemer, save us all,
And hear Thy servants when they call.

Thou, grieving that the ancient curse
Should doom to death a universe,
Hast found the medicine, full of grace,
To save and heal a ruined race.

Thou cam’st, the Bridegroom of the bride,
As drew the world to evening-tide;
Proceeding from a virgin shrine,
The spotless victim all divine.

At whose dread name, majestic now,
All knees must bend, all hearts must bow;
And things celestial Thee shall own,
And things terrestrial, Lord alone.

O Thou whose coming is with dread

To judge and doom the quick and dead,
Preserve us, while we dwell below,
From every insult of the foe.

To God the Father, God the Son,
And God the Spirit, Three in One,
Laud, honor, might and glory be
From age to age eternally.


Sung to a chant from the Sarum Use, the Roman rite developed at the Cathedral of Salisbury centuries before the English Reformation, the hymn sets the reflective mode of Evening Prayer throughout the first weeks of Advent.


St. Ambrose and Advent

“Conditor alme siderum” was once attributed to St. Ambrose, whose feast we celebrated on Dec. 7. There’s no documented evidence that St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, wrote the hymn, but he wrote several others with a similar theme and purpose. Ambrose’s feast is celebrated on the day he was consecrated bishop in 374, proclaimed by the people of Milan because he—though still just a catechumen at the time—believed and taught as the Council of Nicaea had proclaimed that Jesus Christ was truly God and man, the Divine Second Person of the Holy Trinity incarnate. Ambrose, the lay governor of Milan, was baptized, ordained and consecrated bishop within seven days!

In the Advent and Christmas hymns St. Ambrose wrote, like “Veni, Redemptor gentium” (“Redeemer of the nations, come!” or “Savior of the nations, come”), he emphasized orthodox Catholic doctrine: Jesus was born of Mary the Virgin; He is the Son of God and Mary’s son; He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead; He is God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God! As the Arians including Arius himself had composed hymns to spread that heresy, St. Ambrose wrote them to proclaim the truth.


Share With: