Cecilia McDowall’s “Christus Natus Est” in English Translation

In recent years, as I’ve learned another major sacred choral work and performed it, I’ve done my own study of translating the lyrics (usually from Latin) into English, and researching the source of the texts and Bible verses used as source material. As I’ve come up with each one, I’ve posted it here on my blog.

In the past few years, this has lead to my being contacted by musicians and music directors all over the world, and I’ve made some friends!

Here is my latest installment. If you would like to make use of, or reprint my work, please do me the courtesy of sending me an email first, asking for permission, and telling me how you will use it. Please introduce yourself and tell me about you, where you live, and about the choir you are working with. I look forward to hearing from you.

And in this case, my Latin and French are not the best or the most correct. If you have expertise in these languages and would like to send me corrections or suggestions for improvement, I would welcome them.

Copyright © 2013 by Wheat Williams. All rights reserved.

This season I’m preparing to sing in a production that includes Cecilia McDowall’s 2007 suite of ancient Christmas songs, Christus Natus Est. (Oxford University Press)

I have prepared a study of English translations of the texts she chose:

  • Personent Hodie (Latin, from Prague and Germany, 1300s)
  • Entre le bœuf (French, 1600s)
  • Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus (Latin, from Finland and Sweden, 1500s)
  • Infant holy, infant lowly (originally Polish, 1600s, presented by McDowall in English translation after Edith M. G. Reed)
  • Angelus ad Virginem (Latin, from France, 1200s)

The published and copyrighted sheet music for Christus Natus Est contains English rhyming translations of the text for use if a choir performs the piece in English. However, these settings are not literal, word-for-word translations of the original Latin and French.

I have endeavored to make a literal translation of the texts for the purposes of study by choral singers who want to understand the meaning of each line and phrase, and to identify the important words in each phrase so that they can better understand how to sing the text expressively.  My inelegant translations are not “singable”. As I have stated in previous posts, I have no formal training in Latin.

Personent Hodie

Latin  English translation
1. Personent hodie,
voces puerulae,
laudantes iucunde
qui nobis est natus,
summo Deo datus,
et de virgineo ventre procreatus.
1. Resound today
voices of children
praising pleasantly
Who to us is born
supreme God, given
and of a virgin born.
2. In mundo nascitur,
pannis involvitur;
praesepi ponitur
stabulo brutorum,
rector supernorum.
Perdidit spolia princeps infernorum.
2. Born into the world,
in swaddling clothes wrapped
Manger-laid
Stable brutes
Straight above
Lost and spoiled is the prince of Hell.
3. Magi tres venerunt,
munera offerunt,
parvulum inquirunt,
stellulam sequendo,
ipsum adorando.
Aurum thus et myrrham ei offerendo.
 3. Wise-men three came
Gifts they offer
searching
the little star following
him worshiping
Gold, frankincense and myrrh to him offering
4. Omnes clericuli,
pariter pueri,
cantent ut angeli:
adventisti mundo,
laudes tibi fundo.
Ideo gloria in excelsis Deo.
4. All clergy,
children together
as sing the angels
the arrival of the world
praise you from the foundation.
So glory in the highest to God.

Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris

French English translation
1. Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris,
Dorts le petit fils.
1. Between the ox and the grey donkey
Sleeps the small Son.
Mille anges divins,
mille séraphins,
Volent à l’entour de ce grand Dieu d’amour.
A thousand angels divine,
a thousand seraphim
Flying around the great God of love
2. Entre les deux bras de Marie
Dorts le fruit de la Vie
 2. Between the two arms of Mary
sleeps the Fruit of Life
3. Entre les roses, et les lys
Dorts le petit Fils
3. Between the roses and the lillies
Sleeps the small Son.
4. Entre les pastoureaux jolis,
Dorts le petit fils.
4. Between the beautiful shepherds
Sleeps the small Son.
 5. En ce beau jour solennel,
Dorts l’Emmanuel.
5. In this beautiful solemn day,
Sleep, Emmanuel.

Gaudete! gaudete! Christus est natus

Latin English translation
Gaudete, gaudete! Christus est natus
Ex Maria virgine, gaudete!
Rejoice, rejoice! Christ is born
Of the virgin Mary, rejoice!
Tempus adest gratiæ
Hoc quod optabamus,
Carmina lætitiæ
Devote reddamus.
The time of grace has come
that which we desire,
songs of joy
let us devoutly return.
Deus homo factus est
Natura mirante,
Mundus renovatus est
A Christo regnante.
God a man is made
Wonder of Nature,
The world is restored
By Christ’s reign.
Ezechielis porta
Clausa pertransitur,
Unde lux est orta
Salus invenitur.
Ezekiel’s gate
closed, is passed through,
Hence, light has risen,
Salvation is found.
Ergo nostra concio
Psallat iam in lustro;
Benedicat Domino:
Salus Regi nostro.
Therefore our gathering
Play already our plan
Bless the Lord:
The salvation of our King is ours.

Infant holy, infant lowly

1. Infant holy, infant lowly
For his bed a cattle stall;
Oxen lowing, little knowing
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
Swiftly winging, angels singing,
Nowells ringing, tidings bringing
Christ the Babe is Lord of all.
2. Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping
Vigil ‘til the morning new,
Saw the glory, heard the story,
Tidings of a gospel true.
Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow,
Praises voicing, greet the morrow;
Christ the Babe was born for you.

Angelus ad virginem

Latin English translation
1. Angelus ad virginem
Subintrans in conclave.
Virginis formidinem.
1. The angel to the virgin
crept into the room.
The virgin was in fear.
Demulcens inquit “Ave.”
Ave regina virginum,
Coeli terraeque dominum.
Concipies
Et paries
Intacta,
Salutem hominum.
Tu porta coeli facta
Medela criminum.
He said to her, “Hail”.
Hail the Queen of virgins,
Of heavens and earth the master.
You shall conceive,
A wall
untouched,
the Salvation of men.
You the gate of heaven made
Healing sins.
2. Quomodo conciperem,
quae virum non cognovi?
Qualiter infringerem,
quae firma mente vovi?
How shall I conceive,
seeing that a man I do not know?
How shall make such an infraction,
I who made a vow with my mind firm?
Spiritus sancti gratia
Perficiet haec omnia;
Ne timeas,
sed gaudeas,
secura,
quod castimonia
Manebit in te pura
Dei potentia.
The Spirit’s holy grace
will bring all this;
Fear not
But rejoice
and safe
that chastity
will remain pure
in God’s power.
3. Ad haec virgo nobilis
Respondens inquit ei;
To these words the virgin noble
answered to him;
Ancilla sum humilis
Omnipotentis Dei.
Tibi coelesti nuntio,
Tanta secreti conscio
Consentiens
Et cupiens
Videre
factum quod audio,
Parata sum parere
Dei consilio.
The handmaiden am I, humble,
Of All-powerful God.
By your heavenly announcement
I am of such secrets made aware
I am in agreement
And I want
To see
that done, that I hear.
I am ready to obey
God’s will.
4. Eia Mater Domini,
Quae pacem reddidisti
Angelis et homini,
Cum Christum genuisti;
Tuum exora filium.
Ut se nobis propitium
Exhibeat,
Et deleat
Peccata;
Praestans auxilium
Vita frui beata
Post hoc exsilium.
4. Come, mother of the Lord
Who has peace restored
To angels and mankind,
When Christ you bore;
Pray your Son
to be good to us
Let Him show,
And wash away
Sins;
Giving help
Life to enjoy
After this exile.
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One thought on “Cecilia McDowall’s “Christus Natus Est” in English Translation”

  1. I sing with the Tri-City Chorus in Saco, Maine.

    One of our major pieces is the ‘Gaudete’ by Anders Ohrwall for SATB choir and flute, oboe and bassoon. It is a very nice work. My question is, the phrase ‘Christus est natus’, which is used in the Gaudete. What is the difference between ‘Christus est natus’ and ‘Christus natus est’? Most members are more familiar with “Christus natus est’. I tried looking this up and only noticed that the first iteration seems to be found in the gaudete and the latter in the hodie. Don’t know if that’s relevant. Thank you for your time.

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