Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Epiphany Matins: Tria sunt munera ("Three are the gifts")

Tria sunt munera ("Three are the gifts") is the 6th Responsory of Mattins of Epiphany in the Sarum Breviary; it is also sung as a Responsory at Vespers.   

This is the text in Latin, with an English translation, from Divinum Officium:
R. Tria sunt munera pretiosa, quae obtulerunt Magi Domino in die ista, et habent in se divina mysteria:
* In auro, ut ostendatur Regis potentia: in thure, Sacerdotem magnum considera: et in myrrha, Dominicam sepulturam.
V. Salutis nostrae auctorem Magi venerati sunt in cunjibulis, et de thesauris suis mysticas ei munerum species obtulerunt.
R. In auro, ut ostendatur Regis potentia: in thure, Sacerodtem magnum considera: et in myrrha, Dominicam sepulturam.

R. There are three precious gifts which the wise men offered unto the Lord on this day, and they speak a mystery of the things of God,
* Gold, to show His kingly power; frankincense, for our Great High Priest; and myrrh, against the Lord's burying.
V. The wise men worshipped the Captain of our Salvation, as He lay in the manger, and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him mystic gifts.
R. Gold, to show His kingly power; frankincense, for our Great High Priest; and myrrh, against the Lord's burying.

Here's the score, from the wonderful McMaster University Sarum Chant site:

As you can see from the Latin / English text above, I also found this Responsory used on Epiphany at Divinum Officium - but only in the early, "pre-Trident monastic" listing for Epiphany Mattins and not in any other version.  (It was not, seemingly, used at Vespers in the pre-Trident Breviary, either.)  The Responsory apparently disappeared after Trent, and it would be interesting to compare the various versions to see what happened at that point.  Perhaps some other emphasis became more important at the Feast of the Epiphany; I will see what I can find in that regard.

Here's a video of Juan Esquivel Barahona's (ca.1563 — after 1613) setting of a much shorter section of the text; it's only the first section of the first line, ending with the word "Domino."  The excellent singers are the Ensemble Corund.

I'm interested, too, in the idea of the three "mystic gifts" as symbols, an idea found explicitly stated in the Responsory:  "Gold, to show His kingly power; frankincense, for our Great High Priest; and myrrh, against the Lord's burying."  This, too, is obviously an old idea - one whose lineage I'd like to trace!  Will give a try, and will come back to edit this depending on what I find.

You find this idea expressed in the hymn "We Three Kings," of course, although less explicitly - and  I'd never really understood those words anyway.   Perhaps the song was too familiar - or perhaps nobody ever sang the "myrrh" verse!  Then a few years ago I heard Peter Warlock's Christmas carol, "Bethlehem Down," where it's much more explicit, and I was really struck by the thought.   Here's that one, sung by The Choir of Westminster Cathedral:

The text:

"When He is King we will give Him the King's gifts:
Myrrh for its sweetness, and gold for a crown,
Beautiful robes," said the young girl to Joseph,
Fair with her first-born on Bethlehem Down.

Bethlehem Down is full of the starlight,
Winds for the spices, and stars for the gold,
Mary for sleep, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem fold.

When He is King, they will clothe Him in grave-sheets,
Myrrh for embalming, and wood for a crown,
He that lies now in the white arms of Mary,
Sleeping so lightly on Bethlehem Down.

Here He has peace and a short while for dreaming,
Close-huddled oxen to keep him from cold,
Mary for love, and for lullaby music,
Songs of a shepherd by Bethlehem Down.

Here's something pretty interesting that I've never seen before.  It's labeled "Adoration of the Magi. Panel from a Roman sarcophagus, 4th century CE. From the cemetery of St. Agnes in Rome."  (Photo credit: Jastrow.)

Reminds me quite a lot of this later work, labeled 'Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo in Ravenna, Italy: The Three Wise Men" (named Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar). Detail from: "Mary and Child, surrounded by angels", mosaic of a Ravennate italian-byzantine workshop, completed within 526 AD by the so-called "Master of Sant'Apollinare".'  (Photo credit:  Nina-no.)

Blessed Feast of the Epiphany.


Scott said...

Tria sunt munera is also sort of a fight song or alma mater at Cologne Cathedral, where I gather there are relics of the Magi. I'm sorry, but hearing the girls' choir sing this at the beginning of Mass makes me weep...just beautiful. They do this chant quite often; if not every Sunday, then most Sundays when there's a big procession like this:
The chant starts after an, um, energetic (but brief) organ improvisation.

Marc in Eugene said...

Thanks very much for this post! I wondered if the Tria sunt munera pretiosa had somehow 'morphed' into the Magnificat antiphon Tribus miráculis but that has apparently (based on the texts in Dr Kiss's-- r.i.p.-- 'always' been the Magn. antiphon (different sets of three, anyway). I wonder if the history that Fr John Hunwicke describes today [] somehow accounts for Tria sunt munera pretiosa disappearing from the Roman Rite?

Marc in Eugene said...

And thanks for mentioning the McMaster's Sarum site, which I knew nothing about. Happy feast! and happy new year!

bls said...

Thanks for that link, Scott! I agree the procession - and the chant - are incredibly beautiful. I believe I just may create a new post out of that video. Thank you very much for calling our attention to it.

(I really quite liked that organ improv, BTW.....)

bls said...

Marc, thanks for commenting. Tribus miraculis is indeed the antiphon on the Magnificat for Epiphany, even to this day.

I've talked briefly about it on my Epiphany Office post - but I think it, too, deserves its own post. It's a beautiful chant.

I'll take a look at the page you linked; thanks very much for that.

And yes: the McMaster site is truly wonderful!

Marc in Eugene said...

Ha; I do suspect it has something to do with the Roman office preserving the more ancient form of the Epiphany office, the feast having an octave and then not having an octave, or the other way around-- it is all rather above my head really. But I will point out that the Tria sunt munera pretiosa is the first responsory today, the second day within the Octave (at least in the 1910 office that I use, at

Marc in Eugene said...

Indeed it is the first responsory throughout the Octave but not on the Octave itself, next week, through all the forms of the Roman office including the 1960 (according to, which is, if I've understood aright, what is called the 'extraordinary form' these days apart from some minor rubrical differences. Fascinating.

bls said...

Thanks, Marc; that's interesting. Something definitely did happen at Trent as regards Epiphany, as I read elsewhere yesterday - but I haven't had the time yet to go through and figure out exactly what. Will get there eventually.

It might be interesting, too, to take a look at older manuscripts to see what was happening in the era before Trent.

Thanks again!

Marc in Eugene said...

Someone expertly familiar with the Roman Office pointed out that Tria sunt is also not sung on the Sunday within the Epiphany octave (on which was celebrated the feast of the Holy Family).

Even though Epiphany lost its octave after 1955 (I gather), Tria sunt remained the first responsory through the 12th, i.e. until the feast of Our Lord's Baptism celebrated on the 13th.


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