17 December 2014

Hymns for Advent (18): ‘The Advent
Prose – Rorate caeli desuper’ (No 122)

Rorate caeli desuper et nubes pluant justum ... Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One

Patrick Comerford

As part of my spiritual reflections for Advent this year, I am looking at an appropriate hymn for Advent each morning. This morning [17 November 2014], I have chosen the Advent prose, ‘The Advent Prose – Rorate caeli desuper’ (Irish Church Hymnal, No 122).

It is also known as Rorate coeli (or Rorate Caeli) or by the opening words of its English translation, ‘Drop down ye heavens from above’ (see Isaiah 45: 8).

In the Roman Catholic tradition, the Advent Prose is used frequently during Advent as a plainsong at the Mass and in the Divine Office.

It expresses the longings of the Patriarchs and the Prophets, and symbolically of the Church, for the coming of the Messiah. Throughout Advent it occurs daily as the versicle and response after the hymn at Vespers.

Rorate caeli desuper et nubes pluant justum
Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the Just One.

Aperiatur terra et germinet salvatorem
Let the earth be opened and send forth a Saviour.

The text is also used as the Introit for the Fourth Sunday in Advent (next Sunday, 21 December 2014), for Wednesday in Ember Week, for the feast of the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (tomorrow, 18 December), and for votive Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary during Advent.

In the Anglican Communion, Rorate Coeli is included in the music for Advent (see English Hymnal (1906), No 735; New English Hymnal, No 501, and Irish Church Hymnal, No 122).

The Advent Prose came into use in the 17th century, and draws on the prophecy of Isaiah, and a Latin text with a French translation was first published in Paris in 1673.

The version in the English Hymnal, the New English Hymnal and the Irish Church Hymnal omits the original but obscure third verse based on Isaiah 16: 1:

Behold, O Lord, the affliction of thy people
and send forth him who is to come:
send forth the Lamb, the ruler of the earth,
from the rock of the desert, to the mount of the daughter of Zion:
that he may take away the yoke of our captivity.

The editors replaced this with another verse drawn from Isaiah 40: 10-11.

The Advent Prose – Rorate caeli desuper (No 122)


Drop down, ye heavens, from above,
and let the skies pour down righteousness.

Be not wroth very sore, O Lord,
neither remember iniquity for ever:
the holy cities are a wilderness,
Sion is a wilderness,
Jerusalem a desolation:
our holy and our beautiful house,
where our fathers praised thee.

We have sinned, and are as an unclean thing,
and we all do fade as a leaf:
and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away;
thou hast hid thy face from us:
and hast consumed us, because of our iniquities.

Ye are my witnesses, saith the Lord,
and my servant whom I have chosen;
that ye may know me and believe me:
I, even I, am the Lord, and beside me there is no Saviour:
and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.

Comfort ye, comfort ye, my people,
my salvation shall not tarry:
I have blotted out as a thick cloud thy transgressions:
Fear not, for I will save thee:
for I am the Lord thy God,
the Holy One of Israel, thy Redeemer.

Tomorrow:Come, thou long-expected Jesus