For vespers on this Friday, July 9, our hymn Horis Peractis Undecim is a meditation on the parable of the vineyard workers, as found in Matthew 20.
Many of us recall the story: There is a twelve-hour work day in the vineyard, and fresh workers get hired through the day, even at the eleventh hour. (The “eleventh hour” is therefore proverbial for something that happens almost but not quite too late, just in the nick of time.) At the end of the work-day, the eccentric farmer, in a picture of God’s generosity, chooses to pay the eleventh hour workers just as much as those who have been there all day.
The hymn places us, the singers, in the Lord’s vineyard near the end of the our day, getting ready to put down our tools and receive our pay. Our first duty after work (a glad one!) is to sing this hymn, which then begs Christ to pay us the glorious reward he has promised. By means of that reward, he will help us fulfill our future labors, and also help us rest from them.
The hymn is delicately ambiguous about whether the reward is to come in the hereafter or the present life; I suppose it refers to both. It also modestly declines to say whether we (the singers) have been working all day (for twelve hours) or whether we are eleventh-hour joiners about to get paid handsomely for one hour of work. Again I suppose it covers both cases. And that’s how the Kingdom of Heaven works: Both in this world and the next, both for the all-day saints and the rest of us eleventh-hour folks.
In order to allow Paul the freedom to sing both the Latin and the English for this one, I made a metrical translation that aims for simple transparency of the Latin words, and that can be sung to the same tune as the Latin. The idea is that if you know the English you can more easily follow and enjoy the Latin. We hope you enjoy both the lovely Latin verse and its humble English setting.
Horis peractis undecim ruit dies in vesperum; solvamus omnes debitum mentis libenter canticum. Complete after eleven hours, Now runs the day to evening; We all repay the debt we owe in reason, willingly, in song. Labor diurnus transiit quo, Christe, nos conduxeras; da iam colonis vineae promissa dona gloriae. The daily work has passed away Which you, O Christ, engaged us for; Give now your farmers of the vine The promised gifts of glory due. Mercede quo nunc advocas, quos ad futurum muneras, nos in labore adiuva et post laborem recrea. By wages which you now call forth, So soon to come as your reward, Assist us in the present work, And after work restore anew. Sit, Christe, rex piissime, tibi Patrique gloria cum Spiritu Paraclito, in sempiterna saecula. Amen. To you, O Christ, most blessed king, And you, the Father, glory be, With you the Spirit, Paraclete, To everlasting ages long. Amen.
translation © 2021 John R. Rose, under CC BY-SA 4.0
source: Solesmes Liber Hymnarius, 1983 (2019), p. 236