The popular song from the Dominican community in Kraków, composed in fact by Jacek Gałuszka, has sources in liturgical chant going back more than thousand years. This hymn was part of the liturgical and fraternal renewal of the Polish Dominicans and more generally of the pastoral work beginning in the 1990s.
The musical, liturgical and theological roots of the hymn are deep and the one-thousand-year journey of text and music from France to Poland seems to have been overlooked in recent times. Here it is proposed to present both sources and that journey.
Responsorium prolix as source (first generation chant)
The long responsory in Latin Isti sunt agni novelli is found in early antiphonaries for the Office of Readings. It is indicated principally for days within the Octave of Easter Sunday, Wednesdays and Saturdays of Eastertide, celebrations of the saints within Eastertide. Three verses are part of the tradition, but the second and third verses were more likely to be used on Wednesday of Easter week. The more recent Tridentine Liturgy of the Hours employed the responsory on Saturday within Easter week.
The notated responsory is found in the late tenth-century manuscript Cod. Sang. 391, although with only one verse: Ecce praecedet vos.
R. Isti sunt agni nouelli; qui adnuntiauerunt alleluia Modo venerunt adfontem: [cf. Apoc 7,13-17] repleti sunt claritate, a[ll]e[l]uia, a[ll]e[l]uia.
V. Ecce precedet nos in galileam ibi eum uidebitis sicut dixit nobis (cf. Mk 16,7). modo
The Poissy Antiphonal (fourteenth-century Dominican manuscript) presents the notated text, which has undergone some changes, with diastematic neumes (AUS-Mslv096.1, folio 253v-254r), including additional verses from Apocalypse and the psalter.
R. Isti sunt agni nouelli; qui annuntiauerunt, alleluia modo uenerunt ad fontes: [cf. Apoc 7,9-17] Repleti sunt claritate, alleluia, alleluia.
V. In conspectu Agni amicti sunt stolis albis, et palmae in manibus eorum. [Apoc 7,9] Repleti sunt.
R. In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum, et in fines orbis terrae verba eorum. (Ps 18(19), 5)
V. Ecce praecedet vos in Galilaeam: ibi eum videbitis sicut dixit vobis (cf. Mk 16,7)
Scriptural source of Responsorium prolix
The respond of this long responsory is an adaptation of verses 13-14 from the seventh chapter of the Book of the Apocalypse. Apocalypse 7,9-17 describes a scene in heaven where those who have suffered the great tribulation stand before the throne of God and worship God and the Lamb:
9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.”
13 Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and whence have they come?” 14 I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.
15 Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night within his temple; and he who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (RSV translation)
The refrain text identifies the individuals, the new lambs, as those who have come to the source, or the “springs of living water” mentioned in Apocalypse 7,17. They are also those who have been baptised.
The first verse of the long responsory – In conspectu Agni amicti sunt stolis albis, et palmae in manibus eorum – is taken directly from Apocalyse 7,9 where those who have witnessed faithfully to Christ are vested in white robes in the sight of the lamb (white because they have been washed in the blood of the lamb – cf. Apocalypse 7,14) and hold in their hands the symbol of their victory: palm branches.
The second verse of the responsory – In omnem terram exivit sonus eorum, et in fines orbis terrae verba eorum – is taken from psalm 19, interpreting the new lambs as those who have communicated a message to the ends of the earth. Western liturgical use of this psalm verse employs the text as the antiphon for use with psalm 19A in the Office of Readings for the Common of Apostles. The earlier part of the psalm verse, not used in the liturgical text, recalls that no words are used in the “preaching”: Non sunt loquelae neque sermones. This indirect reference is appropriate for those who communicate the faith by their witness until death, rather than by their words. The following verse of the psalm is equally interesting for its reference to they (the lambs) being where God has placed a tent for the sun – Soli posuit tabernaculum in eis – recalling the refrain’s repleti sunt claritate
The third verse of the long responsory – Ecce praecedet vos in Galilaeam: ibi eum videbitis sicut dixit vobis – is an adaptation of the words of the angel on Easter morning speaking to the two Marys, recorded in Mark 6,17, that the Lord Jesus would go ahead of Peter and the disciples to Galilee and there he will meet them:
And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 3 And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back—it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 6 And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid. (RSV translation)
Here is the Gregorian chant long responsory (first generation) with only a single verse along with its melody in print form.
Second generation: A new chant inspired by the long responsory
In 1902, the first French journal of Gregorian chant with a popular appeal, Revue du chant grégorien, published a refrain-and-verse chant employing Isti sunt agni novelli as the refrain but combining it with verses addressed primarily to the
Blessed Virgin Mary. The new chant was recommended in the journal as a suitable hymn for children making their First Holy Communion in a common parish celebration.
Shortly after having been printed in the popular chant review, a book of Marian hymns prepared by chant expert Dom Joseph Pothier, who had been assisting in the publication of Revue du chant grégorien, was published containing the text of our long responsory as a refrain paired with a slightly different series of verses. Dom Pothier’s publication of 1903 contained twelve verses whose origin were indicated explicitly: eight from Saint Anselm of Canterbury’s Mariale, four verses were new compositions, and the refrain “from the liturgy”. We have identified here more precisely the liturgical source as the long paschal responsory. The four newly composed verses in Pothier’s publication focussed on Baptismal and Eucharistic and Redemption themes rather than on Marian ones.
A shorter version of the hymn from the 1903 Cantus Mariales was published in 1939 by the Cistercians under the title Laudes vespertinae, consisting in three of the newer verses and five of the older ones.
A third-generation chant in Poland
No doubt inspired by the popular French publications, the Benedictine Abbey at Tyniec, near Kraków, published in 1960 a book of chants entitled Kyriale dla wiernych in which a Polish translation of our long responsory or chant hymn was provided as a refrain for an entirely new composition. The editor was the famous monk of Tyniec, Dom Franciszek Małaczyński (1920-2009), a major figure for the liturgical renewal in Poland following the Second Vatican Council. The verses of this third-generation chant were taken entirely from the paschal hymn Ad Regias Agni dapes. The older and restored version of the hymn is better known, Ad cenam Agni providi.
The Polish Benedictine chant of 1960 employs in great part the melody published by Pothier, both for the refrain and the verses, even if the text of the verses does not correspond in any way between Pothier’s chant and the Polish chant. The musical question will be considered presently.
The fourth-generation chant
The Dominican song, produced in the 1990s, was a new musical setting of the Polish Benedictine chant, but without any change to the Tyniec text. The Dominican music, however, was not bereft of inspiration from tradition, but rather exhibits motifs for its own respond from Roman melody of the paschal Vespers hymn, i.e. music which does not appear to have influenced the chants in the Pothier, Cistercian or Benedictine books and had an association with verses which enter this story only in 1960. We might say there is a curious and non-direct combination of sources with respect to text and music, the path of the music being rather more taciturn.
Musical motifs passed down the generations
The third-generation chant, from the Tyniec monastery, employed the second-generation melody to a great extent as can be seen from the following juxtapositions. The first is of the respective refrains which correspond quite closely.
This second comparison is of the verses which correspond, but to a lesser extent.
Before examining our fourth-generation Dominican hymn, consider first the beginning of the Eastertide chant hymn, in its Roman melody, however, paying attention to the parts of the melody highlighted by upper-case letters, namely la-sol and do-re-do-si-la:
Here is the music for the refrain of our Dominican hymn with the apparent motifs (la-sol and do-re-do-si-la) from the paschal hymn indicated by including the correspond Latin syllables:
The Dominican refrain seems to be heavily influenced by the two motifs in the first musical phrase of the Gregorian chant hymn for Eastertide. The new Dominican music seems to be a second step in the chant becoming more paschal, the first step having been achieved by employing verses of the paschal vespers hymn in 1960.
The Polish text – in Benedictine and Dominican forms – is a peculiar combination of a text referring to the apostles, and later to the newly baptised, for the refrain and another composed of verses from the paschal vespers hymn which is placed upon the lips of the baptised (neophytes and others) looking forward to the Lamb’s feast in heaven and rejoicing in the present sacramental access to redemption. The Polish text speaks about a small group of the newly baptised and then serves as the text of the large population of the baptised.
The refrain brings the attention of older Christians upon those newly baptised, likely during the Easter Vigil, that same group upon which the attention of the community customarily focuses within the octave of Easter. The combination of the refrain with verses from the paschal hymn and its broader emphasis then helps to insert the newly baptised into the community, much like the sung Gregorian Propers did at Mass in the first millennium: the introit Eduxit populum of Easter Saturday, the Communion of the same day Omnes qui in Christo baptizati sunt induisti Christum, the introit Quasi modo geniti infantes for the day after. For those sensitive to the musical expressions from Eastertide, the re-use of musical motifs from the paschal hymn in the refrain of the Dominican setting brings out the communitarian belonging of the newly baptised since the hymn emphasises that community aspect, while the vigorous rhythm serves to heighten that same atmosphere.
The instrumental introduction to the Dominican piece on the oboe may be considered to recall a (windy) scene at the shore or the sea, more specifically the crossing of the red sea in the book of Exodus.
The song recalls the foundational event which is proclaimed in the paschal shout, also on the lips of the newly baptised: Alleluia!
Free PDF score download:
 Cf. Śpiewnik Liturgiczny Niepojęta Trójco, Dominikański Ośrodek Liturgiczny, Kraków 1998, 204-205.
 Cf. Corpus antiphonalium officium, vol. 4: Responsoria, Versus, Hymni et Varia, n.7012, ed. Renato-Jean Hesbert (Rerum Ecclesiasticarum Documenta. Series Maior. Fontes 10), Herder, Roma 1970, 253.
 Cf. Breviarium Romanum. Editio Princeps (1568), 2226, edd. Manlio Sodi-Achille Maria Triacca (Monumenta Liturgical Concilii Tridentini 3), CLV-Edizioni Liturgiche, Roma 2012, 369/-399-.
 For example Liturgia Horarum, vol. 3, 1973, page 1379; Liturgia godzin, t. 2, 1984, s. 1559-1560. Cf. Corpus Antiphonalium Officii, vol. 3: Invitatoria et Antiphonae, n.3272, ed. Renaud-Jean Hesbert, Herder, Roma 1968, 276.
 Liber responsorialis pro festis i. classis et communi sanctorum juxta ritum monasticum Adnectuntur Invitatorium et Hymnum Aliorum Festorum, Typographie S. Pierre, Solesmis 1895, 169.
 Joseph Pothier «Isti sunt agni novelli», Revue du chant grégorien 10 (1902) 113-118.
 «Isti sunt agni novelli», in Joseph Pothier, Cantus Mariales quos e fontibus antiquis eruit aut opere novo veterum instar concinnavit, Poussilegue, Parisiis 1903, 101-104.
 Laudes vespertinae seu cantus diversi ad benedictionem, Ordinis Cisterciensiensis Reformatorum, Westmalle 1939, 105-108
 Franciszek Małaczyński (ed.), Kyriale dla wiernych. części stałe Mszy świętej, wybrane msze gregoriańskie, ważniejsze śpiewy na rok kościelny,Księgarnia Św. Jacka, Katowice 1960.
 Cf. Antiphonale Sacrosanctae Romanae Ecclesiae pro diurnis horis SS. D.N. Pii X. Pontificis Maximi jussu restitutum et editum, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, Romae 1912, 380-382.
 Cf. Antiphonale Romanum Secundum Liturgiam Horarum Ordinemque Cantus Officii Dispositum A Solesmensibus Monachis Praeparatum Tomus Alter. Liber Hymnarius cum Invitatoriis & Aliquibus Responsoriis, Solesmis 1983, 74-75; Liturgia horarum iuxta ritum romanum. Antiphonale Romanum in canto gregoriano ad exemplar ordinis cantus officii dispositum. II. Ad vesperas in dominicis et festis. Cura scriptorii paleographici solesmensis praeparatum, Solesmis 2009, 199-200.
 Cf. Antiphonale Romanum secundum Liturgicam Horarum ordinemque cantus officii dispositum a solesmensibus monachis praeparatum. Tomus alter. Liber Hymnarius cum Invitatoriis et aliquibus Responsoriis, Solesmsi 1983, 74-75; The tune was almost identical in the chant books during the decades before Vatican II; Antiphonale Sacrosanctae Romanae Ecclesiae pro diurnis horis SS. D.N. Pii X. Pontificis Maximi jussu restitutum et editum, Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis, Romae 1912, 380-382; Liber usualis, Desclée, Tournai-New York,1961, 812-813.
Fr. Fergus Ryan, OP, is an Irish Dominican. In 2016 he earned a doctorate in liturgical studies from the Pontifical Liturgical Institute in Rome where he currently teaches.