Originally the tune to a 15th-century secular folk song (“Der reich Mann war geritten aus,” or “The rich man had ridden out”), “Sonne der Gerechtigkeit” was adopted by the Bohemian Brethren for the 1566 hymnal, Kirchengeseng, where it was set to a text beginning “Sun of Righteousness.” The adoption of a sacred text to secular music — contrafactum — was common in the medieval era and often the work of Catholic friars. (A similar 19th-century example of contrafactum is the setting of William Chatterton Dix's text “What Child is This?” to the English folk tune “Greensleeves.”)

“Sonne der Gerchtigkeit” is commonly used to accompany the hymn, “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing.” The text refers to the ancient custom of administering to new Christians the sacraments of baptism and holy communion at the first Easter Sunday mass following their catechumenate. Vested in white robes, they were admitted for the first time to the “banquet of the Lamb” — the eucharistic feast. Robert Campbell (1814-1868), a Scotsman who converted to Roman Catholicism, translated the seventh-century Latin text to English.

This video is a demo of the sheet music available from Con Spirito Music. Visit conspiritomusic.com.

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