The Vespers hymn (1st and 2nd) for Ss Peter and Paul is DECORA LUX in Mode 4 which celebrates Peter and Paul as our great Apostolic princes. As the imagery of the flowing blood of martyrs permeates through every stanza of this dramatic piece, Peter is revered as the great shepherd for bringing the first Christian communities together and Paul for traveling throughout the Roman Empire teaching the Gospel to all . The hymn honours them in their final earthly resting place ‘O happy Rome,’ the place that now shares in their martyred glory. In celebrating the death of Ss Peter and Paul united as their blood mingles in ‘the twofold stream,’ we rejoice in the triumph of life and death offered to God ‘where unending ages flow.’
“And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labours, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.” St Augustine
This hymn is based upon the poem of Elpis, wife (yes, this hymn is written by a woman..!) of the philosopher wife of Christian philosopher poet Boethius. She died about 493. This hymn was altered under Pope Urban VIII in 1632, from the Original text Aurea Luce et decora roseo. Verses 1,2,5,& 6 are sung on the Feast of St. Peter and Paul (June 29). Verses 3 & 6 are sung on the Feast the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch (Feb. 22). Verses 4 & 6, are sung on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. (Jan. 25). The translation below is from ‘The Liturgical Year’, Abbot Gueranger, O.S.B. Vol. 12, pg 362 / 315 with additional commentary in red from The hymns of the breviary by Rev.Matthew Britt .
THE beauteous light of God’s eternal Majesty
Streams down in golden rays to grace this holy day
Which crowned the princes of the Apostles’ glorious choir,
And unto guilty mortals showed the heavenward way.
The teacher of the world and keeper of heaven’s gate,
‘Mundi Magister’ St Paul (Rom 11.13)
‘‘Coeli Janitor’ St Peter (Matt. 16, 19)
Rome’s founders twain and rulers too of every land,
‘Ruler’ or ‘Judges’ arbitrique
Triumphant over death by sword and shameful cross,
With laurel crowned are gathered to the eternal band.
O Peter, Shepherd good, our voices sing of thee;
Thy very word had might from chains of sin to free;
To thee, by power divine, the mystic keys were given,
Which ope the skies to men, or close the gates of heaven.
Our souls’ great Teacher, Paul, our guide in wisdom’s ways,
Teach us, our fainting hearts, to heaven’s glad clime to raise,
Till Faith in clearest light her bright meridian gains,
And Love with sun-like fire within each bosom reigns.
O happy Rome! who in thy martyr princes’ blood,
A twofold stream, art washed and doubly sanctified.
All earthly beauty thou alone outshinest far,
Empurpled by their outpoured life-blood’s glorious tide.
All honour, power, and everlasting jubilee
To Him who all things made and governs here below,
To God in essence One, and yet in persons Three,
Both now and ever, while unending ages flow. Amen.