This is often sung as an Easter hymn, but a hymn about the resurrection is appropriate any Sunday—every Sunday.
Published anonymously in a Catholic hymnal in 1695, the hymn was translated into English by Anglican minister, Francis Pott, in 1861. An organist, William Monk, then added the Alleluias (meaning, “Praise the Lord”) and set the words to music that had been written much earlier by Vatican choirmaster, Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.
The hymn celebrates the battle fought and won at the cross. “The powers of death have done their worst,” but Christ has won the victory. “The three days (in the tomb) have quickly sped; (Christ) rises glorious from the dead.”
The last verse is a prayer—a prayer that Christ, by his death, might set us free from death “so that we may live, and sing to thee: Alleluia!” Amen to that!
William Hart, in his book, Hymn Stories of the 20th Century, which was published in 1948 (not long after World War II had ended), adds the unusual note that a soldier’s chorus sang this hymn at the funeral of General George Patton on December 23, 1945 after his death in an automobile accident. Whether that seems significant to you or not, it is significant that this hymn and others celebrating the resurrection have been a strength and comfort to many who have had to face the death of a loved one.
— Copyright 2006, Richard Niell Donovan