In the period 1904 - 1906 Vaughan Williams and the Rev. Percy Dearmer edited the English Hymnal. The composer had been reluctant initially to take on the assignment, owing to its enormity. In the end, his decision to accept came mostly as a means to keep out the second choice for the job, H. Walford Davies, a man whose musical ideas were strongly at odds with his. Vaughan Williams made some minor revisions and additions to produce another edition of the English Hymnal in 1933. Most of his work involved editing, harmonizing, and arranging, but he did write four original tunes for the 1906 edition, among which were "For all the Saints" (No. 641) and this hymn, "Hail Thee, Festival Day!" (No. 624).
The tune that Vaughan Williams used for this work was one he called Salve festa dies, roughly a translation of this hymn's title into Latin. The "Day" in the title refers to Easter, and the hymn's text is by Venantius Fortunatus (530 - 609), in a translation by Maurice Frederick Bell. The hymn begins with the refrain's famous words: "Hail thee, festival day!/Blest day that art hallowed forever." Vaughan Williams' music features a regal manner to its religiosity, bearing a resemblance to much English church music from the nineteenth century, but also divulging the composer's vigor in its march-like gait. The main theme is glorious and celebratory without ever veering into a secular sound or mood. This is happy worshipful music then, from the pen of one of the greatest non-believers ever to have written sacred and church service music.