Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Feast of Corpus Christi

The Feast of Corpus Christi is celebrated on this day in some churches, transferred from its true position on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday. It is a day set aside to pay tribute to the Real Presence of Christ, the Body and Blood in the Communion meal.

Saint Juliana of Liege (1193-1258) was the first champion of such a feast day; she wanted a commemoration for the Eucharist that would fall outside the season of Lent and outside Holy Week. She convinced her local bishop, Robert de Thorete, of the usefulness of such an occasion and he declared the first celebration of the feast in 1246.  From there it eventually spread to the whole Catholic Church, decreed by Pope Urban in 1264. Other churches, particularly some Anglo-Catholic churches in the Anglican Communion also mark the day. Historically, it was often a very elaborate celebration, with an outdoor procession conveying the elements of the Eucharist.

The well-known Latin text Ave verum corpus dates from the fourteenth century and is attributed to Pope Innocent IV, written for this feast day. It has been set to music by many composers, perhaps most notably by Mozart and William Byrd.

This is a setting I particularly like, by Camille Saint-Saens, sung by the Handel Choir of Baltimore, Maryland.

P.S. - The art above is by the fifteenth-century Venetian painter Giovanni Bellini, depicting a Corpus Christi procession in Venice's St. Mark's Square.

Seven Years Ago: Here, O my God, I see thee face to face

Three Years Ago: Sweet Sacrament divine 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Trinity Sunday

Sound aloud our highest praises,
Tell abroad God's wondrous Name;
Heaven the ceaseless anthem raises,
Let the earth its God proclaim:
God, the hope of every nation,
God, the source of consolation,
Holy, blessèd Trinity!

This the Name from ancient ages
Hidden in its dazzling light;
This the Name that saints and sages,
Prayed and strove to know aright,
Through God's wondrous Incarnation,
Now revealed the world's salvation,
Ever blessèd Trinity!

Still the Name o’er earth and ocean
Shall be carried, God is Love,
Whispered by the heart’s devotion,
Echoed by the choirs above,
Hallowed through all worlds forever,
Lord of life the only giver,
Blessèd, glorious Trinity!

Henry A. Martin, 1870; alt.
Tune: FIDES (
Clement Cottevill Scholefield, 1874

Seven Years Ago: Lead us, great Creator, lead us

Six Years Ago: Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord God Almighty!

Five Years Ago: I bind unto myself today

Four Years Ago: O Trinity of blessèd light

Two Years Ago: Mighty Creator, merciful and tender

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Feast of Pentecost

Come, O come, thou quick'ning Spirit,
God from all eternity!
May thy power never fail us;
Dwell within us constantly.
Then shall truth and life and light
Banish all the gloom of night.

Grant our hearts in fullest measure
Wisdom, counsel, purity,
That we ever may be seeking
Fuller faith as found in thee.
Let thy knowledge spread and grow,
Working error's overthrow.

If our souls can find no comfort
And despondency grows strong
That our hearts cry out in anguish:
"O my God, how long, how long?"
Comfort then each aching breast,
Grant us courage, patience, rest.

Holy Spirit, strong and mighty,
Thou who makest all things new,
Make thy work within us perfect,
All constraining pow'rs subdue.
Grant us victory in the strife
And with gladness crown our life.

Heinrich Held, c.1664; tr. Charles W. Schaeffer, 1866; alt.
Robert Prescott Stewart, 1868

Seven Years Ago: Joy, because the circling year

Six Years Ago: O prophet souls of all the years

Five Years Ago: Above the starry spheres

Four Years Ago: Hail thee, festival day

Three Years Ago: O God, the Holy Ghost

Two Years Ago: Hail festal day, through every age

One Year Ago: Spirit of grace and health and pow'r

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Phebe Hanaford

Phebe Hanaford, born today in 1829, was not only the fourth woman ordained in the United States (in the Universalist Church) but was also an author, activist, poet and hymnwriter.

Born into a Quaker family, she was aware from a young age that women in that tradition were allowed to preach during services, but she tried to put those ideas aside when she married Joseph Hanaford in 1849 and agreed to worship in his Baptist church.  A few years later she learned that Lucy Stone, a prominent activist for abolition and women's rights, was speaking at a local church.  Knowing that her husband would not approve of her attending the lecture, she stayed outside the church but managed to listen anyway.

Following her ordination in 1868, she led churches in the Massachusetts towns of Hingham and Waltham, but when she was called to a Universalist congregation in New Haven, Connecticut, her husband refused to go with her and they separated.  Ellen Miles, a Sabbath school teacher in Phebe's Waltham congregation, accompanied her to New Haven and throughout the rest of her long career, often being called the "minister's wife."

Today's hymn, probably written in the 1860s, not long before Phebe decided to pursue ordination, takes its theme from Exodus 15:20-21, the Song of Miriam, which follows the story of the deliverance of the people of Israel from Egypt. It's not quite a paraphrase of that passage, but takes it as a springboard of sorts.

Miriam’s song we’ll echo now,
Singing praises to the Lord;
Who has triumphed gloriously,
Shout the victory of our God!

Sound the timbrel! Loud and high!
Let the song of praise ascend!
Sound the timbrel, far and nigh!
God is our unchanging friend!

When the Red Sea tide o’erwhelmed
Israel’s foes in that great hour
While they sought the promised land,
Then was seen th’Almighty’s power.

Ever thus shall righteousness
Over wrong victorious be,
And the Lord shall be proclaimed
Ruler over land and sea.

Phebe Hanaford. c.1866; alt.
Tune: EVELYN (
Emma L. Ashford, 1905

Poor health and the loss of Ellen Miles, her companion of more than forty years, prevented Phebe from remaining active in her causes in the final years of her life.  She was living unhappily with her granddaughter's family in rural upstate New York, far from the cities and organizations she had loved and led.  Though she had worked for years in the cause of women's suffrage, there is no evidence in local voting records that she cast a vote in 1920, the first national election following the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment.  At age 91, she was unable to travel to the polls on her own. Fortunately, New York State allowed women to vote a few years earlier, and she did take advantage of that limited opportunity.

She died on June 2, 1921, one month after her 92nd birthday, and was buried in an unmarked grave next to her daughter Florence Hanaford Warner.  There were some attempts over the years to have a headstone erected for her, but that did not happen until 1998, when the headstone (pictured below) was funded by the Unitarian Universalist Women's Heritage Society.

P.S. - As we were discussing Abraham Lincoln's funeral services two days ago, it should be noted that Hanaford also wrote a hymn for an ecumenical memorial service for the President at the Old South Congregational Church in Reading, Massachusetts.  This is the first stanza:

Hushed today are sounds of gladness
From the mountains to the sea;
And the plaintive voice of sadness
Rises, mighty God, to thee.

Combined choirs from the Congregational, Baptist and Universalist churches sang Phebe's hymn to the tune MOUNT VERNON by Lowell Mason (finally, a historical record of a tune!).  She later published it in the closing chapter of her best-selling biography of Lincoln.

Six Years Ago: Phebe Hanaford

Five Years Ago: Phebe Hanaford

Three Years Ago: Phebe Hanaford

Monday, May 4, 2015

Rest, Noble Martyr!

On this day in 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was buried in Springfield, Illinois, 19 days after he died on the morning of April 19. It was the culmination of a grand commemoration of the murdered leader that began with the informal procession of mourning that accompanied his body from the boardinghouse (across from Ford's Theater) where he died, back to the White House. Hundreds followed along the streets of Washington on that day, and in the weeks to come thousands would come to see the funeral train that traveled from the capital to Springfield, and to pay homage as they filed past the body that lay in state in several cities along the route.

There were many musical tributes along the way, including some original works.  On this last day 150 years ago, the ceremonies around the interment included the hymn Children of the heavenly King (perhaps not including all those stanzas listed at the Cyber Hymnal), an anthem with words set to the Dead March from Handel's oratorio Saul, and a chorus from Mendelssohn's oratorio St. Paul. George Root composed another funeral anthem: Farewell, Father and Friend.  The final hymn sung was also an original text written for the occasion by the Reverend Dr. Phineas D. Gurley, pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, where the Lincolns worshipped.

Rest, noble Martyr! rest in peace;
Rest with the true and brave,
Who, like thee, fell in Freedom's cause,
The nation's life to save.

Thy name shall live while time endures
And men shall say of thee,
"He saved his country from its foes,
And bade the slave be free."

These deeds shall be thy monument,
Better than brass or stone;
They leave thy name in glory's light,
Unrivaled and alone.

This consecrated spot shall be
To Freedom ever dear;
And Freedom's sons of every race
Shall weep and worship here.

O God! before whom we, in tears,
Our fallen Chief deplore;
Grant that the cause for which he died
May live forevermore.

Phineas D. Gurley, 1865
Tune: DUNDEE (C.M.)
Scottish Psalter, 1615

The hymn was concluded with a generic doxology stanza, presumably in the same meter. I have yet to find any reference to the specific tune that was sung, even in a recent doctoral thesis entitled The Mystic Chords of Memory: Musical Memorials for Abraham Lincoln. The information may exist in a contemporaneous newspaper account, but history often records only the titles of hymns sung at historic occasions without telling us the tune.  The text was certainly published in newpapers at the time and so the hymn may have been sung in other places

Dr. Gurley was not, apparently, a close friend of Abraham Lincoln, but he was the President's pastor, and had assisted at the funeral of the Lincolns' son Willie in 1862. He was among the people at the President's bedside when he died, he conducted the White House funeral on April 19th, and accompanied Lincoln's casket along the funeral train route to take part in the Springfield ceremonies, including the final benediction after his hymn was sung.  Some time after the end of the initial mourning period he publicly admitted that he thought it unfortunate that Lincoln had gone to the theater on Good Friday to see a comedy.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

All Will Then Be Well

It's already the second Sunday in Lent and you may find that the hymns in your church this season are a little more dreary.  Not all hymns for the season are like that but many are, especially, it seems, the Lenten hymns that have survived in most hymnals.

Some churches choose to emphasize the example of Christ's whole life on earth, his teaching and his acts of mercy and healing, during Lent rather than on the stricter themes of penitence and sacrifice.  Of course, there are many hymns that go along with these ideas.  I found today's hymn in the Lenten section of an Episcopal children's collection, Hymnal with Music for Children (1887) and tracked down a more complete version of the text, choosing five of the several stanzas.

Sing of Jesus, sing forever
Of the love that changes never;
Who, or what from Christ can sever
Those he makes his own?

Jesus, with his love has bought us;
When we knew him not, he sought us,
And from all our wand’rings brought us;
His the praise alone.

Though we pass through tribulation,
Christ will be our consolation,
Ours will be a full salvation;
All will then be well.

Through the desert Jesus leads us,
With the bread of heaven feeds us,
And through all the way he speeds us
To our home above.

There the saints have lasting treasure,
There they sing with endless pleasure,
There their joy will know no measure,
In that final day.

Thomas Kelly, 1814; alt.
German melody, 19th cent.

Four Years Ago: Saint David

Six Years Ago: Thirsting for a living spring

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Conversion of Saint Paul

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps,
Would live our lives for you.

Praise for the light from heaven,
Praise for the voice of awe;
Praise for the radiant glory
The persecutor saw.
And, God, for his conversion
We magnify your Name;
So change our misconceptions
With your true Spirit's ray..

We pray for saints we know not,
For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
Tune: NYLAND (

Finnish melody

Six Years Ago: We sing the glorious conquest

Four Years Ago: The great Apostle, called by grace

Sunday, January 18, 2015

The Confession of Saint Peter

On some church calendars, January 18 is marked to commemorate the Confession of Saint Peter, as told in Matthew 16:13-20Saint Peter is often depicted with large keys,  probably deriving from this same passage where Jesus says he will give Peter "the keys to the kingdom of heaven."

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy Name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps, 

Would live our lives for you.

Praise for your great apostle,
The eager and the bold,
Thrice failing, yet repentant,
Thrice charged to keep your fold;
God, make your pastors faithful,
To guard their flocks from ill,
And grant them dauntless courage,
With humble, earnest will.

We pray for saints we know not,

For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.
Tune: ZOAN (

William Henry Havergal, 1859

This tune by William Henry Havergal (1793-1870) is no longer well known but it has appeared in many hymnals, and was chosen today because January 18 is also Havergal's birthday.  He was a prominent name in the mid-nineteenth century for his work in hymnody; he wrote several hymn texts, but more importantly, he wrote tunes and worked to reestablish many older psalm tunes, arranging and harmonizing them according to the musical tastes of his time so that they would be widely used again as they had been in previous centuries. One of his daughters, hymnwriter and composer Frances Ridley Havergal is probably more widely known today.

Two Years Ago: The Confession of Saint Peter 

Six Years Ago: William Henry Havergal

Friday, December 26, 2014

Saint Stephen

December 26 is marked on some church calendars as the Feast of Saint Stephen, the first Christian martyr, whose story is told in the sixth and seventh chapters of Acts.  Again, because of its prozimity to Christmas, there are probably not many services today where he will be remembered.

There is less speculation about Stephen's death, as it is told in scripture.  When he was brought before the Sanhedrin and accused of blasphemy, he gave a long speech about the history of Israel, and then said that he could see Jesus in heaven at the right hand of God.  This suggestion that the recently-crucified Jesus was alive as the Messiah enraged the crowd of listeners, who stoned him.  A quick Google search will turn up several paintings depicting the scene of his murder.  The three stones seen here are also sometimes used to represent Stephen.

By all your saints still striving,
For all your saints at rest,
Your holy Name, O Jesus,
Forevermore be blessed!
For those passed on before us,
We sing our praise anew
And, walking in their footsteps, 

Would live our lives for you.

Praise for the first of martyrs,
Who saw you there to stand
To aid in midst of torments,
to plead at God's right hand.
We share with him. if summoned
By death our faith to own,
On earth our faithful witness,
In heav'n, the martyr's crown.

We pray for saints we know not,

For saints still yet to be,
For grace to bear true witness
And serve you faithfully,
Till all the ransomed number
Who stand before the throne
Ascribe all power and glory
And praise to God alone.

Horatio Bolton Nelson, 1864; alt.

Hans Leo Hassler, 1601; harm. J.S. Bach, 1729

Five Years Ago: Good King Wenceslas looked out

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The Silent Word Is Pleading

What child is this, who laid to rest,
on Mary's lap is sleeping?
Whom angels greet with anthems sweet,
while shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King,
whom shepherds guard and angels sing;
haste, haste to bring him laud,
the babe, the child of Mary.

Why lies he in such mean estate
where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christian, fear: for people here
the silent Word is pleading.


William Chatterton Dix, 1865
Tune: GREENSLEEVES ( with refrain)
English ballad melody, 16th cent.

Six Years Ago: Once in royal David's city

Five Years Ago: Where is this stupendous stranger?

Two Years Ago: Hark! the herald angels sing