Friday, September 29, 2017

Saint Michael and All Angels


The (unfortunately) fading feast of Michaelmas is still celebrated in some places, and of course we have hymns for the occasion. Today's text is one translation of the Latin office hymn Tibi, Christe, splendor Patris, which was written by Benedictine scholar and theologian Rabanus Maurus (c.780-856), who later became Archbishop of Mainz. He is also known for his "mathematic and geometric" poetry, built around the Cross, which can be seen here.

Life and strength of all thy servants,
Brightness of our Maker’s light;
We with angels, earth with heaven,
In thy praise our songs unite.

Thousand thousand guardian seraphs
In thine angel army stand;
Flames the victor cross before them,
Grasped in Michael’s dauntless hand.

Angel-ruler, Christ, we pray thee,
Bid them aid us in our strife,
Grant protection from all evil,
Till we reach the land of life.

Our Creator, God immortal,
Jesus Christ, for us who died,
With the Comforter, the Spirit,
Evermore be glorified!

Rabanus Maurus, 9th cent.
tr. Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1889; alt.
Tune: MERTON (8.7.8.7.)
William H. Monk, 1850



Nine Years Ago: Around the throne of God

Eight Years Ago: Stars of the morning, so gloriously bright

Seven Years Ago: They are evermore around us

Five Years Ago: O Captain of God's host

Three Years Ago: High on a hill of dazzling light

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Gushing From the Rock Before Me


Fanny Crosby (1820-1915) is definitely in the running to be the most well-known woman to write texts for congregational singing, even today when the musical style that accompanied most of her songs is somewhat out of fashion in many places.

Several contemporary composers around the world have written new tunes for some of her texts, and more than one recording has been made (though this is the only one that seems to be readily available). Since most of her songs were written in the contemporaneous gospel song/Sunday School style, including a refrain that helped with memorization, they don't generally match well to existing tunes. 

There are exceptions. I've always thought that this is one of her most accomplished texts (still unused here in the past nine years), and since it does not include the usual refrain, it could be paired with a more conventional hymn tune, and sung in places that might never consider singing one of her songs.

All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt his tender mercy,
Who through life has been my guide?
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Christ to dwell!
For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

All the way my Savior leads me,
Cheers each winding path I tread;
Gives me grace for every trial,
Feeds me with the living bread.
Though my weary steps may falter,
And my soul athirst may be,
Gushing from the rock before me,
Lo! A spring of joy I see.


All the way my Savior leads me
O the fullness of his love!
Perfect rest to me is promised
In my heav'nly home above.
When my spirit, clothed immortal,
Wings its flight to realms of day
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

Fanny Crosby, 1875; alt.
Tune: WEISSE FLAGGEN (8.7.8.7.D.)
Tochter Sion, 1741


This hardly replaces the original setting by Robert Lowry, which will continue to be sung. However, this text could also work with HYFRYDOL, IN BABILONE, HOLY MANNA, NETTLETON, and other familiar tunes.

The gravestone above (erected in 1955 at her burial site) refers to Crosby's "more than 3000 hymns and poems," which is true as far as it goes, but the real number could be more than twice as many, especially when her unpublished texts are included.

Of course, her songs are still usually sung in their original form, not only as the occasional selection in Sunday worship, but also at special events, such as a Fanny Crosby hymn sing recently held in her home town of Southeast, New York, sponsored by the local historical society. Sometimes churches will use one writer's texts for an entire service, and today's service at MCC of the Coachella Valley in California includes all Crosby songs. Many people would still happily sing the playful refrain:

Pastor, Pastor, hear my irate cry --
When you pick the hymns for Sunday,
Don't pass Fanny by!

(Scroll down at this link for the whole text.)

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Saint Mary Magdalene


Mary Magdalene, the "apostle to the apostles," is honored today on some calendars of saints. The longest account of her presence in the Resurrection story is in John 20:1-18, which tells how she was the first one to visit Jesus' tomb on Sunday morning and to find it empty. Later, she returns and speaks with two angels who tell her what has happened.  In each of the gospel stories she then goes back to share the news with the other disciples. It's only in Luke 24:11 that we hear their response to her report: "But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them."

Other information about Mary Magdalene has accrued over the centuries but much of it doesn't come from scripture. I now prefer to move on and not repeat the accusations that have been made (though I've written about them in previous years, which you can see below if you must).

This hymn is translated from a Latin text believed to be from medieval times but no definite origin has been found.

Weep no more this holy morning,
Mary, put away thy fears;
In this feast there is no scorning,
No repentance for thy tears:
Joy, O joy, a thousand pleasures,
All thy soul’s recovered treasures—
Alleluia!—Christ appears.


Joy to thee, he soars ascending,
He who all thy sins forgave;
All thy sorrows now are ending,
Magdalene, he comes to save;
Whom thou soughtest lost and dying,
Welcome now with angels crying
Alleluia!—o’er his grave.


Life in all his life’s resuming,
Mary, all thy light restore,
All thy heart with joy illuming,
Death is driven from the door:
Night has had its night of sorrow,
Joy returneth with the morrow—
Alleluia!—evermore.


Latin, date unknown;
tr. Herbert Kynaston, 1862; alt.
Tune: FIDES (8.7.8.7.8.8.7.)
Clement Cotterill Scholefield, 1874


P.S. - The art above is from Mary Magdalene at the Tomb (1622) by Anteveduto Gramatica.


Nine Years Ago: Mary Magdalene, to whom (now on Facebook)

Eight Years Ago: Emily E. S. Elliott

Seven Years Ago: When Mary, moved by grateful love

Five Years Ago: Creator blest, one glance of thine

Four Years Ago: I come to the garden alone

One Year Ago: Mary to her Savior's tomb

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Saint Peter and Saint Paul


With golden splendor and with roseate hues of morn,
O gracious Savior, Light of light, this day adorn,
Which brings to faithful servants hopes of that far home
Where saints and angels sing the tale of martyrdom.

Good Shepherd, Peter, unto whom the charge was given
To close or open ways of pilgrimage to heaven,
In sin's hard bondage held may we have grace to know
The full remission thou was granted to bestow.

O noble Teacher, Paul, we trust to learn to thee
Both earthly converse and the flight of ecstasy;
Till from the fading truths that now we know in part
We pass to fullness of delight for mind and heart.

Twin olive branches, pouring oil of gladness forth,
Your prayers shall aid us, that for all our earthly worth,
Believing, hoping, loving, we for whom ye plead,
This body dying, may attain to life indeed.

Latin, 6th cent.; tr. Thomas Alexander Lacey, 20th cent.?; alt.
Tune: HAWARDEN (12.12.12.12.)
Samuel Sebastian Wesley, 1872

The Latin text of this office hymn (Aurea luce et decore roseo) for the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul was once attributed to Elpis, the daughter of Festus, a consul of Rome, but more recent scholarship finds no supporting evidence of this.

The second half of the second stanza gave me some pause, suggesting that Peter was the one to grant remission of sin, but I decided this refers only to his position as "keeper of the keys" to heaven.



Seven Years Ago: Saint Peter and Saint Paul

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Samuel Longfellow


Samuel Longfellow (1819 - 1892), a Unitarian pastor, hymnwriter, and hymnal editor was born today in Portland, Maine, and lived most of his life in New England.  He is probably best known for two Unitarian hymnals he edited with his close friend Samuel Johnson: A Book of Hymns for Public and Private Devotion (1844) and Hymns of the Spirit (1864). Both of these collections include several texts by Longfellow and Johnson, as well as poets whose verse had not previously been sung (such as John Greenleaf Whittier) or had not previously appeared in an American collection (such as Nearer, my God, to thee) Most of the material was edited to make it conform to Unitarian belief.
Longfellow and Johnson met as students at Harvard Divinity School and remained friends for the rest of their lives, carrying on a long and affectionate correspondence. When Johnson died in 1882. Longfellow spent the next year writing a memoir of his friend. A biographer of Longfellow's would later describe his friendship with Johnson as the most significant relationship of his life. The exact nature of the relationship remains unclear, but it's possible that Longfellow was thinking about it in a rather sad poem called "Love" (1851), which concludes:
 
To love, nor ask return,
To accept our solitude,
Not now for others' love to yearn
But only for their good;
To joy if they are crowned,
Though thorns our head entwine,
And in the thought of blessing them
All thought of self resign.
 
Is this the lament of a man who has decided that his feelings will never be returned in the way he wants? We will probably never know for sure.
 
Today's hymn was written toward the end of Longfellow's life, just a few years before the photograph above (from 1890), and on the occasion of the dedication of the new Cambridge Hospital, in the Massachusetts town where he was then living, and working on a three-volume biography of his brother, the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

O Lord of life, our saving Health,
Who mak’st thy suffering ones our care;
Our gifts are still our truest wealth,
To serve thee our sincerest prayer.


As on the river’s rising tide
Flow strength and coolness from the sea,
So through the ways our hands provide,
May quickening life flow in from thee;


To heal the wound, to still the pain,
And strength to failing pulses bring,
Till stumbling feet shall leap again,
And silent lips with gladness sing.


Bless thou the gifts our hands have brought!
Bless thou the work our hearts have planned,
Ours is the hope, the will, the thought;
The rest, O God, is in thy hand.

 
Samuel Longfellow, 1886; alt.
Tune: ELY (L.M.)
Thomas Turton, 1844

The final stanza here has often been taken out of this hymn and used separately in many hymnals as an offertory response, but that actually changes its meaning. In that usage, the text is consecrating the offerings of the people for the work of the church.  However, the complete hymn has a different theme and meaning: that we can be healers through the gifts of God, flowing though us. This idea feels quite modern, even though the language is archaic.



Nine Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Eight Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Six Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Four Years Ago: Samuel Longfellow

Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Feast of Corpus Christi


The Feast of Corpus Christi, commemorating the Blessed Sacrament, is observed either on the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, or on the following Sunday (generally for convenience).

The feast dates from thirteenth century Belgium, where Juliana of Liege had long believed that such a commemoration should be observed outside Maundy Thursday, during Lent. When she became prioress of the religious community where she lived, she was able to spread her idea more widely through her contact with her (male) confessor, and eventually it was adopted by Pope Urban IV in 1261. It is not part of the Protestant tradition because it was suppressed during the Reformation.

Bread of heav'n, on thee we feed,
for thou art our food indeed.
Ever may our souls be fed
with this true and living bread,
day by day with strength supplied
through the life of Christ who died.


Vine of heav'n, thy love supplies
this blest cup of sacrifice.
'Tis thy wounds our healing give;
to thy cross we look and live.
Thou our life! O let us be
rooted, grafted, built on thee.


Josiah Conder, 1824; alt.
Tune: NUTBOURNE (7.7.7.7.7.7.)
Theodore Aylward, 1869

Said to be the most widely-used of Conder's texts (though we have previously seen others here - click on his tag below), this one first appeared in his collection Star of the East (1824) and later in his Congregational Hymn Book (1836).



Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Here, O my God, I see thee face to face

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Sweet Sacrament divine

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Ave verum corpus - Saint-Saens (video)

Sunday, June 4, 2017

The Feast of Pentecost

This hymn for Pentecost has been sung since the ninth century in one form or another. The translation here is by Bishop John Cosin and has been sung at every British royal coronation since that of Charles I in 1625. (my own preferred English translation, and more about the text, is here).





Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: Joy! because the circling year

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago:  O prophet souls of all the years

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Above the starry spheres 

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail thee, festival day

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Hail festal day! through every age

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: O God, the Holy Ghost

Three (Liturgical) Years Ago: Spirit of grace and health and pow'r

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: Come, O come, thou quick'ning Spirit

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: Our blest Redeemer, ere he breathed

Sunday, May 7, 2017

And Comfort Still


Psalm 23 will be read today in many churches, and probably sung as well.  Here at the blog, as I always say, we have not yet run out of hymns derived from those well-loved verses.

You are my Shepherd, you know all my needs,
And I am blest;
By quiet streams, in pastures green, you lead
And make me rest.
My soul you save, and for your own Name’s sake
You guide my feet the paths of right to take.

Though in death’s vale and shadow be my way
I fear no ill,
For you are near, your rod and staff my stay
And comfort still.
My table you have spread before my foes,
My head you will anoint, my cup o’erflows.

The goodness and the mercy that have e'er
Upon me shone
Shall surely follow me through all the way
Till life is done;
And ever my Creator's house shall be
My dwelling place through all eternity.

The Psalter, 1912; alt.
Tune: SANDON (10.4.10.4.10.10)
Charles H. Purday, 1857



Nine (Liturgical) Years Ago: My Shepherd, you supply my need

Eight (Liturgical) Years Ago: Since God is my Shepherd

Seven (Liturgical) Years Ago: Thou art my Shepherd

Six (Liturgical) Years Ago: I shall not want: in deserts wild

Five (Liturgical) Years Ago: Beside the still waters

Four (Liturgical) Years Ago: My Shepherd, you will hold me

Even more paraphrases and adaptations can be found by clicking the "Psalm 23" tag at the very bottom of this post.

Friday, May 5, 2017

T. Tertius Noble

Thomas Tertius Noble, born today in 1867, in Bath, England, would eventually come to be known as the dean of American organists later in life. He showed an early interest in music, and once begged to be removed from a boarding school that did not have a music program. At age 12 he was appointed to be the organist of All Saints Parish in Colchester, where the rector had provided him with some musical instruction. Many years later, in an address at the General Theological Seminary in New York, he described the conditions there:

I was almost 13, I could not play the organ very well.  It was an awful, old organ.  It had four stops, and its mechanism rattled so loudly you could hardly hear the music.  For three years I worked there.  I got up at 6:30 summer and winter, and I was in the church practicing by 7:00. (...) Learning on this organ was difficult, but very good for me.

In 1889 he graduated from the Royal College of Music in London, where his teachers had included Charles Villiers Stanford (for composition) and John Frederick Bridge (for harmony). He was then hired there as a teacher himself, and then in 1892 he was appointed organist at Ely Cathedral. Six years later, he started at York Minster, where he remained for the next thirteen years, until he was recruited to be organist-choirmaster at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in New York in 1913.

A fair amount about his time in New York has been covered here already (links below). Since unfortunately I have used up the internet sound files of his hymn tunes (only four available at the moment),  you can hear one of his settings of the Magnificat from YouTube.



Roman Catholic readers may understand why a Magnificat is always appropriate in May, but Anglicans and Episcopalians like them year-round.



Nine Years Ago: T. Tertius Noble

Eight Years Ago: T. Tertius Noble

Monday, May 1, 2017

Saint Philip and Saint James


This anonymous text for today's double feast was first published in A Book of Church Hymns (1865), which was generally known as Bosworth's Church Hymns, and shortly thereafter in The Year of Praise (1867) which was compiled by Henry Alford for Canterbury Cathedral. Like Alford, I've left out the final rather generic doxological stanza of the original.

O Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth,
The Life -- the Crown of all
Who here on earth confess your Name;
O hear us when we call!

We bring to mind with grateful joy
Your servants, who of old
Withstood the trials of the world
And now your face behold;

Who sought on earth the joys of prayer,
And that communion knew
Which saints and angels share above
With those who seek it too.

Vouchsafe us, Lord, we pray, that now
To us it may be giv'n,
Like them to live and die in you,
And with you, rise to heav'n.

Anonymous, 1865; alt.
Tune: GERONTIUS (C.M.)
John Bacchus Dykes, 1868



Eight Years Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James

Seven Years Ago: Joseph Addison

Five Years Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James

One Year Ago: Saint Philip and Saint James