Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Gregory the Great

Today is the feast-day of Pope Gregory I, also called "the Great." Lots to be found around the internets on his life and works, including several great hymns of the church that have come down to us and are still in use today. Most appropriately for the season, we present Gregory's Clarum decus jejunii as translated for The English Hymnal in 1906.

The glory of these forty days
We celebrate with songs of praise;
For Christ, by whom all things were made,
For us has fasted and has prayed.

Alone and fasting Moses saw
The loving God who gave the law;
And to Elijah, fasting, came
The steeds and chariots of flame.

So Daniel trained his mystic sight,
Delivered from the lions’ might;
And John, the Savior’s friend, became
The herald of Messiah’s Name.

Then grant us, Christ, like them to be
Full oft in fast and prayer with thee;
Our spirits strengthen with thy grace,
And give us joy to see thy face.

Creator, Christ, and Spirit blest,
To thee be every prayer addressed,
Who grace and pow'r doth freely share,
With all who turn to thee in prayer.

Gregory the Great, 6th century;
tr. Maurice R. Bell, 1906; alt.
from Joseph Klug's Geistliche Leider, 1543;
harm. J.S. Bach, c. 1735

There had been other translations of Gregory's hymn, including one by Henry W. Baker in 1875 in a slightly different meter.

But all those men! Moses, Elijah, Daniel, John, etc. -- were there no women "full oft in fast and prayer" with the Almighty? For our hymnal we removed the Daniel/John verse (though I like it) and replaced it with a verse by my friend Steve about Esther (it's his copyright, so I won't reproduce it here). Doubly appropriate, as the Feast of Purim frequently (if not always?) falls during Lent.

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