Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Feast of Corpus Christi

Today is sixty days after Easter, the feast day of Corpus Christi, in honor of the Eucharist. It was formally established by Pope Urban in 1264, after being first urged by the Augustinian nun Juliana of Liège. Though primarily celebrated in the Roman Catholic church, there are observances in Anglican and Episcopal churches; some today and some on Sunday. Many will probably further celebrate the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.

I have many favored hymns for the Eucharist, or (Holy) Communion, as many know it. There's a wide range of them from the extremely vivid verses about the body and blood of Jesus Christ to the commemorative ones about shared experience and fellowship. I think there's a place for all of them, though I know many people would require a stricter doctrine in one way or another.

Here, O my God, I see thee face to face;
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean.

Here would I feed upon the Bread of God,
Here drink with thee the royal Wine of heaven;
Here would I lay aside each earthly load,
Here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.

This is the hour of banquet and of song;
This is the heavenly table spread for me;
Here let me feast, and feasting, still prolong
The brief, bright hour of fellowship with thee.

Too soon we rise, we go our several ways;
The feast, though not the love, is past and gone,
The bread and cup consumed, yet all our days
Thou art still here with us -- our Shield and Sun.

Feast after feast thus comes and passes by;
Yet, passing, points to the glad feast above,
Giving us foretaste of the festal joy,
The Lamb's eternal feast of bliss and love.

Horatius Bonar, 1855; alt.
Frederick C. Atkinson, 1870

There are three more verses but they drift away from the Communion theme a bit. In the Hymnal 1940 the Episcopalians actually split the verses up and made two different hymns out of it, giving each one an odd "modern" tune. They tried again with some different/additional (but similarly odd) tunes for the two separate hymns in the Hymnal 1982.

Free advice: Give it up. Frederick Atkinson's tune will never die no matter how unsophisticated you think it to be. While you're at it, put the text back together like it is here. Everyone in the pews will be content, if not the organists and theologians who need to tinker.


Leland Bryant Ross said...

And this year is the bicentennial anniversary of Bonar's death, too... I notice Morecambe is not among the tunes The CyberHymnal gives for this text. And in my in-progress hymn index, five tunes are noted so far spread among seven hymnals, with no consensus: two hymnals each use Consolation and Penitentia , while one each uses Langran, Holborn and Morecambe. (And one hymnal has a hymn starting "This is the hour of banquet and of song", set to Canticum Refectionis.) At Fremont Baptist probably our most frequent Lord's Supper—another term for Eucharist and Communion—song is "In remembrance of me", to Red.


Dorothy said...

Good (free) advice!

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Coming from a mildly heterodox (liberal Baptist) starting point the first thing one asks is, "How come the other middle-sized Texas cities aren't recognized on the church calendar?" ... Oh, okay, I'll give it up ;-)


C.W.S. said...

I came very close to mentioning that Texas town but am already in too much danger of appearing sacreligious at times. ; )