Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Feast of the Ascension

Today is the “official” day in the church calendar that marks the Ascension, forty days (that number again!) after Easter, though not many churches will hold services today. The story is told in different passages, including Luke 24: 44-53, of Jesus' miraculous departure from our world. Some sources claim that the celebration of the Ascension began about forty years after tha life of Jesus, but it was not formalized until the third century. Given the varying days of Easter, Ascension can fall anywhere between April 30 and June 3, so we're fairly close of the mid-range this year.

Today;s hymn by
Cecil Frances Alexander did not first appear in one of her collections for children, but in an 1852 hymnal published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.

The eternal gates are lifted up,
The doors are opened wide;
Our Savior Jesus is gone in,
Now reigning at God's side.

Thou art gone up before us, Christ.
To make for us a place,
That we may be where now thou art,
And look upon God’s face.

Lift up our thoughts, lift up our songs:
And let thy grace be giv’n;
That, while we wander here below,
Our hearts may look toward heav’n.

That where thou art, at God’s right hand,
Our hope, our love, may be:
Dwell in us here, that we may dwell
Forevermore in thee.

Cecil Frances Alexander, 1852; alt.
Phyllis Skene, c. 1902

Composer Phyllis Skene is another Voice Found, though unfortunately I have not yet discovered very much about her. This tune, with four others by her, appears in Hymns of Consecration and Faith (1902?), a hymnal compiled by Mrs. Evan Hughes. On the actual pages where her tunes appear, she is credited only as P. Skene, but “Miss Phyllis Skene” is thanked in the foreword of the book along with other composers, for “abundant help in contributing to the musical part of the collection, many of the Tunes being written expressly for this book.” I've sent this meager information to the Cyber Hymnal, where they were apparently unaware of even her first name or gender. (UPDATE: They have revised Skene's listing now with my submitted info.)

In prior years, I have marked the birthday of Sir Arthur Sullivan on this date. As it happens, he wrote the tune for an Ascension text seen here in 2008. While I was not terribly impressed by his tune ST. PATRICK at that time, another version can be heard here, at the Gilbert & Sullivan Archive, which gives a better sense of it. It's still no ST. GERTRUDE, though.

P.S. The picture above is a small portion of The Ascension of Christ by Tintoretto; you can see the full painting here.

One (Liturgical) Year Ago: The Feast of the Ascension

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Sir Arthur Sullivan

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