Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Feast of Christ the King

We have come around again to the last Sunday in the church year, celebrated in many churches as the Feast of Christ the King. This is a relatively recent celebration, introduced in the Roman Catholic Church by Pope Pius XI in 1925. He decreed it in response to what he saw as growing nationalism and secularism in the early twentieth century, to be marked on the last Sunday in October. In 1969 Pope Paul VI moved the feast to its present date, and over the years a number of other denominations have come to observe it.

Given its relative newness, there isn't the same hymnic tradition that stretches back for a few centuries as with older celebrations such as Epiphany or Pentecost, but it was not an unexplored theme either. "King" as another name or attribute of Jesus is scriptural, and there are plenty of appropriate hymns to use. Sometimes, some of the hymns sung at Ascension are sung again today.

Hail, thou once-despised Jesus!
Hail, thou Galilean King!
Thou didst suffer to release us;
Thou didst free salvation bring.
Hail, thou universal Savior,
Bearer of our sin and shame,
By thy merit we find favor:
Life is given through thy Name.

Jesus, hail! enthroned in glory,
There for ever to abide;
All the heavenly hosts adore thee,
Seated at thy Father's side.
Worship, honor, power, and blessing
Thou art worthy to receive;
Highest praises, without ceasing,
Right it is for us to give.

Help, ye bright angelic spirits,
Bring your sweetest, noblest lays;
Help to sing our Savior's merits,
Help to chant Emmanuel's praise!
In that blessed contemplation,
We for evermore shall dwell;
Crown'd with bliss and consolation,
Such as none below can tell.

John Bakewell, 1757;
st. 3 Martin Madan, 1760; adapt.
Dutch traditional melody;
arr. Julius Rontgen, 1906

John Bakewell was a follower of John and Charles Wesley, but his authorship of this text is tenuous and appears to be based more on tradition than on any actual evidence. At any rate, if he did write it, he probably only wrote the first and second stanzas, which appeared in a 1757 "pamphlet" of 71 pages titled A Collection of Hymns addressed to The Holy, Holy, Holy, triune God, in the Person of Christ Jesus, our Mediator and Advocate. Various other alterations were made by Martin Madan in a few different books which followed; in some nineteenth century hymnals this appears as a five-stanza text. The hymn has appeared in American Methodist hymnals "virtually from the beginning," according to the Companion to the (Methodist) Hymnal (1970), and in Episcopal hymnals since 1874.

The familiar tune IN BABILONE comes from Oude en Nieuwe Hollantse Boerenlities en Contradanseu (Old and New Dutch Peasant Songs and Country Dances), published in the Netherlands in 1710. The arrangement by Julius Röntgen first appeared in Ralph Vaughan Williams's English Hymnal (1906), though it has been reharmonized several times since by composers such as T. Tertius Noble and Ellen Jane Lorenz.

Two (Liturgical) Years Ago: The Feast of Christ the King

One (Calendar) Year Ago: Ada Cambridge

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