Thursday, February 24, 2011

Saint Matthias

The feast day of Saint Matthias is celebrated today in some churches while others commemorate him on May 19 in order to move the occasion out of Lent, when it would generally fall (though not this year). In the Eastern Orthodox Church, his day is August 9.

Very little is known of Matthias from the New Testament, which only mentions him once by name, at the very end of the first chapter of Acts. He was one of the large group of disciples who followed Jesus from the time of his baptism to his ascension, and after that occasion he was chosen to replace Judas as one of the twelve apostles. Various contradictory accounts of his later life, ministry, and death have been told, and other scholars have attempted to identify him in the earlier New Testament accounts, often choosing different people.

There was also a lost Gospel of Matthias, only known to have existed by accounts of it in other writings, but it was later declared to have been written in the second century (by "heretics") and not by the apostle himself.

Today's hymn for the day by John Mason Neale first appeared in his Hymns for Children (1842), but was included in the much more widely-used Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) and Church Hymns (1872).

Christ is gone up, but ere he passed
From earth to heav'n to reign;
He formed one holy Church to last
Until he comes again.

The twelve apostles first were made
His ministers of grace,
And they their hands on others laid
To fill in turn their place.

First called to know the Church's grace,
By apostolic hands,
To take dishonored Judas' place;
Matthias with them stands.

So, age by age, and year by year,
Christ's grace is handed on,
And still the Church he loved is here,
Though he himself has gone.

May all who seek, unite with us
In mission strong and bold;
Bring wand'rers in and let there be
One Shepherd and one Fold.

John Mason Neale, 1842; alt.
from George F. Handel, 1749; adapt. ?

The tune SOLOMON is an adaptation by an unknown composer of a tune by George Frederick Handel from his oratorio Solomon (1749), specifically, the aria What though I trace each herb and flower. Handel's birthday, incidentally, was yesterday, and while he wrote no hymn tunes as we know them, several tunes in our hymnals are derived from melodies from his operas, oratorios and orchestral works.

P.S. The wooden statue of the saint is by the German sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider and dates from the early sixteenth century.

No comments: