Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Feast of All Saints

This year All Saints' Day falls on a Sunday, meaning that it may be celebrated in more churches than usual (though many places simply observe it on the Sunday nearest November 1). This hymn will undoubtedly be sung by many congregations around the world today, probably as the opening hymn of the service. My own choir will sing this in the “long procession,” the figure-eight path around the sanctuary reserved for special occasions, so it's good this hymn is a long one. In An Annotated Anthology of Hymns (2002), editor J.R. Watson says: The hymn's length is there for a purpose; it allows the mind to dwell on the arduous struggle and its final end in glory.

For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress and their might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in their loneliness, their one true Light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The host of glory passes on its way.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
They sing to Creator, Christ, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

William Walsham How, 1864; alt.
Ralph Vaughan Williams, 1906

This hymn by William Walsham How first appeared in an 1864 collection called Hymns for Saints' Days, and Other Hymns by a Layman (the layman was Horatio Bolton Nelson, not How, who was then a priest and later a bishop in the Church of England). There are three additional stanzas (originally the third, fourth, and fifth) which are not often printed in modern hymnals.

For the Apostles’ glorious company,
Who bearing forth the cross o’er land and sea,
Shook all the mighty world, we sing to thee:
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For the Evangelists, by whose blest word,
Like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord,
Is fair and fruitful, be thy Name adored.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

For Martyrs, who with rapture kindled eye,
Saw the bright crown descending from the sky,
And seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Though this hymn is generally linked with All Saints' Day it has also been sung on individual saints' days. In some early printings of the hymn, instructions indicated that one of these three stanzas could be sung depending on the status (Apostle, Evangelist, Martyr) of the saint being commemorated.

How's text first appeared with music in the Sarum Hymnal (1868), where, as I've mentioned before, it was matched to a tune by Joseph Barnby, also called SARUM, which survived well into the twentieth century. Church Hymns (1874), interestingly, sets it to an Anglican chant tune. Charles Villiers Stanford wrote the tune ENGELBERG for this text in the 1904 edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, which might have caught on, but two years later, Ralph Vaughan Williams's tune SINE NOMINE appeared in his English Hymnal. SINE NOMINE (literally, “without a name”) is thought to suggest the thousands of saints whose names are unknown to us.

SINE NOMINE did not catch on immediately, but by the mid-twentieth century it had generally come to be considered the standard tune for this hymn. Hymns Ancient and Modern resisted the trend, perhaps seeing The English Hymnal as their primary competitor, and matched For all the saints with four different tunes in their 1950 edition (including ENGELBERG and SARUM) but not with SINE NOMINE! However, by 1983, when their New Standard edition was published they finally conceded and used the Vaughan Williams tune, with no alternate suggestions.

One Year Ago: The Feast of All Saints


AuntE said...

This hymn is among my favourites of the favourite 100 or 1,000 - depending on the day!

There is a great set of variations on SINE NOMINE written for organ by Canadian composer Denis Bedard. I want it played at my funeral for the postlude; it's a great piece of music.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Thank you for a great post. "For All the Saints" is a favorite of mine.

I expect that you'll be interested in a discussion underway now at my blog over "Bring Many Names," a hymn by Brian Wren, and how it may apply to an All Saints invocation with a gay and lesbian focus.

"Bring Many Names" includes "strong father God" and "warm mother God." Are we ready for "gay and gracious God"? I know you love hymns, so I wanted to alert you to this debate and invite your input. I don't know how to contact you except by leaving comments here. Thanks for being one of the saints.

Leland Bryant Ross said...

Thanks to you all. I'll drop by KittKatt's blog and see what's been said. I'd opt for "gay, gracious" rather than "gay and gracious", but would also sing the latter if it came to it.

We sang "For all the Saints" last Sunday, the six stanzas afforded us by our hymnal (it omits "And when the strife" and "The golden evening" as well as the 3 "Romish" verses). As I said in the thread on this at (or was it at Semicolon?) someday I'd like to sing/experience the whole 11!

Good day for "When the saints go marching in", too.