Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Saint Michael and All Angels

Today we celebrate the feast day of Saint Michael and All Angels, sometimes called Michaelmas. Some churches elevate this day to a moveable feast and celebrate it on the nearest Sunday. As observed in the link above, it is a day for us to "give thanks for the many ways in which God's loving care watches over us, both directly and indirectly, and (to be) reminded that the richness and variety of God's creation far exceeds our knowledge of it."

Another Anglican tradition of the day, observed mainly in English boarding schools, universities, and seminaries, is to hold a service of Evensong today to mark the start of the academic year or semester (the corresponding spring semester service is held on Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation, February 2). In fact, in some places what we in the US would call the fall semester is known as the Michaelmas term. While this Evensong custom is not widely observed in this country, it does pop up here and there, such as this service tonight at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, California.

There are many more hymns about angels in general than there are specifically for Saint Michael the archangel, but all are appropriate for the day. This anonymous text comes from The Year of Praise (1867), compiled by Henry Alford.

They are evermore around us,
Though unseen to mortal sight,
In the joyful hours of sunshine,
and in sorrow's starless night;
Deep'ning earth's most sacred pleasures
With the pow'r of sin forgiven,
Whisp'ring to the lonely mourner
Of the endless joys of Heav'n.

Lovingly they come to help us,
When our faith is cold and weak,
Guiding us along the pathway
To the blessed home we seek;
In our hearts we hear their voices,
Breathing sympathy and love,
Echoes of a spirit language
From the heav'nly world above.

They are with us in our trials,
With their words of hope and cheer
Bringing news of earth's salvation,
Blessed tidings all may hear;
And a greater One is with us
As we shrink not from the strife,
While the Lord of angels leads us
On the pilgrim-path of life.

Author unknown, 19th cent.; alt.
Henry T. Smart, 1868

I don't often match English Victorian texts to American folk-ish tunes, but NETTLETON might also work well with this one.

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