Sunday, November 30, 2008

Beginning at the beginning

Today is the first day of the liturgical year, and (as with last year) the first hymn at the first service of the year was Hymn #1, “Come thou long expected Jesus.” The 18th century melody includes words by Charles Wesley, four of the eight verses he wrote in 1744 or 1745.

Prominent in Hymnal 1940, the hymn is buried as #66 in Hymnal 1982, but given all its failings as to political correctness, it’s a relief it’s still there. Strangely, the CoE wasn’t much interested in Wesley’s ditty (due to some sort of Anglican-Methodist split?) It’s nowhere to be found in the 1869 (Hymns Ancient and Modern), 1906 (The English Hymnal) or 1933 (Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition) CoE hymnals. It does show up in their 1986 Hymnal (New English Hymnal) as Hymn #3, although with tunes unfamiliar to American ears.

The liturgical index at the back of Hymnal 1940 recommends for morning services three other hymns from the Advent section: #7 (which we sang), #8 and #9 (which we skipped). It turns out we skipped the wrong one.

We began the service with the Advent I collect from the 1928 BCP (also found in the 1789 and 1892 BCP):
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever.
Apparently this is a collect from Thomas Cranmer himself.

Our rector emphasized “cast away the works of darkness” as the theme for his sermon and for all of Advent 2008. That familiar phrase sent me flipping pages in my hymnal. Sure enough, Verse 1 of Hymn #9 contained a parallel phrasing:
Hark, a thrilling voice is sounding:
“Christ is nigh,” it seems to say.
“Cast away the dreams of darkness,
O ye children of the day!”
The Complete Book of Hymns (by William J. Petersen and Ardythe Petersen) attributes the text to Malachi 4:2, Matthew 3:1-3 and 1 Thessalonians 5:2-5. None of these have the “cast away” metaphor of Cranmer or the hymn.

Hymnal 1940 attributes to a 6th century Latin text, translated by Edward Caswall. Other books on hymns and hymn writers don‘t discuss the hymn, perhaps because its origins are lost to history.

However, The Hymnal 1940 Companion says that the original Latin text has been attributed (non-authoritatively) to St. Ambrose (340-397). Let me pick up the story
In the Sarum and other English liturgies, it was assigned to Lauds for the First Sunday in Advent and then daily until Christmas Eve. It is found at this point of the litrugy in many manuscripts from the tenth century, although it may be somewhat older.
The companion also notes that the 1850 tune (Merton by William Henry Monk) “has been firmly wedded to this hymn since the original musical edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1861.”

Finally, our communion hymn was #199, which uses a 1263 text by Thomas Aquinas for the Vespers on the Feast of Corpus Christi. The tune, termed Pange Lingua, is a Mode III plainchant from the Sarum liturgy, and is also use for Hymn #66, which uses a 6th century text by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus. My references don’t provide a date for this tune, but the Sarum rite (from the great Norman cathedral in Salisbury) was written down (based on prior practice) sometime between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Both Hymns (#9 and #199) are examples of the liturgical continuity cast aside by CCM and other modern worship. In our Anglo-Catholic worship, we are not just linking to Wesley 250 years ago or Luther some 500 years ago, but also to Christians going back 1000 or even 1500 years. We do not have accurate missals and hymnals from the 1st century Christian church, but we do have many texts (and a few tunes) from ancient and medieval sources that clearly capture early church practice.

Such linkages cannot be used to justify requiring that every church service everywhere be filled with Sarum or Gregorian chant of Latin texts. However, it does strongly argue for a form of worship that includes these ancient texts and tunes in everyday use.


Northland Al said...

"Come thou long-expected Jesus" appears more often buried than as number 1.

The Hymnal 1916 - 55
The Church Hymnal, Revised and Enlarged, 1892 - 48
Church Hymnal (Church of Ireland), 1874 - 66

Actually it tends to be in the same area for many North American Hymnals. It all comes to down to the choice on whether to put the Morning Prayer Section first or the Advent Section. Most Episicopal hymnals tend toward MP first, as do most editions of Hymns, Ancient and Modern. The English Hymnal and 1940 use Advent first.

9.West said...


Thanks for pointing this out (and also for citing Hymnal 1916, which I should cite more often). Yes, 1982 buries the hymn in part because MP is first.

That said, it doesn’t have a place of privilege within the Advent carols - 14th within the Advent sequence.

Coming after Veni Emmanuel is no insult, but most of the earlier Advent hymns are closer to insipid than inspired.

9.West said...

Oops, I meant Veni Emmanuel. Wrong Veni.