Sunday, April 5, 2009

Light from darkness

Holy Week is the high point of the liturgical year, reminding us of the culmination of Jesus’ earthly ministry with his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, his passion and resurrection. In only a few days, the Virgin Mary and the disciples went from the darkest moment of his death to the miracle of the first Easter.

Our entrance hymn this morning at church was the standard Palm Sunday processional:
All glory, laud, and honor
to thee, Redeemer, King!
to whom the lips of children
made sweet hosannas ring.
It’s hymn #62 in Hymnal 1940, #154 in Hymnal 1982, #86 in Hymns Ancient & Modern. As with most hymns about the historic Jesus, the focus is on our God and Savior, not on our emotions or selfish desires.

The hymn text was composed in the early 9th century: Hymnal 1940 says 820 but the Catholic New Advent Encyclopedia says 810. We owe our English translation of the Latin (as with so many other timeless hymns) to John Mason Neale. The 17th century tune is credited to Melchior Teschner, a German Protestant (i.e. Lutheran) pastor.

The text was written Theodulf of Orléans, the Spanish-born cleric appointed Bishop of Orléans by Charlemagne. This is what the New Advent Encyclopedia says about Theodulf and his hymn:
A hymn composed by St. Theodulph of Orléans in 810, in Latin elegiacs, of which the Roman Missal takes the first six for the hymn following the procession on Palm Sunday (the use to which the hymn was always dedicated). The first couplet,
Gloria, laus et honor tibi sit Rex Christe, Redemptor,
Cui puerile decus prompsit hosanna pium,
is sung by chanters inside of the church (the door having been closed), and is repeated by the processional chorus outside of the church. The chanters then sing the second couplet, the chorus responding with the refrain of the first couplet, and so on for the remaining couplets until the subdeacon strikes the door with the staff of the cross, whereupon the door is opened, the hymn ceases, and the procession enters the church. The words of the refrain ("puerile decus") suggested the assignment of the hymn in the Middle Ages to boy chanters (thus at Salisbury, York, Hereford, Rouen, etc.). The hymn is founded on Psalm 23:7-10 (Vulgate); Psalm 117:26; Matthew 21:1-16; Luke 19:37-38.
In addition to providing a prologue to the darkest day for Jesus’ followers, this hymn is a gift to the faithful from the Dark Ages, that period after the fall of Rome when the church and monastic learning provided continuity between the Roman era and the eventual return of civilization in our modern era.

There are about 30 video performances available now on Google Video/YouTube. So if your church didn’t perform it this morning, a virtual version is available on the web. (Probably not an option anticipated by Theodulf, Teschner or even Neale.)

1 comment:

Elephantschild said...

The tune in many of the videos posted seems to have a few slight variations than the version we sang out of Lutheran Service Book on Sunday morning last. No matter; it's a great hymn. I love Palm Sunday.