Thus it's not surprising that most churches schedule good hymns for Easter, as our Anglo-Catholic church did this morning, and at the blended service at daughter's college parish. And of course -- next to Christmas — there is the embarrassment of riches: 18 hymns (some with multiple tunes) in The English Hymnal, 17 hymns (three with multiple tunes) in Hymnal 1940, and 33 hymns (7 with multiple tunes) in Hymnal 1982.
Still, today I was struck that all four of the hymns sung at our Anglo-Catholic church were derived from Latin and Greek texts that trace back to the pre-Reformation undivided church. I was also struck — not surprisingly given the original sources — the debt we owe to John Mason Neale for being able to sing them today.
Procession: Hail thee festival day! (H40: 86; H82: 175)We sang all nine verses, alternating (as written) between women and men. It is based on the 6th century Latin text, “Salve festa dies,” by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus (b. 530-600/609), making it one of the oldest hymns in Anglican hymnody.
The texts have been translated multiple times since the 16th century. This version begins with Hymn 624 of The English Hymnal (1906) with the now-familiar tune Salva festa dies by music editor Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Hymnal 1940 Companion credits the H40 version to Hymn 389 of Songs of Praise, Enlarged Edition (1931). While SOPEE alternates between the two tunes, the idea of alternating verses between women and men seems to have originated with H40.
Gradual: The Day of Resurrection (H40: 96.1; H82: 210)We sang three verses to the first tune, the middle verse in harmony; Hymnal 1982 also lists a descant. The 8th century Greek text is by St. John of Damascus.. Our hymnals use the translation by John Mason Neale from his Hymns of the Eastern Church (1862), a text that entered the ECUSA hymnary with its Hymnal 1874. The tune Ellacombe is from an 18th century German Catholic hymnal.
Communion: At the Lamb's high feast we sing (H40: 89; H82: 174)Although I've sung this before, somehow I never really appreciated it. The Latin text is from the Roman Breviary created for Urban VIII (pope 1623-1644), but can be traced back to the 6th century text “Ad cenam Agni providi.” The 1850 translation is by Robert Campbell.
It is uniquely suited as the Easter communion hymn, and as the first of the four verses explain:
At the Lamb's high feast we singEven better, is the 17th century tune Salzburg (best known for “Songs of thankfulness and praise” H40: 53). I enjoyed singing the middle two verses of the four-part harmony by J. S. Bach, a harmonization that in my book is hard to beat.
praise to our victorious King,
who hath washed us in the tide
flowing from his pierced side;
praise we him, whose love divine
gives his sacred Blood for wine,
gives his Body for the feast,
Christ the victim, Christ the priest.
Recessional: Jesus Christ is Risen today (H40: 85; H82: 207)As I texted our daughter this morning, the 1st commandment of Anglican hymn selection is to end on an upbeat tune. At Easter time, this seems eminently well suited.
For the recessional, we sang all four verses: 2nd and 3rd in harmony, 4th unison with descant. Hymnal 1982 also lists a descant from the 1950 edition of Hymns Ancient & Modern.
The 14th century text, Surrexit Christus hodie, has been translated multiple times since 1708. The H40 hymnal companion attributes the current version of the tune to a compilation by John Wesley and the final addition to the text to Charles Wesley.