Sunday, November 3, 2013

For all our saints

As noted earlier, two hymns are the obvious choice for the observance of All Saints Day:
  • The mandatory processional hymn (since The English Hymnal in 1906) is “For all the saints,” to the tune Sine Nomine by Ralph von Williams (H40: 126; H82: 287). Hymnal 1982 cheats us men out of one verse of harmony (#4) and as usual the notes are too tiny for us middle-aged choir members, but otherwise the hymn survived unscathed.
  • At some point after the children return from Sunday school, play the Hymnal 1940 song — “I sing a song of the saints of God” — with words by Lesbia Locket Scott to the tune Grand Isle (H40: 243; H82: 293).
To suggest hymns for this year’s observance of All Saints Day, I found very helpful to pull out my copy of Hymnal Studies Five, an official companion to Hymnal 1982. It certainly recommend 287 for entrance, but somehow forgets about 293 — even though it’s the last of the 63 hymns under “Holy Days and Various Occasions” (but one of only three marked for All Saints’ Day).

There are two other “saint” hymns in plain sight. One — by HS5 recommended for Communion — is “Let saints on earth in concert sing” (H40: 397; H82: 526). With text by Charles Wesley and the 17th century tune Dundee, it should be easy if unfamiliar.

The other was called to my attention by Issues Etc., and its interview Thursday with Prof. Arthur Just. The topic of his interview is the hymn “We sing of all the unsung saints.” Set to a 19th century tune, the text is by Rev. Carl P. Daw, a TEC priest, adjunct hymnology professor, former executive director of the Hymn Society of America and an acknowledged contributor to the Hymnal 1982 revision. But because it was written in 1996, it’s not in H82 but instead is only found in the 2006 Lutheran Service Book (#678).

The most useful suggestions that I found were listed in the post-communion (recessional) hymns. Two are tied to the epistle (Revelation 21:1-4,22–22:5 in the 1979 prayer book):
  • Ye watchers and ye holy ones (H40: 599; H82: 618)
  • Ye holy angels bright (H40: 600; H82: 625)
These were two of my favorites as a kid, and I see the tie of both to the Revelation reading. However, I always associated 599 with early Sundays after Trinity (although H40 lists it for the Annunciation in August and Michaelmas in September), and 600 is listed by H40 as being for Holy Innocents and Christmas 2. So neither made the cut this year.

Another recessional recommended by HS5 is “Lo what a crowd of witnesses” (H40: 569; H82: 545), set to the 16th century tune St. Flavian. I love the text (quoting the vivid imagery of Hebrews 12:1-2) but I don’t ever recall singing it in church (as child or adult).

Instead, my favorite choice (and the one I recommended for recessional) was “Jersualem my happy home" (H40: 585; H82: 620) a 16th century text set to Land of Rest, a traditional American spiritual tune:
Jerusalem, my happy home,
when shall I come to thee?
When shall my sorrows have an end?
Thy joys when shall I see?

Thy saints are crowned with glory great;
they see God face to face;
they triumph still, they still rejoice
most happy is their case.

There David stands with harp in hand
as master of the choir:
ten thousand times that man were blessed
that might this music hear.

Our Lady sings Magnificat
with tune surpassing sweet,
and all the virgins bear their part,
sitting at her feet.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem,
God grant that I may see
thine endless joy, and of the same
partaker ever be!
The promises of eternal rest — to a tune named “Land of Rest” — seems perfect for this date. It’s also something on the draft list of hymns for my own funeral.


Marion J. Hatchett, Hymnal Studies Five: A Liturgical Index to The Hymnal 1982, New York: Church Hymnal Corporation, 1986.

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