This Sunday as we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, I wanted to take time to highlight the hymns and service music.
Our Processional Hymn is one not often sung, only useable when February 2 falls on a Sunday. It is found in a section of our hymnal for specific Feast Days. The text is a French Catholic hymn from the late 1600s, first written in Latin. It caught the attention of the traditionalist English Tractarians in the mid-1800s. They believed the text to be much older than it actually was, and though its popularity waned in France, it held on in Anglican circles. In the Hymnal 1940, the text was paired with an English Psalm tune. Though it is an unfamiliar tune, I hope you will enjoy it.
Today’s Hymn of the Day, a feature of the Lutheran liturgy, is one of the more versatile hymns in the Hymnal 1982 and Evangelical Lutheran Worship. Textually, this hymn is appropriate for Christmas, Epiphany, Trinity, or can be used as the hymnal editors have placed it, as a general Communion hymn. The tune is based on a French folk song and arranged by the prominent English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), who was one of the editors of The English Hymnal (1906).
The choirs will be singing a lovely setting of the Nunc dimittis by the late nineteenth-century English composer George Dyson (1883-1964). This work’s text is the Song of Simeon, taken from our Gospel passage today, and the last of the four hymns and canticles found in the beginning of Luke’s gospel (the others being the Song of Zechariah, the Magnificat, and the Gloria in excelsis Deo). The Nunc dimittis is also traditionally the second canticle sung at Evensong services and can be found in the Book of Common Prayer on p. 66 and 120.
The first Communion Hymn, like the Hymn of the Day, is versatile, combining themes of God’s reign with the humility of Christ’s Incarnation. The tune is composed by the Renaissance English composer Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) and is one of his simplest and sweetest hymn tunes.
We are singing another setting of the Nunc dimittis as our second Communion hymn, set to a tune by another Renaissance English composer, Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625). This tune might be familiar, as we also sing it to the text “Thou, who at thy first Eucharist didst pray.”
I’d imagine the Processional Hymn as we go forth is a favorite for many of you and is one of my own personal favorites. The text of Charles Wesley, like many Christian hymns, contains a dual incarnational/eschatological theme; the third stanza contains a profoundly beautiful statement of the Christian hope:
“Finish then thy new creation, pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee:
changed from glory into glory, ‘til in heaven we take our place,
‘til we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
Finally, the Prelude and Postlude for this Sunday are J.S. Bach’s brilliant Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 543. He demonstrates his mastery and synthesis of the styles of the great North German composers who preceded him in the Prelude, incorporates some Italian gestures in the Fugue, and demonstrates a clear mastery of gestures that are idiomatic to harpsichord and string playing throughout.
Yours in Christ,