Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A note on hymns and the peace
on the Feast of Saint James

Saint James the Brother of the Lord … icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, for Saint James Episcopal Church, Parkton, Maryland dedicated 26 October 2008

Patrick Comerford

Today in the Calendar of the Church we remember Saint James, the Brother of the Lord [23 October]. At the Community Eucharist this afternoon, the hymns celebrate this day, with some of the hymns and the words at the Peace coming from the ancient Liturgy of Saint James.

This liturgy, sometimes called the Liturgy of Jerusalem, originates in the Church of Jerusalem and is the oldest complete liturgy still in use in the East. It was once thought to have been the work of Saint James, but it probably dates from Saint Cyril of Jerusalem ca 347 and was later amplified.

Until recently, it was rarely celebrated beyond Jerusalem or the island of Zakynthos, apart from Saint James’ feast day (23 October) and the Sunday after Christmas. But today this Liturgy is celebrated today in an increasing number of Orthodox churches.

It was first translated into English by the Revd John Mason Neale (1818-1866) and the Dublin-born Revd Richard Frederick Littledale (1833-1890) in their Translations of the Primitive Liturgies (1859).

Before the Liturgy is served, the priest prays:

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, the one, simple and undivided Trinity, that unites and sanctifies us through itself, and brings peace to our lives, now and forever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

He then prays on his own behalf:

Defiled as I am by many sins, do not utterly reject me, Master, Lord, our God. For see, I draw near to this divine and heavenly mystery, not as though I were worthy, but, looking to your goodness, I raise my voice to you, God, be merciful to me, a sinner. For I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am not worthy to lift up my eyes to this your sacred and spiritual Table, on which your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, is mystically set forth as a sacrifice by me, a sinner stained by every defilement.

Therefore I bring you this supplication, that your Spirit, the Advocate, may be sent down to me, strengthening and preparing me for this ministry. And grant that without condemnation the word that has been declared by you may be proclaimed by me to the people in Christ Jesus our Lord, with whom you are blessed, together with your all-holy, good, life-giving and consubstantial Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

The words of peace this afternoon are also derived from the Liturgy of Saint James. There, introducing the Kiss of Peace, the priest prays in a low voice:

God and Master of all, lover of humankind, make us, unworthy though we are, worthy of this hour, so that, cleansed of all deceit and hypocrisy, we may be united to one another by the bond of peace and love, confirmed by the sanctification of your divine knowledge through your only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom you are blessed, together with your all-holy, good and life-giving Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages. Amen.

Deacon: Let us stand with awe. In peace let us pray to the Lord.

People: Lord, have mercy.

Priest: For you are a God of peace, mercy, love, compassion and love for humankind, with your only-begotten Son and your all-holy Spirit, now and for ever, and to the ages of ages.

People: Amen.

Priest: Peace to all.

People: And to your spirit.

Deacon: Let us greet one another with a holy kiss.

Our processional hymn this afternoon is ‘Jerusalem the Golden’ (Hymn 670, Irish Church Hymnal), adapted from a poem by Saint Bernard of Cluny that once ran to 2,966 lines. Selections of the poem were first published in 1849 by Richard Chenevix Trench (1807-1886), Dean of Westminster Abbey and later Archbishop of Dublin. The hymn is a translation by JM Neale of Trench’s version. But the Jerusalem described in this hymn is not the Jerusalem of Saint James, but the heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, and the ideas are inspired by Revelation 7: 14 and 21: 1-7.

The Gradual, ‘Thou art the Way, to thee alone’ (Hymn 115), a hymn by George W Doane (1799-1859), Bishop of New Jersey, is sung to the tune Saint James, composed in the early 18th century, probably by Raphael (Ralph) Courteville and named after Saint James’ Church, Piccadilly, where he was the first organist.

The Offertory hymn, ‘Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence’ (427), is based on the ‘Prayer of the Cherubic Hymn’ in the Liturgy of Saint James, where it is sung at the presentation of the bread and wine at the Offertory. Professor JR Watson of Durham University writes: “In the original Liturgy of Saint James, [the hymn] was used as the bread and wine were brought into the sanctuary: it brings out the full drama of the occasion.”

The hymn is rich with imagery from John 6: 35-58 (Stanza 2), Revelation 4 and the Nicene Creed (Stanza 3), and Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4 (Stanza 4), inviting us to take part in the mystery of the Incarnation with a sense of entering the Holy of Holies.

This hymn version by the Revd Gerard Moultrie (1829-1885), an Anglican priest, first appeared in Lyra Eucharistica (1864). Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) set Moultrie’s hymn to an arrangement of the tune Picardy, from a book of French folksongs, Chansons Populaires des Provinces de France (1860), for The English Hymnal (1906).

Our Post-Communion hymn, ‘Strengthen for service, Lord, the hands’ (Hymn 446), is based on a hymn composed by Saint Ephraim the Syrian and sung in the Liturgy of Malabar, which is derived from the Syrian form of the Liturgy of Saint James. In its Syrian form, the Liturgy of Saint James is still the principal liturgy of the Syrian Oriental Church, both in Syriac and, in the ancient Syrian Orthodox Church of India, in Malayalam and English.

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