Sunday, 26 January 2014

Unity, diversity and harmony in
the cathedral and on the beach

Carved figures on the top of a pillar in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

Yesterday, in the calendar of the Church, we remembered the Conversion of Saint Paul (25 January). In the Gospel reading (Matthew 4: 12-23) this morning (26 January) we heard again of the call of Saint Peter and three of the other disciples, Saint Andrew, Saint James and Saint John.

Peter, James and John go together so often in the Gospels that it is possible to think of them as an inner circle among the Disciples, almost like a “kitchen cabinet,” particularly at the Transfiguration.

But Peter and Paul are also linked with one another, whether in confrontation and reconciliation in the Acts of the Apostles, or in children’s nursery rhyme about Peter and Paul and aphorisms about borrowing from one source to pay off another.

We have come to the end of this year’s Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is commemorated separately on 29 June, which recalls their martyrdom in Rome. But the coincidences in the calendar this weekend also reminded me that the Icon of the Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul embracing each other is an icon of Christian Unity in the Eastern Orthodox Church, for the unity of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is not a unity in uniformity but a unity in diversity.

The setting for the Cathedral Eucharist in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, this morning was Judith Bingham’s Missa Brevis (Awake My Soul).

Judith Bingham is one of the most sought-after contemporary British composers. She has written a Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis for King’s College, Cambridge, and diverse anthems and church works for Lichfield Cathedral, the Lichfield Festival, Winchester Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Saint John’s College Cambridge, Westminster Cathedral, Wells Cathedral and the Edington Festival. She has written three settings of the Missa Brevis, and two sets of Evening Canticles, as well as many anthems.

This morning’s Missa Brevis (Awake My Soul) was commissioned for the fiftieth anniversary of the consecration of Bromley Parish Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul, in 1957 after it had been razed by the force of one German high explosive bomb in 1941.

“I wanted the dramatic progression of the Mass to be about rebuilding,” she said later. Her Kyrie, she said, evokes “walking amid the ruins of the church, desolation, despair.” Echoing TS Eliot, she headed this Kyrie: “A wasteland: the ruins of a sacred building.”

The Gloria unfolds from the “decision to rebuild – a sense of renewed hope.” Her heading is: “The rebuilding begins.”

Her Sanctus enshrines the solemnity of the new church’s consecration, and is headed: “The consecration of the house.”

The Agnus Dei, she says, turns to “the forgiveness of enemies,” a process led by the rebuilding of trust and the recognition of humanity’s mutual interdependence. The heading reads: “As we forgive them.”

The Communion Motet this morning was Judith Bingham’s anthem, The Clouded Heaven, based on words by Lancelot Andrewes (1555-1626) and William Wordsworth (1770-1850):

Be with me Lord, and speed me on my way,
Thou who didst speed the way of the Wise men
by the leading of a star.
I could not lightly pass through the same gateways,
Sleep where they had slept, wake where they wak’d,
I was the Dreamer, they the Dream.

Be with me Lord, and speed me on my way,
Thou who didst speed the way of the Wise men
by the leading of a star.
If Thy presence go not with me,
Let the stars come out, the clouded heaven
Blot out O Lord as a thick cloud of night our transgressions,
And bring us safely home again.


Judith Bingham was commissioned jointly by The Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral and by Ruth Daniel, a long-standing supporter of the Choir of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, to write The Clouded Heaven. It received simultaneous premieres at Winchester Cathedral and Saint John’s College, sung by their choirs directed by David Hill and Christopher Robinson respectively, at their 1998 Advent Sunday services.

Judith Bingham’s choice of texts reflect both commissioners, a conflation of words from a prayer by the 17th century Bishop of Winchester, Lancelot Andrewes, and William Wordsworth’s On First Entering St John’s Cambridge.

The music has a quality of anxiousness reflecting Bingham’s inspiration behind the work: “I always think of Advent as the time when the Magi are making their unsafe journey towards the Nativity and so wanted to suggest a spiritual journey into the unknown. I was hugely influenced at that time by my experience of an Alpine starry landscape and wanted to try and capture my feelings of awe and wonderment in the music.”

Our Post-Communion hymn this morning was John Henry Newman’s great Trinitarian hymn, Firmly I believe and truly, from The Dream of Gerontius, and sung to Vaughan Williams’s tune Shipston. Vaughan Williams found this English folk tune at Halford, near Shipston-on-Stour in Warwickshire – a simple tune that works so well with these weighty words.

Later in the afternoon, two of us strolled along the beach in Bray, and our adoration continued as we stood silently listening to waves thunder as they rolled in against the pebbles and stones on the shoreline:

Firmly I believe and truly
God is Three, and God is One;
And I next acknowledge duly
Manhood taken by the Son.

And I trust and hope most fully
In that Manhood crucified;
And each thought and deed unruly
Do to death, as he has died.

Simply to his grace and wholly
Light and life and strength belong,
And I love supremely, solely,
Him the holy, him the strong.

And I hold in veneration,
For the love of him alone,
Holy Church as his creation,
And her teachings are his own.

Adoration ay be given,
With and through the angelic host,
To the God of earth and heaven,
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.


‘Simply to his grace and wholly / Light and life and strength belong’ … standing on the beach in Bray this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford (2014)

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