12 April 2014

(Some of) the class of 1969 from
Gormanston meet after 45 years

Bewley’s Hotel, Ballsbridge, in the moonlight after last night’s dinner (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2014)

Patrick Comerford

It is 45 years since I finished school after sitting my Leaving Certificate in Gormanston College, Co Meath in 1969.

Forty-five years later, 17 of the Class of 1969 turned up for the Gormanston PPU dinner in Bewley’s Hotel, Ballsbridge. Some of us are near neighbours, by chance and by accident; some of us have been touch with one another to varying degrees; and some of us were meeting each other for the first time in 45 years.

If we are a cross-section of Irish society today, then we are quite a good sample of our generation – architects, accountants, company directors, vets, IT consultants, teachers, lecturers, counsellors, chaplains, priests, farmers, racehorse owners … some have even retired.

Some had travelled from London, some talked honestly about the difficulties they had faced since the collapse of the Irish economy in 2008/2009.

We talked about those who were not there last night, we exchanged memories of those who are dead, we talked about those who were in the years ahead of us and the years behind us, and we recalled monks and teachers from our days.

Some of us have kept in touch over the years, even through Facebook and LinkedIn. Some of us have worked together at times, or shared flats at the beginning of our working lives. Others I meet every now and then for coffee or lunch … from Dublin to Cork and Wexford, to Cambridge.

Some of us even made new friends, and certainly I remembered my time in Gormanston as happy days and years.

A reminder of the former Masonic Girls’ School at the entrance to Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbirdge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford

It is 60 years since Gormanston opened as a boarding school, between Drogheda and Balbriggan. We heard further details last night of how the school is about to enter a new phase as the boarding facilities come to an end, and the school moves from the private sector to the public sector.

But schools change as time changes … we were reminded of this by our setting last night. The hotel on the corner of Merrion Road and Simmonscourt Road was built as the Masonic Female Orphan School, and the foundation stone was laid by the Duke of Abercorn on Saint John’s Day, 25 June 1880, and later became the Masonic Girls’ School.

The Royal Dublin Society bought the building in the early 1970s and renamed it Thomas Prior House after one of the founding members of the RDS. It was bought by the Wexford businessman Bert Allen in the late 1980s and later became Bewley’s Hotel. The former school Assembly Hall, where we had our dinner last night is now known as the Thomas Prior Hall.

The Class of 1969 from Gormanston at last night’s dinner in Ballsbridge

There was talk too of a dinner in June to mark this sixtieth anniversary, with an overnight stay. I stayed over for the fiftieth anniversary in 2004. How many of the Year of 1969 will be there in 2014?

We are:

William Barrett, Hilary Barry (deceased), Brian Brady, Aidan Brosnan, Derek Browne, Henry Browne, Peter Burke, Patrick Cassidy, Seamus Claffey, Patrick Comerford, Justin Connolly, Breen Coyne, Andrew Crotty, Thomas Delaney, David Dennehy, Michael Dervan, Gerald Dick, Frank Domoney, Paul Egan, Donal Geaney (deceased), Michael Geraghty, John Grogan, Richard Hayes, Michael Hickey, Liam Holmes, John Horgan, Frank Hunt, Stephen Kane, Paul Keatings, Noel Keaveney, Thomas Keenan, Bernard Kelly, John Kelly, David Kerrigan, Tom Lappin, Cyril Lynch, David Lynch, Liam Lynch, Donal Mac A’Bhaird, Donal MacCraith (deceased), James Madden, John McCarthy, Alfie McCrann, Brian McCutcheon, Harold McGahern, Pat McGowan, Joseph McGuinness, Kieran McNamee, Seamus Moloney, Francis Moran, James Moran, Peter Morgan, Raymond Murphy, Paul Nolan, Michéal ó Bolguír, Kevin O’Brien, Dermot O’Callaghan, Einde O’Callaghan, William O’Connor, James O’Dea, Dermot O’Donoghue, Tim O’Driscoll, Dermott O’Flanagan, Joe O’Keeffe, Donal O’Mahoney, Sean O’Meara, John O’Reilly, George Pratt, Dermot Rainey, Sean Regan, Noel Reilly, Russell Shannon, Paul Smith, Mauirce Sweeney, Donagh Tierney, Michael Walsh.

‘They have taken away my Lord, and
I do not know where they have laid him.’

‘Noli me Tangere’ (1524), by Hans Holbein the Younger

Patrick Comerford

Sunday next [20 April 2014] is Easter Day, and the readings in the Revised Common Lectionary are: Acts 10: 34-43 or Jeremiah 31: 1-6; Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24, or the Easter Anthems; Colossians 3: 1-4 or Acts 10: 34-43; and John 20: 1-18, or Matthew 28: 1-10.

This leaves us with a complicated choice, and the Church of Ireland Directory is specific: “When the Old Testament selection is chosen, the Acts reading is used as the second reading at Holy Communion.”

This morning, in our tutorial group, we are looking at Saint John’s account of the Resurrection, and the questions we may ask include how does the Gospel reading fit in with the other Lectionary readings for that morning, and what makes the account in the Fourth Gospel different from the Resurrection accounts in the other three Gospels.

John 20: 1-18

1 Τῇ δὲ μιᾷ τῶν σαββάτων Μαρία ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἔρχεται πρωῒ σκοτίας ἔτι οὔσης εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ βλέπει τὸν λίθον ἠρμένον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου. 2 τρέχει οὖν καὶ ἔρχεται πρὸς Σίμωνα Πέτρον καὶ πρὸς τὸν ἄλλον μαθητὴν ὃν ἐφίλει ὁ Ἰησοῦς, καὶ λέγει αὐτοῖς, Ηραν τὸν κύριον ἐκ τοῦ μνημείου, καὶ οὐκ οἴδαμεν ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 3 Ἐξῆλθεν οὖν ὁ Πέτρος καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητής, καὶ ἤρχοντο εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον. 4 ἔτρεχον δὲ οἱ δύο ὁμοῦ: καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς προέδραμεν τάχιον τοῦ Πέτρου καὶ ἦλθεν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 5 καὶ παρακύψας βλέπει κείμενα τὰ ὀθόνια, οὐ μέντοι εἰσῆλθεν. 6 ἔρχεται οὖν καὶ Σίμων Πέτρος ἀκολουθῶν αὐτῷ, καὶ εἰσῆλθεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον: καὶ θεωρεῖ τὰ ὀθόνια κείμενα, 7 καὶ τὸ σουδάριον, ὃ ἦν ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς αὐτοῦ, οὐ μετὰ τῶν ὀθονίων κείμενον ἀλλὰ χωρὶς ἐντετυλιγμένον εἰς ἕνα τόπον. 8 τότε οὖν εἰσῆλθεν καὶ ὁ ἄλλος μαθητὴς ὁ ἐλθὼν πρῶτος εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, καὶ εἶδεν καὶ ἐπίστευσεν: 9 οὐδέπω γὰρ ᾔδεισαν τὴν γραφὴν ὅτι δεῖ αὐτὸν ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῆναι. 10 ἀπῆλθον οὖν πάλιν πρὸς αὐτοὺς οἱ μαθηταί.

11 Μαρία δὲ εἱστήκει πρὸς τῷ μνημείῳ ἔξω κλαίουσα. ὡς οὖν ἔκλαιεν παρέκυψεν εἰς τὸ μνημεῖον, 12 καὶ θεωρεῖ δύο ἀγγέλους ἐν λευκοῖς καθεζομένους, ἕνα πρὸς τῇ κεφαλῇ καὶ ἕνα πρὸς τοῖς ποσίν, ὅπου ἔκειτο τὸ σῶμα τοῦ Ἰησοῦ. 13 καὶ λέγουσιν αὐτῇ ἐκεῖνοι, Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; λέγει αὐτοῖς ὅτι Ηραν τὸν κύριόν μου, καὶ οὐκ οἶδα ποῦ ἔθηκαν αὐτόν. 14 ταῦτα εἰποῦσα ἐστράφη εἰς τὰ ὀπίσω, καὶ θεωρεῖ τὸν Ἰησοῦν ἑστῶτα, καὶ οὐκ ᾔδει ὅτι Ἰησοῦς ἐστιν. 15 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Γύναι, τί κλαίεις; τίνα ζητεῖς; ἐκείνη δοκοῦσα ὅτι ὁ κηπουρός ἐστιν λέγει αὐτῷ, Κύριε, εἰ σὺ ἐβάστασας αὐτόν, εἰπέ μοι ποῦ ἔθηκας αὐτόν, κἀγὼ αὐτὸν ἀρῶ. 16 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Μαριάμ. στραφεῖσα ἐκείνη λέγει αὐτῷ Ἑβραϊστί, Ραββουνι (ὃ λέγεται Διδάσκαλε). 17 λέγει αὐτῇ Ἰησοῦς, Μή μου ἅπτου, οὔπω γὰρ ἀναβέβηκα πρὸς τὸν πατέρα: πορεύου δὲ πρὸς τοὺς ἀδελφούς μου καὶ εἰπὲ αὐτοῖς, Ἀναβαίνω πρὸς τὸν πατέρα μου καὶ πατέρα ὑμῶν καὶ θεόν μου καὶ θεὸν ὑμῶν. 18 ἔρχεται Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ ἀγγέλλουσα τοῖς μαθηταῖς ὅτι Ἑώρακα τὸν κύριον, καὶ ταῦτα εἶπεν αὐτῇ.

Translation (NRSV)

1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14 When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus.15 Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16 Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17 Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

The setting and context of the readings:

Acts 10: 34-43:

The settings for the reading from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10: 34-43) is the house of Cornelius, a centurion. Already a believer in God, he has a vision (verses 1-8), and invites the Apostle Peter to visit him. It is against Jewish law for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile, but Peter comes anyway, with “some ... believers from Joppa” (verse 23).

The Greek here is difficult and full of grammatical errors, unlike the rest of the Acts of the Apostles. Perhaps what we have here are Peter’s unedited words, spoken in a language that at best is his second language but that he is still uncomfortable with.

Saint Peter tells all who are present that God does not favour Jews over others: anyone, whatever his or her ethnic background, who reveres God and lives in unison with him “is acceptable to him” (verse 35).

Saint Peter then (verses 36-38) summarises Christ’s earthly ministry, and he applies to Christ prophecies from Isaiah (52: 7 and 61: 1) and verses from the Psalms (Psalm 107: 20) to Christ who is Kyrios, “the Lord of all” (verse 36).

Christ suffered death as one guilty of a capital offence, but the Father “raised him” (verse 40) and “allowed him to appear” to those chosen by God – to be “witnesses” (verse 41). He is the one appointed by God to set up the Kingdom and to judge the living and the dead (verse 42), he fulfils many Old Testament prophecies, he is the one through whom sins are forgiven, and that forgiveness is now available to all who believe (verse 43).

Jeremiah 31: 1-6

In the Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 31: 1-6) we read a prophecy that the exile will end, that God will not desert Israel. It depicts the return from exile as a new exodus. The people “found grace in the wilderness” (verse 2), God loved them then and his love is “everlasting” (verse 3). The nation of Israel will be rebuilt, the people will make merry, and agriculture will prosper (verse 5).

Psalm 118: 1-2, 14-24

In the psalm (Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24), we are called to give thanks to God for his mercy and love, which are everlasting. The one who was rejected is now God’s chosen ruler, and all shall share in the power and blessing of God, who “has given us light” (verses 22-27).

Colossians 3: 1-4

In the Early Church, the Baptism of new believers took place at Easter. In the Epistle reading (Colossians 3: 1-4), Baptism is described as sharing in Christ’s suffering and death and being raised with Christ to new life in Christ. So baptism has ethical implications for our discipleship: we are to cast aside both sins of the body and of the mind. In the baptised community, ethnic and social barriers are shattered, for “Christ is all and in all.”

Introducing the Gospel reading:

Mary Magdalene at Easter … a sculpture by Mary Grant at the west door of Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford/Lichfield Gazette)

Early on the Sunday morning (“the first day of the week”) after the Crucifixion, before dawn, Mary Magdalene, who has been a witness to Christ’s death and burial, comes to the tomb and finds that the stone has been rolled away.

Initially it seems she is on her own, for she alone is named. But later she describes her experiences using the word “we,” which indicates she was with other women.

In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, these women are known as the Holy Myrrhbearers (Μυροφόροι), They include: The Myrrhbearers are traditionally listed as: Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joses, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, Martha of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Mary of Bethany, sister of Lazarus, Joanna, the wife of Chuza the steward of Herod Antipas, Salome, the mother of James and John, the sons of Zebedee, and Susanna, although it is generally said that there are other Myrrhbearers whose names are not known.

Mary and these women run to tell Saint Peter and the other disciple (presumably Saint John the Evangelist) that they suspect someone has removed the body. The “other disciple” may have been younger and fitter for he outruns Saint Peter. The tidy way the linen wrappings and the shroud have been folded or rolled up shows that the body has not been stolen. They believe, yet they do not understand; they return home without any explanations.

But Mary still thinks Christ’s body has been removed or stolen, and she returns to the cemetery. In her grief, she sees “two angels in white” sitting where the body had been lying, one at the head, and one at the feet. They speak to her and then she turns around sees Christ, but only recognises him when he calls her by name.

Peter and John have returned without seeing the Risen Lord. It is left to Mary to tell the Disciples that she has seen the Lord. Mary Magdalene is the first witness of the Resurrection.

All four gospels are unanimous in telling us that the women are the earliest witnesses to the Risen Christ. In Saint John’s Gospel, the Risen Christ sends Mary Magdalene to tell the other disciples what she had seen. Mary becomes the apostle to the apostles.

The word apostle comes from the Greek ἀπόστολος (apóstólos), formed from the prefix ἀπό- (apó-, “from”) and the root στέλλω (stéllō, “I send,” “I depart”). So the Greek word ἀπόστολος or apostle means one sent.

In addition, at the end of the reading (see verse 18), Mary comes announcing what she has seen. The word used here (ἀγγέλλουσα, angéllousa) is from the word that gives us the Annunciation, the proclamation of the good news, the proclamation of the Gospel (Εὐαγγέλιον). Mary, in her proclamation of the Gospel of the Resurrection, is not only the apostle to the apostles, but also the first of the evangelists.

In Saint Matthew’s account of the Resurrection (Matthew 28: 1-15), two women go to the tomb, Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary,” go to the tomb at dawn, and while they are there the Angel of the Lord rolls back the stone and shows them the empty tomb. But they do not see the Risen Christ – he is already on his way to Galilee, and there they shall see him. They return to the disciples and tell them what they have seen.

On their way, Jesus meets them “suddenly” and greets them. But Saint Matthew is unclear about whether this first appearance is to the women, to the women and the disciples, or to the disciples.

In Saint Mark’s Gospel (Mark 16), the stone has already been rolled back when the women arrive at the tomb. Inside the tomb, a young man (or angel) speaks to them, and they are told to go and tell Saint Peter and the Disciples that Christ is going ahead of them to Galilee. The longer ending of Saint Mark’s Gospel then tells us that Christ first appeared to Mary Magdalene, but the disciples would not believe them. He then appears to two walking in the countryside, and only then appears later in the day to the 11 remaining disciples.

In Saint Luke’s Gospel (Luke 24), the women go to the tomb and find the stone is rolled away. They are Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women. They tell the disciples, who do not believe them, and later Peter goes to the empty tomb and is amazed at what he sees. But the first appearance of the Risen Christ is to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus.

Saint Paul tells us that the Risen Christ first appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve, then to 500 at one time, then to James, then to all the apostles, and finally to Paul himself (see I Corinthians 15: 3-8).

Why does Saint Paul not name the women?

What does Saint Paul count all 12 disciples?

Why does Saint Paul name Saint Peter but not Saint John, and why does he name Saint James separately?

Who are the 500?

Who are apostles here?

‘Noli me tangere’

‘Noli Me Tangere’ (ca 1500), an icon in the Museum of Byzantine Icons (Museo dei Dipinti Sacri Bizantini), next to San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice

In the Fourth Gospel, when Mary first sees Christ, she does not recognise him. In this reading, the Greek is regularly phrased in the present tense: Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb (verse 1), she sees (verse 1), she runs, she comes, and she says (verse 2); John sees (verse 5), Simon Peter then comes, and he sees (verse 6); Mary sees the two angels (verse 12), they say to her and she says to them that she does not know (verse 13); she then sees Jesus (verse 14); Jesus says to her (verse 15, and again verses 16 and 17) – notice this is three times in all; and she then comes announcing what she has seen and heard.

The language is constantly punctuated with ‘and’ giving it a rapid, fast-moving pace, rather like the pace in Saint Mark’s Gospel. This is a present, real, living experience for all involved, and not one single episode that be relegated to the past.

The Risen Christ does things he did not do before: he appears in locked rooms, there is something different about his appearance, his friends do not realise immediately who he is. This is the same Jesus, but something has changed.

Why does Jesus tell Mary: “Do not hold onto me” (Μή μου ἅπτου, Noli me tangere)?

How do we recognise new life in the Risen Christ?

How do understand the invitation from the Risen Christ to feast with him?

When we accept the new life Christ offers, how does our vision change?

Where do we see the presence of the Risen Christ?

Do we see his presence in the people and places we like and that please us?

Can we see him in the people we do like to and in the situations we find challenging? – the hungry child, the fleeing refugee, the begging person on the street, the homeless addict sleeping in the doorway or sitting on the Liffey boardwalk?

Is my heart changed by the Risen Christ?

Where do I see the broken and bruised Body of Christ needing restoration and Resurrection?

Do I know him in the word he speaks to me and in the breaking of the bread?

Is the presence of the Risen Christ a living experience for me, this morning?

Is Easter an every-morning, every-day, living experience for me, or one we all-too-easily relegate to the past and to history?

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College Dublin. These notes were prepared for a Bible study in a tutorial group with MTh students on 12 April 2014.

Art for Lent (39): ‘The Raising of Lazarus’
(ca 1310/1311) by Duccio di Buoninsegna

The Raising of Lazarus by Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca 1260-1318), Kimbell Art Museum

Patrick Comerford

This Saturday – the Saturday before Palm Sunday – is known traditionally in the Orthodox Church as Lazarus Saturday, and the appointed Gospel reading is the same as the reading in Revised Common Lectionary for last Sunday (6 April 2014): John 11: 1-45.

In the Orthodox Church, Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday together hold a unique position as days of joy and triumph coming between the penitence of Great Lent and the mourning of Holy Week.

The theme of the raising of Lazarus dominates all Orthodox services on Lazarus Saturday, while at the same time looking forward to Christ’s resurrection on Easter Day. The scripture readings and hymns for Lazarus Saturday focus on the raising of Lazarus as a foreshadowing of the Resurrection of Christ and as a promise of the General Resurrection. A number of the hymns, written in the first or second person, symbolically relate the death, burial and shroud of Lazarus to one’s own sinful state. Many of the hymns with Resurrection themes in a normal Sunday service that are omitted on Palm Sunday are chanted today on Lazarus Saturday.

Many Orthodox people abstain from meat and dairy products on Lazarus Saturday, although wine and oil are allowed, and special spice breads called Lazarakia are made in Greece and eaten. In Greece, it is a custom on Lazarus Saturday to make elaborate crosses out of palm leaves or olive branches that are then used the next day, Palm Sunday.

So, for my work of Art for Lent this morning (12 April 2014), I have chosen ‘The Raising of Lazarus’ by the Tuscan artist Duccio di Buoninsegna (ca 1260-1318), is regarded as the father of Sienese painting and one of the founders of Western art.

Duccio di Buoninsegna was born in Siena, where he worked in the late 13th and early 14th centuries on important works for government and religious buildings. However, only 13 or so works by Duccio survive to this day.

Although we know little about his early life and family, it seems he was married with seven children. He achieved fame as an artist in his own lifetime and became one of the most favoured and radical painters in Siena. Some art historians and critics suggest he travelled to Constantinople where he trained under a Byzantine master, and his painting style closely resembles the artwork of Byzantium.

This work, dating from ca 1310/1311, is in tempera and gold on panel and measures 43.5 x 46 cm. It is in the Kimbell Art Museum, Forth Worth, Texas.

On the bottom right of the painting we can see evidence of a fairly drastic change of mind by the artist. Originally the tomb was a horizontal sarcophagus placed at the foot of the hill on which Lazarus was probably sitting. The result was evidently not to the artist’s satisfaction and the sarcophagus was transformed into a sepulchre dug out of the rock. This change also affected the risen figure of Lazarus, so that as a consequence he assumes a peculiar oblique position.

The spontaneous gesture of the character sitting beside the open tomb and holding his nose is remarkably lifelike.

The canon on the Resurrection of Lazarus by Saint Andrew of Crete, chanted at Vespers the night before Lazarus Saturday, is also a preparation for Holy Week:

We have completed the forty days
that bring profit to our soul.
Now we ask you in your love for us:
Grant us also to behold the Holy Week
of your suffering and death,
so that in it we may glorify your mighty acts
and your purpose for us,
too great for words.
May we sing with one accord:
O Lord, glory be to you.

During the Divine Liturgy, the baptismal hymn, “As many as have been baptised into Christ have put on Christ” (Romans 6: 3) is sung in place of the Trisagion. This may indicate that this was at one time a day traditionally for baptisms.

‘Come out, Lazar’ (Paul Spicer, the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge)

I first became aware of this morning’s painting through the album cover for Paul Spicer’s Come out, Lazar, recorded in 2009 by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge, directed by Sarah MacDonald, with Claire Innes-Hopkins on the organ (Regent Records, 2009, total playing time: 63’59”).

Paul Spicer began his musical training as a chorister at New College, Oxford. He studied with Herbert Howells and Richard Popplewell (organ) at the Royal College of Music in London, winning the Walford Davies Organ Prize in his final year. He now conducts the Chamber Choirs at the Royal College of Music in London, and the Birmingham Conservatoire, and is Professor of Choral Conducting at both institutions.

I first came across his work in Lichfield, where he has lived in The Close since 1990, and he was Artistic Director of the Lichfield International Arts Festival for 11 years. His Easter Oratorio was commissioned for performance in Lichfield Cathedral in 2000, and the libretto was written by his close friend, the then Dean of Lichfield Cathedral, Tom Wright, to mark the 1300th anniversary of Lichfield Cathedral. The Independent described it as “almost operatic in its inherent drama” and as being “a major contribution to the choral society repertoire.” He remains a member of the Council of Lichfield Cathedral.

The anthem Come out, Lazar is the title track and the most substantial work on the 2009 recording by the Chapel Choir of Selwyn College. It is a dramatic, and almost apocalyptic, setting for mediaeval poetry, in this case an anonymous 14th century English text. It was commissioned by Ralph Allwood in 1984 for a BBC Radio 3 broadcast by the Uppingham Choral Course.

Spicer says he has always loved mediaeval poetry, and found a natural appeal in the poem Come out, Lazar (Lazarus). “It had everything I wanted for this commission.”

The anthem is basically in an ABACA form, with the B and C sections being reflective. It takes every opportunity to use the words descriptively. The final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

The words of this anonymous mediaeval poem are:

Come out, Lazar!
Come out, Lazaro, what so befall.
Then might not the fiend of hell
Longer make that soule to dwell.
So dreadful was that ilke cry
To that feloun, our enemy.
The kinges trumpet blew a blast;
Come out! it said, be not aghast.
With that voice the fiend gan quake,
As doth the leaf when windes wake.
Come out is now a wonder soun,
It hath o’er come that foul feloun
And all his careful [wretched] company.
For dread thereof they gunne cry;
Yet is come out a wonder song,
For it has broken the prison strong.
Fetters, chains, and bondes mo [besides]
That wroughten wretched soules woe.
That kinges voice so free
It maketh the devil and death to flee.
Say me now thou serpent sly,
Is not ‘Come out!’ an asper cry?
‘Come out’ is a word of battle,
For it gan helle soon [at once] t’assail.
Why stoppest thou not, fiend, thine ear?
That this word enter not there?
He that said that word of might,
Shop him felly to the fight. [Advanced valiantly to battle.]
For with that word he won the field
Withouten spear, withouten shield,
And brought them out of prison strong,
That were enholden there with wrong.
Tell now, tyrant, where is thy might?
‘Come out!’ hath felled it all with fight.

As we look towards Easter, it is worth noting how the final triumphant section (“For with that word he won the field …”) builds up to a huge climax on the word “might,” and the final page keeps the excitement building to the end.

Notes produced five years ago by the Chapel of Trinity College Cambridge for Choral Evensong on 12 May 2009 helpfully explain some of the more difficult or obscure vocabulary in this poem:

1 feloun: traitor
2 gan quake: quaked
3 wonder: wonderful
4 careful: wretched
5 gunne cry: cried
6 mo: besides
7 free: noble
8 asper: harsh
9 soon: at once
10 shop him felly to the fight: advanced valiantly to battle.

Tomorrow:Entry into the City’ (2012), by John August Swanson.