06 August 2022

Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Saturday 6 August 2022

The Transfiguration in an icon in the parish church in the hill-side village of Piskopiano in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose music is celebrated throughout this year’s Proms season.

In my prayer diary for these weeks I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a hymn or another piece of music by Vaughan Williams, often drawing, admittedly, on previous postings on the composer;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

The Transfiguration in a poster from the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies, Cambridge

Today marks the 77th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. As President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), I have recorded a message for Irish CND’s Hiroshima Day commemoration in Merrion Square Day. Later in the evening, I hope to attend the Hiroshima Commemorations at the Japanese Peace Pagoda by Willen Lake in Milton Keynes.

In the Church calendar, today (6 August) traditionally marks the Feast of the Transfiguration.

The Gospel reading for the Feast of the Transfiguration today is:

Luke 9: 28-36 (NRSVA):

28 Now about eight days after these sayings Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. 29 And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 30 Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. 31 They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. 32 Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. 33 Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, ‘Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah’—not knowing what he said. 34 While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. 35 Then from the cloud came a voice that said, ‘This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!’ 36 When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.

The Monastery of the Transfiguration or Great Meteoron in Meteora, northern Greece (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s reflection: ‘Jerusalem, thou City blest’

Ralph Vaughan Williams was the composer of symphonies, chamber music, opera, choral music, and film scores, a collector of English folk music and song. With Percy Dearmer, he co-edited the English Hymnal, in which he included many folk song arrangements as hymn tunes, and several of his own original compositions.

This morning [6 August 2022], I have chosen the hymn ‘Jerusalem, thou City blest,’ which is set to the tune ‘Newbury’ in the New English Hymnal (No 228).

Yesterday, I was reflecting on the hymn, ‘There is no moment of my life,’ by the late Father William Brian Foley (1919-2000), which is set to this tune by Vaughan Williams in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 19). But he first harmonised ‘Newbury’ for the English Hymnal in 1906, and set it to ‘The Maker of the sun and moon’ by Laurence Housman (1865-1959).

This tune is one of the many folk melodies arranged by Vaughan Williams. He found it in a collection published by Miss MG Arkwright in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society. There it was used for a Christmas carol, ‘There’s six good days set in a week,’ also known as the ‘Hampshire Mummers’ Carol.’

‘Jerusalem, thou City blest’ is similar to a hymn with the same name written by the Revd Edward Caswall (1814-1878), but this hymn is attributed to the Editors of the New English Hymnal, where it first appears.

The New English Hymnal, published in 1986 by the Canterbury Press, is the successor to the 1906 English Hymnal. Its general editor was the then chairman of the English Hymnal Company, George Timms, and the musical editor was Anthony Caesar, assisted by Arthur Hutchings, Christopher Dearnley and Michael Fleming.

The English Hymnal (1906) was edited by Percy Dearmer and Vaughan Williams, and was seen as the musical companion to Dearmer’s practical guide to liturgy, The Parson’s Handbook.

‘The music is intended to be essentially congregational in character …’ Vaughan Williams said in the opening words of his preface. The high quality of the music is due largely to his work as musical editor. The standard of the arrangements and original compositions made it one of the most influential hymnals of the last century. The hymnal included the first printing of several arrangements and hymn settings by Vaughan Williams.

Today’s hymn is particularly recommended for holy days, and is suitable for the Feast of the Transfiguration, apart from verse 6, which is suitable for a saint’s day.

Jerusalem, thou City blest,
Fair home of God’s elect!
No sun, in all his radiance bright,
Thy glory could reflect.

In thee no sickness may be seen,
No hurt, no ache, no sore;
In thee there us no dreads of death,
But life for evermore.

The blessed saints, who’ve run the race,
With glory there are crowned;
No tongue can tell, nor heart conceive
What joys in thee they’ve found.

God is their sun, and Christ their light,
They see him face to face;
The Spirit’s perfect bond of love
Doth every heart embrace.

O happy ones, in heaven who dwell,
Pour forth for us your prayer,
That God our Father through his Son,
May bring us with you there.

And praise and honour be to him
Whom earth and heaven obey,
For that blest saint whose festival
Doth glorify this day.

The Transfiguration depicted in a fresco in the Analipsi Church (Resurrection) in Georgioupoli, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer:

The Collect:

Father in heaven,
whose Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured
before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain,
and spoke of the exodus he would accomplish at Jerusalem:
give us strength so to hear his voice and bear our cross
that in the world to come we may see him as he is;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

At the annual conference of the USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) in High Leigh last week, we were updated on the work of USPG’s partners in Ukraine, Russia and with USPG’s partners with Ukrainian refugees. The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week has been ‘Refugee Support in Poland,’ and was introduced by the Revd David Brown, Chaplain of the Anglican Church in Poland.

Saturday 6 August 2022 (The Transfiguration of Our Lord):

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Today we celebrate the completely human, completely divine nature of Jesus. We give thanks that He came down to be with us, perfection in our midst.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The Transfiguration depicted in a stained-glass window in a church in Lucan, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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