10 August 2022
Praying with USPG and the hymns of
Vaughan Williams: Wednesday 10 August 2022
Last night, as two of us were walking near Saint Paul’s Cathedral, we passed the Saint Lawrence and Saint Mary Magdalene Drinking Fountain, with its depiction of Saint Lawrence holding the symbols of his martyrdom. Today, the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Saint Laurence, Deacon at Rome, Martyr (258), with a Lesser Festival.
The sources for the martyrdom of Saint Laurence are among the earliest, though the details are thin. He was one of the seven deacons at Rome and closely associated with Pope Sixtus II, martyred just a few days before him. His examiners insisted he produce the Church treasures. He promptly did so: assembling all the poor, he is reputed to have said, ‘These are the treasures of the Church.’ The story of his being put to death on a gridiron is a much later addition to his story. He died on this day in the year 258.
I have another medical appointment later this afternoon. But, before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.
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.’
Matthew 6: 19-24 (NRSVA):
[Jesus said:] 19 ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
22 ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
24 ‘No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.’
Today’s reflection: ‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ 3, ‘Love Bade Me Welcome’
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 [10 August 2022], I have chosen the hymn ‘Love Bade Me Welcome’ by the 17th century Welsh-born English priest-poet George Herbert (1593-1633).
For the weekdays this week, I am reflecting on ‘The Five Mystical Songs,’ composed by Vaughan Williams between 1906 and 1911. He conducted the first performance of the completed work at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester on 14 September 1911.
The work, taken as one, sets four poems by George Herbert from his collection The Temple: Sacred Poems (1633).
Many of George Herbert’s poems have become hymns that are well-known and well-loved by generations of Anglicans. They include ‘Let all the world in every corner sing,’ ‘Teach me, my God and King’ and ‘King of Glory, King of Peace.’
George Herbert was the Public Orator at Cambridge for eight years, and spent only three years as a priest before he died. He was a younger contemporary of Shakespeare, and lived at a time when the English language was expanding and developing its literary capacities, aided by the publication of the King James Version of the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.
Like most Anglicans of his day, Herbert sought to steer a middle course between the Roman Catholics and the Puritans. Perhaps he appealed to Vaughan Williams because were both men were creatively preoccupied with that age-old conflict between God and World, Flesh and Spirit, Soul and Senses.
Vaughan Williams wrote his ‘Five Mystical Songs’ for a baritone soloist, with several choices for accompaniment: piano only; piano and string quintet; TTBB chorus, a cappella; and orchestra with optional SATB chorus, the choice Vaughan Williams used at the premiere.
Like George Herbert’s simple verse, the songs are fairly direct, but have the same intrinsic spirituality as the original text. The first four songs are personal meditations in which the soloist takes a key role. They were supposed to be performed together, as a single work, but the styles of each vary quite significantly.
The first four songs are personal meditations in which the soloist takes a key role, particularly in this third song – ‘Love Bade Me Welcome’ – where the chorus has a wholly supporting role, quietly and wordlessly singing the plainsong melody O Sacrum Convivium.
This is part three of the poem ‘Love’ in George Herbert’s collection The Temple: Sacred Poems and Private Ejaculations (1633).
3, Love Bade Me Welcome
Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back.
Guiltie of dust and sinne.
But quick-ey’d Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack’d anything.
A guest, I answer’d, worthy to be here:
Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkinde, ungrateful? Ah, my deare,
I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
Who made the eyes but I?
Truth Lord, but I have marr’d them: let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, sayes Love, who bore the blame?
My deare, then I will serve.
You must sit down, sayes Love, and taste my meat:
So I did sit and eat.
who made Laurence a loving servant of your people
and a wise steward of the treasures of your Church:
fire us with his example to love as he loved
and to walk in the way that leads to eternal life;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
The Post Communion Prayer:
who gave us this holy meal
in which we have celebrated the glory of the cross
and the victory of your martyr Laurence:
by our communion with Christ
in his saving death and resurrection,
give us with all your saints the courage to conquer evil
and so to share the fruit of the tree of life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Wednesday 10 August 2022:
The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘International Youth Day.’ It was introduced on Sunday by Dorothy deGraft Johnson, a Law student from Ghana.
The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:
Let us pray for youth movements, such as the Young Christian Climate Network, who are challenging existing structures and offering hope for the future.
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