25 August 2022

Praying with USPG and the music of
Vaughan Williams: Thursday 25 August 2022

‘God, that madest earth and heaven, / Darkness and light; / Who the day for toil hast given, / For rest the night …’ darkness descends on the River Thames and London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Before today gets busy, I am taking some time this morning for reading, 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.’

‘For the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’ (Matthew 24: 44) … darkness envelops Saint Mark’s Basilica in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Gospel reading in the Lectionary of the Church of Ireland today is:

Matthew 24: 42-51 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 42 ‘Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

45 ‘Who then is the faithful and wise slave, whom his master has put in charge of his household, to give the other slaves their allowance of food at the proper time? 46 Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. 47 Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. 48 But if that wicked slave says to himself, “My master is delayed”, 49 and he begins to beat his fellow-slaves, and eats and drinks with drunkards, 50 the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know. 51 He will cut him in pieces and put him with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Today’s reflection: ‘God that madest earth and heaven’ (‘Ar Hyd Y Nos’)

For the last thee mornings this week [Monday to Wednesday], I was listening to his Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes. These three organ solos are based on Welsh tunes that Vaughan Williams had already arranged for hymns in the English Hymnal, which he edited with Canon Percy Dearmer.

Vaughan Williams’s father, the Revd Arthur Vaughan Williams, came from a family of Welsh origins that had distinguished itself in the law. And so, this morning [25 August 2022], I continue this Welsh theme, listening to the hymn ‘God that madest earth and heaven,’ which Vaughan Williams arranged for the English Hymnal (1906) to ‘Ar Hyd Y Nos,’ a Welsh melody, dating from about 1784.

‘Ar Hyd y Nos’ is a Welsh folksong sung to a tune that was first published in Edward Jones’s Musical and Poetical Relics of the Welsh Bards (1784). The metre is 84 84 88 84.

The Welsh lyrics were written by John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887), and the song is highly popular with traditional Welsh male voice choirs, and is sung at festivals throughout Wales.

It has been translated into several languages, including English, and is best known as a children’s lullaby in English by its second line translating the Welsh title, ‘All Through the Night.’

The tune is often used for other hymns such as ‘Go My Children With My Blessing,’ and Fred Pratt Green’s ‘For the Fruit of All Creation.’

The hymn ‘God that madest earth and heaven,’ which Vaughan Williams set to ‘Ar Hyd Y Nos’ in the English Hymnal (1906) (No 268), is a composite two-stanza hymn, in which Stanza 1 was written in 1827 by Bishop Reginald Heber (1783-1826) and Stanza 2 in 1838 by Archbishop Richard Whately (1787-1863).

Reginald Heber was Bampton Lecturer in Oxford and Rector of Saint Luke’s, Hodnet, in north Shropshire and the Diocese of Lichfield, before becoming Bishop of Shropshire. While Heber was Rector of Hodnet, tradition says, he was staying one night in a Welsh house when he heard a blind harper playing this melody, and he was so taken by it he immediately wrote the first stanza.

The second stanza is a free translation by Richard Whately of the prayer Salva nos, Domine from the office of Compline in The Book of Common Prayer: ‘Preserve us, O Lord, while waking, and guard us while sleeping, that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep we may rest in peace.’

Richard Whately was Archbishop of Dublin from 1831 to 1863. He was born in London, and educated at Oriel College, Oxford. He was the Bampton Lecturer in Oxford (1822) and Principal of Saint Alban’s Hall, Oxford (1825), before becoming Archbishop of Dublin in 1831.

In 1860, he published his Lectures on Prayer, which included several translations of German hymns by his eldest daughter, Emma Jane Whately. His youngest daughter, Blanche, was also a hymn writer. He died in Dublin on 8 October 1863.

The two stanzas were brought together in their present form in 1838. The hymn is included in the New English Hymnal (No 245), and in a slightly amended version with a harmonisation by Dr George Hewson in the Irish Church Hymnal (No 67).

God, that madest earth and heaven (NEH 247):

God, that madest earth and heaven,
Darkness and light;
Who the day for toil hast given,
For rest the night;
May thine angel guards defend us,
Slumber sweet thy mercy send us,
Holy dreams and hopes attend us,
This livelong night.

Guard us waking, guard us sleeping;
And, when we die,
May we in thy mighty keeping
All peaceful lie:
When the last dread call shall wake us,
Do not thou, our God, forsake us,
But to reign in glory take us
With thee on high.

‘Holy dreams and hopes attend us, / This livelong night’ … night-time at the end of a working day in a restaurant in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayer, Thursday 25 August 2022:

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘The Pursuit of Justice.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by Javanie Byfield and Robert Green, ordinands at the United Theological College of the West Indies.

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

Let us pray for the Church in the Province of the West Indies. Bless them in all they do as they serve communities across the Caribbean.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

No comments: