03 June 2022

Father of compassion, who dwells
on high: remember … the pious,
the upright and the blameless

Patrick Comerford

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot or Shavuos (שָׁבוּעוֹת‎, ‘Weeks’) begins at sunset tomorrow evening (Saturday 4 June 2022), and ends at sundown on Monday (6 May 2022).

The Feast of Weeks is sometimes referred to as Pentecost (Πεντηκοστή) because of its timing 50 days after the first day of Passover. This year, it coincides with the Christian celebrations of Pentecost (Sunday 5 June 2022)

This Jewish holiday occurs on the sixth day of the Hebrew month of Sivan. In the Bible, Shavuot marks the wheat harvest in the Land of Israel (see Exodus 34: 22) and, according to the Jewish Sages, it also commemorates the anniversary of the giving of the Torah by God at Mount Sinai.

The word Shavuot means ‘weeks’ and it marks the conclusion of the seven-week Counting of the Omer, beginning on the second day of Passover and followed immediately by Shavuot. This counting of days and weeks is understood to express anticipation and desire for the giving of the Torah.

This evening (3 June 2022) is the beginning of the Shabbat before Shavuot, when the memorial prayer ‘Father of compassion’ (אב הרחמים‎, Av Harachamim) is said in many synagogues and congregations.

This poetic prayer was written in a time of profound grief, at the end of the 11th or in the early 12th century. It dates from the massacre of Jewish communities around the Rhine River in 1096 by Christian crusaders at the beginning of the First Crusade (1096-1099), one of the darkest moments in mediaeval Jewish history.

This prayer first appeared in siddurim or Jewish prayer books in 1290, and since then it has been printed in every Orthodox siddur in the European traditions of Sephardic and Ashkenazic prayers.

It has become the custom to say this prayer on two special moments in the Jewish year: the Shabbat before Shavuot, as the anniversary of the massacre of the Rhineland Jewish communities, and the Shabbat before Tishah B’Av, when the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem and the victims of later persecutions are mourned.

It has come to serve as a remembrance of other pogroms and tragedies, and for the victims of the Holocaust, so that it is now a prayer recalling all Jewish martyrs.

The prayer emphasises the merit of the martyrs who died and quotes several scriptural verses: Deuteronomy 32: 43; Joel 4: 21; Psalm 79: 10; Psalm 9: 13; Psalm 110: 6, 7. God is asked to remember the martyrs, to avenge them, and to save their offspring. The wording of the last part of the prayer, invoking Divine retribution on the persecutors, has undergone many changes.

On first reading or hearing this last part of the prayer, it sounds like a call to violence. But it is nothing of the sort. Like so many of the psalms, it turns to God in honesty and despair, and lays honest feelings before God. But as we pray, of course, we realise that God is the God of both peace and justice.

The prayer is recited after the Torah reading and before the scroll is returned to the Ark. Another short prayer of the same name, ‘May the Father of mercy have mercy upon a people that has been borne by him …’, is recited in Orthodox synagogues immediately before the reading from the Torah.

Father of compassion, who dwells on high:
may he remember in his compassion
the pious, the upright and the blameless –
holy communities who sacrificed their lives
for the sanctification of God’s name.

Lovely and pleasant in their lives,
in death they were not parted.

They were swifter than eagles and stronger than lions
to do the will of their Maker,
and the desire of their Creator.

O our God, remember them for good
with the other righteous of the world,
and may he exact retribution for the shed blood of his servants,
as it is written in the Torah of Moses, the man of God:

‘O nations, acclaim his people,
wreak vengeance on his foes,
and make clean his people’s land.’

And by your servants, the prophets, it is written:
‘I shall cleanse their which I have not yet cleansed,
says the Lord who dwells in Zion.’

And in the Holy Writings it says:
‘Why should the nations say: Where is their God?
Before our eyes, may those nations know
that you avenge the shed blood of your servants.’

And it also says:

‘For the Avenger of blood remembers them
and does not forget the cry of the afflicted.’

And it further says:

‘He will execute judgment among the nations,
heaping up the dead,
crushing the rulers far and wide.
From the brook by the wayside he will drink,
then he will hold his head high.’

Shabbat Shalom

Praying with the Psalms in Easter:
3 June 2022 (Psalm 100)

The Hebrew inscription at the entrance to the Stadttempel, Vienna’s main synagogue, reads: ‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise’ (Psalm 100: 4) (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Before this day begins, I am taking some time this morning to continue my reflections in this season of Easter, including my morning reflections drawing on the Psalms.

In my blog, I am reflecting each morning in this Prayer Diary in these ways:

1, Short reflections on a psalm or psalms;

2, reading the psalm or psalms;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

Psalm 100:

Psalm 100 is sometimes known by its Latin name Jubilate Deo, and is familiar by this name to many Anglicans as a Canticle. In the slightly different numbering system in the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, this psalm is counted as Psalm 99.

As the Canticle Jubilate Deo, Psalm 100 is one of the psalms said or sung as a Canticle at Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer.

Psalm 100 is a psalm of thanksgiving that invites all people on earth to joyfully worship God. It accompanied the korban todah, a thanksgiving offering (see Leviticus 7: 11) brought to express gratitude for coming safely through a hazardous situation such as recovering from illness, completing a potentially dangerous journey, or being released from captivity. In Jewish tradition today, the HaGomel blessing, which is said after surviving illness, childbirth or danger, is made instead of the korban todah sacrifice.

Both the Temple and royal palaces had gates and courts, and in this Psalm God is portrayed as the king, present in the Temple and reigning from there.

All are to acknowledge that the Lord God is our creator, that all of us belong to him and that he cares for us. He is ultimate goodness, and his love for us is ever-lasting, for all generations, including to those who went before us, and to those who follow us.

Psalm 100 first appeared as part of Jewish daily prayer in Yemenite and French prayer books in the Middle Ages.

In mediaeval times, Jubilate was the second of the fixed psalms at Lauds on Sundays and holy days, and it was also sung at Prime. Thomas Cranmer did not include it in the first Book of Common Prayer (1549), but it was introduced in the 1552 Book of Common Prayer as an alternative to Benedictus. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer specifies that it should be used when Benedictus is ‘read in the Chapter for the Day, or for the Gospel on St John Baptist’s Day.’

This psalm is one of the fixed psalms and canticles in the older Anglican liturgy for the office of Lauds on Sundays, and as a part of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer as the canticle with the title Jubilate Deo.

It has been set to music by many composers, including Benjamin Britten, John Gardner, Herbert Howells, John Ireland, Henry Purcell, Richard Purvis, Charles Villiers Stanford, George Dyson, Kenneth Leighton, William Walton, Ralph Vaughan Williams and John Rutter.

Vaughan Williams wrote his triumphant setting for Psalm 100 in 1953 for SATB, congregation and full orchestra, organ with brass fanfare, and it was first performed on 2 June 1953 in Westminster Abbey at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. The order of service that day directed just before the Holy Communion:

‘The organ shall play and the people with one voice sing this hymn: The Old Hundredth Psalm Tune. Text by W. Kethe (Daye’s Psalter, 1560-1), arrangement for choir, orchestra and organ by R Vaughan Williams.’ It was the first time at a coronation service that the congregation was permitted to join in the singing of a hymn.

Vaughan Williams’s arrangement of ‘The Old Hundredth’ was sung five years later in Westminster Abbey at his own funeral, with the Abbey Choir, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult. His ashes are buried in the Musicians’ Aisle with his wife Ursula.

This setting by Vaughan Williams was sung again at a National Service of Thanksgiving to celebrate Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee in Saint Paul’s Cathedral on 5 June 2012.

Ever since the coronation in 1953, the stirring grandeur of Vaughan Williams’s setting of ‘The Old Hundredth’ has been a familiar component of many large-scale state and national occasions. It was originally scored for Full Orchestra, Organ, Choir and Fanfare Trumpets, with Vaughan Williams setting the fanfares for “all available trumpets,” which ring out to introduce the first and last verses. It is without doubt the most thrilling setting of this much-loved hymn.

‘The Old Hundredth’ is a hymn tune in Long Metre from Pseaumes Octante Trois de David (1551), the second edition of the Genevan Psalter and is one of the best known melodies in the musical traditions of the Church. The tune is usually attributed to the French composer Loys Bourgeois (ca 1510-ca 1560).

Although the tune was first associated with Psalm 134 in the Genevan Psalter, the melody receives its current name from an association with the version of Psalm 100 translated by the puritan William Kethe as ‘All People that on Earth do Dwell.’

Kethe was a Scottish evangelical polemicist and satirist who went into self-imposed exile in the reign of Mary Tudor. Initially, Kethe was based in Frankfurt am Main. But his extreme Calvinism led him to be received into John Knox’s congregation in Geneva on 5 November 1556.

Kethe’s literary talents came to the fore in the 25 metrical Psalm settings he contributed to the 1561 Forme and Prayers and Ministration of the Sacraments approved by J[ohn] Calvyn. This version of Psalm 100 is the most famous, and was set to a pre-existing tune by Bourgeois.

The Genevan Psalter was compiled over a number of years in response to Calvin’s teaching that communal singing of psalms in the vernacular language is a foundational aspect of church life. This contrasted with the prevailing Catholic practice at the time in which sacred texts were chanted in Latin by the clergy only.

Calvinist musicians, including Bourgeois, supplied many new melodies and adapted others from sources both sacred and secular. The final version of the psalter was completed in 1562. Calvin intended the melodies to be sung in plainsong during church services, but harmonised versions were provided for singing at home.

Vaughan William’s arrangement incorporates the harmonisation of the tune by John Dowland (1563-1626) from Thomas Ravnescroft’s Psalter (1621).

‘Enter his gates with thanksgiving’ (Psalm 100: 4) … a farm gate at Cross in Hands Lane, on the edges of Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Psalm 100 (NRSVA):

A Psalm of thanksgiving

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2 Worship the Lord with gladness;
come into his presence with singing.

3 Know that the Lord is God.
It is he that made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise.
Give thanks to him, bless his name.

5 For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures for ever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

Today’s Prayer:

The theme in this week’s prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is ‘Global Day of Parents.’

The USPG Prayer Diary this morning (3 June 2022) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for the children and young adults who have grown up during the Covid-19 pandemic. May we help them to navigate this uncertain and difficult time.

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