22 May 2011

A note on this morning’s hymns

Patrick Comerford

Our End-of-Year Eucharist this morning marks the end of an acdemic year, and also the end of the NSM (Non-Stipendiary Ministry) course at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. We had the presentation of certificates and diplomas at in the chapel last night.

This morning’s Lectionary readings at the Eucharist are: Acts 7: 55-60, Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16, I Peter 2: 2-10, and John 14: 1-14. I am presiding at the Eucharist and the preacher is my colleague, the Revd Patrick McGlinchey.

The booklet for this morning's Eucharist includes the following on page 2:

A note on this morning’s hymns

Our processional hymn, Come, learn of God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Light, was written by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith. Born in 1926, and educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, this English hymn-writer has been Archdeacon of Norwich (1973-1981) and Bishop of Thetford (1981-1991). He has been President of the Evangelical Alliance. He has written over 300 hymns, many of them well-known hymns, including Tell out my soul, and is the author of a biography of John Stott.

The setting for this morning’s hymn was written by John Crothers and was specially named Braemor Park as a tribute to the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott.

The setting for our Gradual, Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life (610), is The Call by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), one of the greatest English composers of the last century and the musical editor of The English Hymnal, which he co-edited with Percy Dearmer. The words are from The Call, a poem by George Herbert (1593-1633), published in a posthumous collection, The Temple, in 1633. The Call is essentially a meditation on Christ’s words in this morning’s Gospel reading: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14: 6). Herbert adds additional allusions and offers real food for thought in the way he develops his theme. Because of the structure of each of the three stanzas, this poem is often described as “a trinity of trinities.”

Herbert was an MP and a courtier before he was ordained in 1630. As Rector of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton St Andrew in Wiltshire, Herbert was unfailing in his care for his parishioners, bringing the Sacrament to those who were ill and food and clothing to those in need. There he also began writing poetry, and shortly before he died he sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding, who later arranged its publication in Cambridge in 1633. Other hymns from The Temple in the Church Hymnal include King of glory, King of peace (358) and Let all the world in every corner sing (360).

Like Herbert, Vaughan Williams studied at Trinity College Cambridge. He retained the title The Call for his setting for this hymn, which was first published as the fourth of his Five Mystical Songs in 1911. However, the harmonisations of this morning’s hymn version are not identical to the original by Vaughan Williams – instead, the version in the Church Hymnal combines the first half of the version in BBC Songs of Praise (1997) with the second half from the Cambridge Hymnal (1967).

The words and music of our Offertory hymn, I am the bread of life (420), were written in 1966 by Sister Suzanne Toolan, who has taught music in schools and seminaries and has been the director of a spirituality centre. The words draw on Saint John’s Gospel (6: 35-59 and 11: 25-27). The hymn was popularised in Europe in the early 1970s by the Fisherfolk, who visited Ireland in 1973.

Our final hymn, Sent forth by God’s blessing (443), by Omer Westendorf (1916-1997), was written in 1964 in response to the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II, and came to Europe through its popularity among American Lutherans. The tune is a familiar Welsh traditional melody, the Ash Grove (Llwyn Onn), first published in 1802 and arranged by Gerald Hocken Knight (1908-1979), organist of Canterbury Cathedral and Director of the Royal School of Church Music.

Patrick Comerford

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

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