15 February 2012

‘Enlighten with faith’s light my heart, inflame it with love’s fire’

“And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory” (John 1: 14) … an icon of Christ as Minister of Word and Sacrament, seen in a shop window in Thessaloniki, on the cover of this evening’s order of service (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

This evening, I am presiding at the Community Eucharist this evening, and we are using Collect, Readings and Post-Communion Prayer of the Second Sunday before Lent.

The “Option A” readings, continuing the Creation theme, are: Proverbs 8: 1, 22-31; Psalm 104: 26-37; Colossians 1: 15-20; and John 1: 1-14. Those readings are reflected in the choice of hymns and in the illustrations on the cover of the service sheet.

For our processional hymn, we are singing the first three verses of Hymn 346:

Angel voices, ever singing,
round thy throne of light,
angel harps, for ever ringing,
rest not day nor night;
thousands only live to bless thee,
and confess thee,
Lord of might.

Yea, we know that thou rejoicest
o’er each work of thine;
thou didst ears and hands and voices
for thy praise design;
craftsman’s art and music’s measure
for thy pleasure
all combine.

In thy house, great God, we offer
of thine own to thee;
and for thine acceptance proffer,
all unworthily,
hearts and minds, and hands and voices,
in our choicest

This hymn was written in 1861 by Archdeacon Francis Pott for his friend, the Revd WJ Macrorie of Wingates, near Bolton, Lancashire – later Bishop of Maritzburg in South Africa. The setting is by the organist Dr Edwin G Monk, who was the first Precentor and Master of Music in Saint Columba’s College.

We return to the fourth verse of this popular hymn for our Gloria in Excelsis:

Honour, glory, might and merit,
thine shall ever be,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
blessed Trinity!
Of the best that thou hast given,
earth and heaven
render thee.

The Gradual is Hymn 427, ‘Let all mortal flesh keep silence,’ which has its roots in Orthodox spirituality and is based on prayers in the fourth century Liturgy of Saint James, one of the earliest liturgies in the Church.

The composer Ralph Vaughan Williams chose the tune ‘Picardy’ for this hymn when he was editing first edition of the English Hymnal in 1906. The words we sing this evening are:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
and with fear and trembling stand;
ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
as of old on earth he stood,
Lord of lords in human vesture –
in the body and the blood –
he will give to all the faithful
his own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
spreads its vanguard on the way,
as the Light of light descendeth
from the realms of endless day,
that the powers of hell may vanish
as the darkness clears away.

At his feet the six-winged seraph;
cherubim with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the Presence,
as with ceaseless voice they cry,
alleluia, alleluia,
alleluia, Lord most high.

The Offertory Hymn is Hymn 431, ‘Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour’:

Lord, enthroned in heavenly splendour,
first-begotten from the dead.
thou alone, our strong defender,
liftest up thy people’s head.
Alleluia, alleluia,
Jesus, true and living bread.

Here for faith’s discernment praying,
lest we fail to know thee now,
here our deepest homage paying,
we in loving reverence bow;
alleluia, alleluia,
thou art here, we ask not how.

Now though lowliest form doth veil thee
as of old in Bethlehem,
angels in thy mystery hail thee;
we in worship join with them.
Alleluia, alleluia,
branch and flower of Jesse’s stem.

Paschal Lamb, thine offering finished
once for all when thou wast slain,
in its fullness undiminished
shall for evermore remain,
alleluia, alleluia,
cleansing souls from every stain.

Life-imparting heavenly manna,
stricken rock with streaming side,
heaven and earth with one hosanna,
worship thee, the Lamb that died.
alleluia, alleluia,
risen, ascended, glorified!

How shall I sing that majesty ... Coe Fen in Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Post-Communion Hymn is Hymn 468, ‘How shall I sing that majesty.’

The hymn was written by John Mason, one of the earliest hymn writers in the Church of England. However, it is best known for its tune, Coe Fen, by Kenneth Naylor, when he was Music Master at The Leys School in Cambridge. It takes its name from Coe Fen, an open space on the west bank of the River Cam in Cambridge, and it has been described as “one of the outstanding hymn tunes of the 20th century.”

It is a pity that the third verse was omitted from the fifth edition of the Irish Church Hymnal, and I hope – when it is sung (eventually) at my funeral, that the full version is used.

The version we sing this evening [with the deleted verse in brackets] is:

How shall I sing that majesty
which angels do admire?
Let dust in dust and silence lie;
sing, sing, ye heavenly choir.
thousands of thousands stand around
thy throne, O God most high;
ten thousand times ten thousand sound
thy praise; but who am I?

Thy brightness unto them appears,
whilst I thy footsteps trace;
a sound of God comes to my ears,
but they behold thy face.
They sing because thou art their Sun;
Lord, send a beam on me;
for where heav’n is but once begun
there alleluias be.

[Enlighten with faith’s light my heart,
inflame it with love’s fire;
then shall I sing and bear a part
with that celestial choir.
I shall, I fear, be dark and cold,
with all my fire and light;
yet when thou dost accept their gold,
Lord, treasure up my mite.]

How great a being, Lord, is thine,
which doth all beings keep!
Thy knowledge is the only line
to sound so vast a deep.
Thou art a sea without a shore,
a sun without a sphere;
thy time is now and evermore,
thy place is everywhere.

The words of Collect of the Day are:

Almighty God,
you have created the heavens and the earth
and made us in your own image:
Teach us to discern your hand in all your works
and your likeness in all your children;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who with you and the Holy Spirit
reigns supreme over all things, now and for ever. Amen.

The words of the Post-Communion Prayer are:

God our creator,
by your gift the tree of life was set at the heart
of the earthly paradise,
and the Bread of life at the heart of your Church.
May we who have been nourished at your table on earth
be transformed by the glory of the Saviour’s Cross
and enjoy the delights of eternity;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it’ (John 1: 5) … John Piper’s East Window in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield

Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

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