09 April 2014

A note on three hymns for Passiontide

The Raising of Lazarus, by John August Swanson

Patrick Comerford

I am presiding at the Community Eucharist in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute this evening [9 April 2014]. We are using the Readings, Collects and Post-Communion Prayer for Sunday last, the Fifth Sunday in Lent, which is also known as Passion Sunday.

In the Penitential Kyries for Passiontide and Holy Week, we pray:

Lord God,
you sent your Son to reconcile us to yourself and to one another.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus,
you heal the wounds of sin and division.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
through you we put to death the sins of the body – and live.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Readings are: Ezekiel 37: 1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8: 6-11; John 11: 1-45.

The Hymns this evening are:

Gradual Hymn: 569, ‘Hark my soul, it is the Lord’:

This hymn is by the poet William Cowper (1730-1800). His simple life was tragic, and he suffered recurring bouts of depression that were diagnosed as madness. While he was studying for the Bar and was articled to a solicitor, he fell in love with his cousin, Theodora Cowper, and wrote love poems to her. But the marriage was forbidden fits of melancholy, which he had suffered in his schooldays, began to increase.

After his call to the Bar, he was nominated to the Clerkship of the Journals of the House of Lords, but filled with dread and attempted suicide three times. Later he was offered guidance by John Newton but a year after his brother’s death, his bouts of depression returned and he attempted suicide yet again.

John Newton patiently cared for him and he returned to writing poetry. His great poems show no trace of his illnesses and are full of healthy piety. His best hymns survive because they were selected for The Book of Praise by Lord Selborne, including ‘Hark my soul, it is the Lord,’ which we are singing this evening, and ‘Oh, for a closer walk with God.’

‘Hark my soul, it is the Lord’ was first published in 1768, and again in1771. It rapidly attained great popularity with hymn-book compilers. It shows great tenderness and beauty, and is counted as one of Cowper’s best hymns. It has been translated into several languages, including Italian – Senti, senti, anima mea – by William Ewart Gladstone in 1883.

Offertory Hymn: 653, Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom:

The words of this hymn were written in 1833 by John Henry Newman (1801-1890) as a poem, ‘The Pillar of Cloud.’ Some hymnals, but not the Irish Church Hymnal, include a fourth verse added by Edward Bickersteth, Bishop of Exeter.

We are singing this hymn to the tune Lux Benigna, composed by John Bacchus Dykes in 1865.

As a young priest, Newman became sick while in Italy and was unable to travel for almost three weeks. In his own words:

“Before starting from my inn, I sat down on my bed and began to sob bitterly. My servant, who had acted as my nurse, asked what ailed me. I could only answer, ‘I have a work to do in England.’ I was aching to get home, yet for want of a vessel I was kept at Palermo for three weeks. I began to visit the churches, and they calmed my impatience, though I did not attend any services. At last I got off in an orange boat, bound for Marseilles. We were becalmed for whole week in the Straits of Bonifacio, and it was there that I wrote the lines, ‘Lead, Kindly Light,’ which have since become so well known.”

The hymn is said to have been the favourite hymn of Gandhi.

Post Communion Hymn: 62, Abide with me:

This hymn was written in 1847 by the Revd Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847), a former curate of Taghmon, Co Wexford. He wrote the hymn in 1847 while he was dying from tuberculosis, and died three weeks later. The tune ‘Eventide’ was composed by William Henry Monk.


Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

Now in union with Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near through the shedding of Christ's blood; for he is our peace. – (Ephesians 2: 17)


Through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
who, for the redemption of the world,
humbled himself to death on the cross;
that, being lifted up from the earth,
he might draw all people to himself:

Post Communion Prayer:

God of hope,
in this Eucharist we have tasted
the promise of your heavenly banquet
and the richness of eternal life.
May we who bear witness to the death of your Son,
also proclaim the glory of his resurrection,
for he is Lord for ever and ever.


Christ draw you to himself and grant that you find in his cross a sure ground for faith,
a firm support for hope,
and the assurance of sins forgiven:

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