shepherd sounds: Sunday Music: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Sunday Music: Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost

26 September 2010

Much of Sunday’s music focuses upon the connections between this world and that other world of which we occasionally catch glimpses, and the full knowledge of which – the truly abundant life, rather than the accumulation of material abundance – is our hope.

Sunday’s Introit hymn is a fine English version by Percy Dearmer of a tenth-century Matins hymn, ‘Nocte surgentes vigilemus omnes’, set to a seventeenth-century French church melody. This translation, paired with this tune and this harmonization by Ralph Vaughan Williams, first appeared in the seminal English Hymnal of 1906, of which Dearmer and Vaughan Williams were the editors. It contains elements both of praise and of petition that we might come to share in the joys of heaven.

The anthem sung at the Offertory is taken from the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré. This anthem, sung after the Mass for the Dead as the coffin is being carried to the churchyard for burial, refers to the Lazarus of Sunday’s Gospel, the poor man who lay at the gate of the rich man but who ends up in heaven: ‘...and with Lazarus, who once was poor, may you have everlasting rest’. (An English translation of this text with its proper plainsong melody is found at Hymn 354.) Though the rest of the text speaks of choirs of angels welcoming the deceased into paradise, Lazarus reminds us that our riches cannot save us – a good thing to remember when meditating upon our mortality, or at any other time, for that matter.

The second Communion hymn, ‘Fight the good fight’, quotes Sunday’s Epistle and reminds us that Christ, not wealth, is the Way and the goal – that the life we so desperately desire is found in him.

The Postcommunion hymn, ‘Ye holy angels bright’, looks toward Wednesday and the Feast of St Michael and All Angels (Michaelmas). It calls upon not only the holy angels, but the blessed souls at rest, the saints who still ‘toil below’, and the singer’s own soul – no matter what this life may bring – to join in the everlasting song of praise to God.

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