• Service music

    First Sunday after Trinity (June 23, 2019)

    Which came first, the text or the music? With hymns, texts are often written first, then tunes selected because they capture the spirit of the text. But sometimes, the text of a hymn is written with a very specific tune in mind. Our Processional hymn — “All praise to thee, for thou, O King divine” — is a case in point, but as it happens, we are not singing the tune that the poet had in mind when he wrote these stanzas. The story of text and tune in this case is complex. Born in Norfolk and a graduate of the University of Virginia (1914), F. Bland Tucker (1895-1984) was…

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    Trinity Sunday (June 16, 2019)

    In the 1662 edition of the Book of Common Prayer, priests are instructed to substitute the Athanasian Creed for the Apostles Creed within the Morning Prayer liturgy on certain feast days. Trinity Sunday was one of those days. Given the fact that over half of the text is devoted to combatting heresies concerning the Trinity, its use on this day is most fitting. Here is the first section of that Creed: Whosoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the catholic faith. Which faith unless every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is this: that…

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    Pentecost, commonly called Whitsunday (June 9, 2019)

    The “pente-” in Pentecost refers to the 50 days since Easter. The “whit-” comes from the white garments worn by those baptized during vigil on the night before this feast day. The celebration of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost has a particular relevance during times of heightened social division. At Pentecost, we learn that the often violent fragmentation of the human race (evident in the diversity of languages present when the mighty wind and tongues of fire suddenly appeared) can only be healed by God’s power. Peter Leithart has observed that secular programs and strategies to combat tribalism are destined to fail; the division of Babel and…

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    Sunday after Ascension (June 2, 2019)

    Our opening hymn is one of the most popular Ascension hymns in the English language: Charles Wesley’s “Hail the day that sees him rise.” Wesley’s original poem (first published in 1739) contained ten stanzas (we sing four of these). The hymn affirms Christ’s kingly rule (he is seated at the right hand of the Father to rule, not to relax), his continued full humanity (his human hands still bear the scars of his crucifixion), and our destiny to behold him face to face. Wesley’s grasp of all that is conveyed in the reality of the Ascension is so rich, I’ve copied all ten stanzas here: Hail the day that sees…

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    Fifth Sunday after Easter (Rogation Sunday) May 24, 2019

    The Gospel for this Sunday continues our engagement with the Farewell Discourse, Jesus’ instruction to the disciples in the Upper Room on the night he was betrayed. The reading this week again alludes to the Ascension (which we celebrate on Thursday), but at the beginning of the reading, the theme is asking. “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” In Latin, the verb “to ask” is rogare, which is why this Sunday is known as Rogation Sunday. Our…

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    Fourth Sunday after Easter (May 19, 2019)

    The Propers and Gospel for this Sunday situate us between Easter and the Ascension/Pentecost events that we will celebrate soon. The Introit — with its phrases from Psalm 98 — celebrates the salvation-victory of God, a victory made certain by the Resurrection: O sing unto the Lord a new song, alleluia: for the Lord hath done marvelous things, alleluia: in the sight of the nation hath he shewed his righteous judgments, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia. With his own right hand and with his holy arm: hath he gotten himself the victory. Derek Kidner points out that the term translated “marvelous things” stresses the supernatural aspect of God’s victory; the term is “more…

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    “Ye now therefore have sorrow” — Music from Bach for the third Sunday after Easter

    The third Sunday after Easter is traditionally known as “Jubilate Sunday,” because the Introit — from Psalm 66 — begins with the words Jubilate Deo, “Be joyful in God.” Joy also shows up in the Gospel reading for this day from St. John 16, part of the “farewell discourse” of Jesus, his rich and enigmatic description of (among many other things) his coming departure from the disciples. In verse 20, Jesus says to them “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy.” Johann Sebastian Bach wrote three cantatas…

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    Third Sunday after Easter (May 12, 2019)

    This Sunday is known as “Jubilate Sunday,” because the first word in the Introit (when sung in Latin) is Jubilate, “Be joyful.” (By the way, if you’re explaining this to your kids, remember that the initial “J” in the word is silent.) In English, the first phrase of the Introit (from Psalm 66) is: “O be joyful in God, all ye lands, alleluia: sing praises unto the honor of his Name, alleluia: make his praise to be glorious, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” The persistent presence of alleluias reminds us that we are still in Eastertide. Our opening hymn is also replete with Paschal alleluias. “Alleluia! Alleluia! Hearts and voices” was written…

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    Second Sunday after Easter (May 5, 2019)

    On every Sunday between Easter and Ascension Day, the Psalm texts chosen for use in the Introit (and often on other propers) refer to singing God’s praises. Last week the Introit enjoined us: “Sing we merrily unto God our helper!” Next week: “Sing praises unto the honor of his name!” The following week: “O sing unto the Lord a new song!” On the fifth Sunday after Easter: “With a voice of singing declare ye this and let it be heard . . .” And on Ascension Day: “O sing unto God with the voice of melody.” Today’s Introit is not quite as explicit as those others, but we are enjoined to…

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    First Sunday after Easter “Low Sunday” (April 28, 2019)

    The first Sunday after Easter has many “aliases.” Within the Anglican Communion, this day is traditionally called Low Sunday; the origins of that name are at best obscure. It is often suggested that the name suggests the inferiority of this Sunday to the Great Sunday that we celebrated last week, the Sunday our Prayerbook designates “Easter Day.” The term “Octave of Easter” is used to designate the eight-day period that starts on Easter Sunday, so the “Octave Day of Easter” can also be used to name Easter’s eighth day. Among Eastern Christians, it is sometimes called St. Thomas Sunday, with reference to the appearance of Jesus to his doubting —…