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    Septuagesima (February 9, 2020)

    Ash Wednesday is coming up in two-and-a-half weeks, marking the beginning of Lent. The 40-day season before Easter is still sometimes referred to with the Latin word for “the fortieth part”: Quadragesima. Septuagesima Sunday is not — despite the literal meaning referring to 70 — exactly 70 days before Easter. Rather, it marks the 63rd day before Easter and thus falls within the 7th (septimus) decade or 10-day period, the range from the 61st to the 70th day before Easter. The idea of being steadfast in the faith is strongly emphasized in today’s Epistle reading from I Corinthians 9, in which we are enjoined to run the race of faith…

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    Fourth Sunday in Epiphany & Candlemas (February 2, 2020)

    Today will be perceived by many as Superbowl Sunday, or Groundhog Day. What a tragic diminution of experience. For the Church it is the last Sunday during the Epiphany season before the three pre-Lenten “Gesima” Sundays. And it is the feast day variously known as The Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, and Candlemas. The first of these designations is the most ancient, dating back to the early fourth century, making it one of the most ancient of Christian holidays. The more explicitly Christocentric name became more popular after the Reformation. And the least common term for February 2 — Candlemas — recognizes…

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    Third Sunday after Epiphany (January 26, 2020)

    The author of today’s Processional hymn was identified simply as “K” when “How firm a foundation” was first published in 1787. The text’s remarkable popularity may account for the large number of tunes associated with it. In every previous edition of our Hymnal, a different tune was used. The tune appointed in this edition is LYONS, although in the Supplemental Tunes section in the back of the Hymnal, the more primitive and familiar FOUNDATION is available. This Sunday, we’ll sing this confident and reassuring text to the sturdy tune named LYONS. While the Hymnal states that it is based on a work by J. Michael Haydn, more recent research argues…

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    Second Sunday after Epiphany (January 19, 2020)

    The text to our Processional hymn — “God himself is with us” — is by the German preacher and poet Gerhardt Tersteegen (1697-1769). The theme of the presence of God was prominent in his writing. Consider: The secret of God’s presence is actually believed by very few, but are you aware, that if each one truly believed it, the whole world would at once be filled with the saints, and the earth would be truly Paradise? If men really believed it as they should, they would need nothing more to induce them to give themselves up, heart and soul, to this loving God. But now it is hid from their…

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    First Sunday after Epiphany (January 12, 2020)

    This past Monday was the Feast of the Epiphany. Our Prayerbook reminds is that the holiday commemorates “The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles.” The birth of Israel’s Savior was never understood as an event significant only to the Jews. This “King of the Jews” feared by Herod was also the King of Kings, and thus a greater threat than he imagined. Our Processional hymn — “Earth has many a noble city” — makes explicit the fact that Jesus was, with the coming of the Magi to Bethlehem, worshipped by Gentiles. The tune to which the text of our hymn is set — STUTTGART — will remind us of the first…

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    Second Sunday after Christmas (January 5, 2020)

    Today is the last day of Christmas, and the readings, hymns, and the choir’s music all serve to recap what we’ve been meditating on since Christmas Eve, and anticipate what is affirmed with the season of Epiphany. Today’s Introit, from the Book of Wisdom, uses vivid imagery to recount the cosmic context of the birth of Jesus: While all things were in quiet silence, and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty Word, O Lord, leaped down from heaven out of thy royal throne. The swift course of night was decisively interrupted by the coming of the true Light into the world, as is affirmed in…

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    Sunday after Christmas (December 29, 2019)

    Our opening hymn — “While shepherds watched their flocks by night” — has in our Hymnal two options for tunes, WINCHESTER OLD and CAROL. As it happens, there are hundreds of tunes to which these words have been sung. One reason for this proliferation of melodies is the fact that for most of the eighteenth century, this was the only Christmas hymn approved for singing in the Church of England, a story which you can read more about here. And on this page, you can sample some of the other tunes to which this popular Christmas hymn has been sung. The text first appeared in the supplement to the New…

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    Christmas Eve
    (December 24, 2019)

    For many years, our Processional hymn on Christmas Eve has been “O come all ye faithful.” During Advent, we have been invoking our Lord to come, and now, as we celebrate his birth we invoke his people to come to worship him.  This hymn is so deeply embedded in the lives of many of us that we probably fail to notice some of its formal elements. The Psalter Hymnal Handbook makes this observation: “The text has two unusual features for such a popular hymn: it is unrhymed and has an irregular meter.” The authorship of the text (originally in Latin) was long debated but most scholars believe it was the…

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    “O Antiphons,” VII
    Arvo Pärt
    O Immanuel

    The final O Antiphon in this week before Christmas is O Emmanuel. In invoking the name which affirms “God with us,” the text summarizes the character of the salvation that comes with that divine presence: O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:the hope of the nations and their Saviour:veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.Come and save us, O Lord our God. Arvo Pärt’s setting of this final antiphon is the longest of the seven movements, as it repeats the text three times. The first statement of the texts is a long ascending sequence of chords that builds a sense of…

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    Fourth Sunday in Advent
    (December 22, 2019)

    The Gospel reading for this Sunday is the account in St. John’s Gospel of the encounter between John the Baptist and the priests and Levites from Jerusalem. Rather than asking him what his goals are, they ask him who he is. “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” Our processional hymn — “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” — was written in Latin by the French priest and educator Charles Coffin (1676-1749). For a time rector of the University of Paris, Coffin wrote about 100 Latin hymns, in addition to a large amount of Latin poetry. The Hymnal 1940 Companion…