This Sunday, the choir will commence our Advent observation with a choral prelude just before the processional hymn. “Come down ye heavens from above” is a setting of portions of Rorate caeli. This text its sometimes called the “Advent Prose,” and is often sung in masses during Advent. Composer Judith Weir (b. 1954) has taken the plainchant tune for this ancient song of the Church and embellished it for a cappella choir.
Our processional hymn is Charles Wesley’s “Come, thou long-expected Jesus,” and our sequence hymn during Advent is “Creator of the stars of night.”
Our sermon hymn, “O Word, that goest forth on high,” is sometimes attributed to Thomas Aquinas, but it appears in manuscripts from the 9th or 10th centuries. It may have influenced Aquinas’s composition of the hymn we often sing at communion, “O saving Victim, opening wide” (#209) The tune to which we sing this hymn, REX GLORIOSE, is from a collection of hymns published in 1608 by the Guild of St. Cecilia at Andernach (now in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate). The tune was originally published with the text of a Latin hymn for use as an office hymn in Roman Catholic churches. The musical style of the tune was deliberately in the style of the Lutheran chorales then so popular among German (and other) Protestants (if you can’t beat ’em, imitate ’em).
The closing hymn for today is “Go, labor on,” a text written by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). There are four other hymns in our Hymnal by Bonar, and we sing each of them relatively frequently: “This is the hour of banquet and of song” (#206), “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face” (#208), “I heard the voice of Jesus say” (#424), and “O love that casts out fear” (#457). Born in Edinburgh, Bonar’s family had been well represented as clergy in the Church of Scotland for over 200 years. He was licensed to preach in that Kirk, but later joined the Free Church of Scotland. His poetry suggests a temperament and a piety closer to that of George MacDonald than of John Knox.
The choir’s offertory anthem is by another devout Scot, this one currently recognized internationally as one of the greatest living composers of choral music. Sir James MacMillan composed “O Radiant Dawn” in 2007 and dedicated it to the choir of St. Columba’s Church in Glasgow, where he worked as music director for a number of years. The text is from the Antiphon for December 21:
O Radiant Dawn, Splendor of eternal Light, Sun of Justice: come, shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
Isaiah had prophesied, ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone.’
O Radiant Dawn . . . Amen.
You can read more about James MacMillan’s music (including his connection with Pope Benedict XVI) in “Echoes of Glory.”
The communion motet for this Sunday is Thomas Tallis’s setting of O sacrum convivium. (My spell-checker consistently tries to change that last word to “convivial,” which is not entirely inappropriate, given the hospitality and joy present at our Lord’s table.)
A final note: During Advent, at the 10:30 service, we will sing a different setting of the Ordinary of the Mass. For the Kyrie, Sanctus/Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, we will sing the Fourth Communion Service (Hymnal #719, 798, & 723). For the Gloria, we will sing the setting at #739, designated “Old Scottish Chant.”