Service music

Quinquagesima (March 3, 2019)

Love is a prominent theme in the prayers, readings, and songs for this Sunday. In our opening hymn, “My God, I love thee,” we reflect on the affirmation in I John 4:19, that we love God because he first loved us. As our hymn declares: “Not with the hope of gaining aught, nor seeking a reward, but as thyself hast loved me, O ever-loving Lord!”

The Collect for the day is a prayer that we might be made more loving:

O Lord, who hast taught us that all our doings without charity are nothing worth; Send thy Holy Ghost, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whosoever liveth is counted dead before thee. Grant this for thine only Son Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

This prayer anticipates the Epistle reading for today, which is I Corinthians 13.

In today’s reading from St. Luke’s Gospel, Jesus and his disciples are heading to Jerusalem for his final week before confronting death. The passage juxtaposes sayings from Jesus about his Passion and Resurrection with the story of the merciful healing of a blind man. In recounting the evidence for Christ’s love for us, our opening hymn explicitly references the sufferings of Jesus:

Thou didst all mankind upon the cross embrace;
for us didst bear the nails and spear, and manifold disgrace;
and griefs and torments numberless, and sweat of agony;
e’en death itself, and all for man, who was thine enemy.

The Sermon hymn today — “Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost” — was written by Christopher Wordsworth explicitly intended for singing on Quinquagesima, in light of the reading of I Corinthians 13. Wordsworth — a priest and bishop as well as a nephew of poet William Wordsworth — wrote a large collection of hymns with the Prayerbook’s readings and collects in mind.

The Offertory anthem sung by the choir is a setting of Ubi caritas, an antiphon long used during the foot-washing rite practiced on Maundy Thursday.

Where charity and love are, God is there.
Christ’s love has gathered us into one.
Let us rejoice and be pleased in Him.
Let us fear, and let us love the living God.
And may we love each other with a sincere heart.
Where charity and love are, God is there.

The setting of this text this Sunday is by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), who based his short piece on the traditional Gregorian chant melody associated with this text. (For more about Duruflé’s music, read “The sound of perpetual light.”)

Our Communion motet is another piece by Duruflé based on a Gregorian melody, a setting of Tantum ergo, the last two stanzas of a eucharistic poem by Thomas Aquinas. The congregation often sings this text in English in hymn #200 in our Hymnal. We always sing this hymn in tandem with the first four stanzas of Aquinas’s poem, which are contained in hymn #199. The melody to which we sing this latter hymn is present in Duruflé’s setting of Tantum ergo. Both the soprano line and the tenor line are slight variations of this melody.

Love is a theme also present in our two communion hymns this Sunday: “Jesus, thou Joy of loving hearts” and “The King of love my shepherd is.” You may read more about each of these (and all of the hymns sung this week) by clicking on the pages linked to the hymn titles.

Our closing hymn — “O Lord and Master of us all” — presents six stanzas from a 132-line poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. Love is a central theme in the poem (called “Our Master”), though it is not as prominent in the excerpts used in our hymn. One of the stanzas we don’t sing declares:

Alone, O Love ineffable!
Thy saving name is given;
To turn aside from Thee is hell,
To walk with Thee is heaven!

Lent begins this Wednesday; those last two lines from Whittier seem a fitting seasonal reminder.