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Palm Sunday (April 14, 2019)

In singing the text to our processional hymn — “All glory, laud, and honor” — we re-enact the honoring of the Son of David that accompanied Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. But we do so with an awareness of the drama of the week that was to come — an awareness of an agonizing death followed by the triumphant death of death at the Resurrection. The text to this hymn dates to the ninth century; you may read more about the text and the tune here.

The Introit for Palm Sunday is from Psalm 22:

O Lord, remove not thy succour afar from me; have respect to my defense, and hear me:deliver me from the mouth of the lion; yea from the horns of the unicorns hast thou regarded my cry. My God, my God, look upon me: why hast thou forsaken me: and art so far from my health, and from the words of my complaint?

The Hebrew word translated here (and in many early English translations) as “unicorns” is rendered in more modern translations as “wild oxen.”

Our sequence hymn — “The royal banners forward go” — is thought to have been written by Venantius Honorius Fortunatus for the occasion on November 19, 569, when the relics of the True Cross were received in the monastery at Poitiers. Fortunatus was a contemporary of St. Gregory the Great and the great Latin poet of his day. Since the tenth century, this hymn has been the Vesper office hymn (the first hymn sung at Vespers) from Passion Sunday until the Wednesday of Holy Week. The tune is from the ancient Sarum Rite (the form of the liturgy used at Salisbury), and is probably as old as the text.

Our Sermon hymn — “Lord, for ever at thy side” — is by the prolific poet and hymn-writer James Montgomery (1771-1854), and is based on Psalm 131. The tune is by the Elizabethan composer Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625), as are 5 other hymns in our Hymnal.

The Offertory anthem — Improperium expectavit cor meum — employs the same text from Psalm 69  that is sung as the Offertory proper for this Sunday. The music is by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). Palestrina’s setting has a quality of sweetness and poignancy that captures the mixture of emotions prompted by Christ’s suffering.

My heart expected reproach and misery
and I desired one who would grieve with me and there was none:
I sought one to console me, and I found none:
and they gave me gall as my food,
and in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.

The Communion motet is a three-part setting of Ave verum corpus by Josquin des Prez (1450?-1521).

Final note should be made of the closing hymn for this Sunday: “Ride on! ride on in majesty.” The text was written by Henry Hart Milman (1791-1868), a professor of poetry at Oxford and first published in 1827. Milman was the son of George III’s physician, and in 1849 was made dean of St. Paul\’s Cathedral. The tune was written for our Hymnal’s publication in 1940 by Canadian composer Graham George (1912-1993), and it captures the dynamism and grandeur of the hymn’s theme.