Psalm 100 has traditionally held a place of privilege in the Church’s worship. It is commonly known (after the first word in the Latin) as the Jubilate: “O be joyful.” The Jubilate is one of the canticles appointed for use in the daily office of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer. There the opening verse begins: “O be joyful in the Lord, all ye lands.”
This wording is from one of many English translations, some the work of noted poets, many by prominent Hebrew scholars. Catherine Parr, the sixth of Henry VIII’s six wives, tried her hand at a translation of Psalm 100 (apparently from a Latin Psalter, not from the Hebrew). Perhaps the most famous (#278 in our Hymnal) is by Bible translator William Kethe (d. 1594). It begins “All people that on earth do dwell . . .”
Our Processional hymn today is a metrical (i.e., rhythmically regular) paraphrase of Psalm 100 by Isaac Watts, one of the most prolific of English hymnists. “Before the Lord Jehovah’s Throne” was first published in 1719. The first stanza in our Hymnal is altered from the first two stanzas in Watts’s original. The geographical reference in the original first stanza testifies to Watts’s habit of amplifying the text, drawing out its implications, rather than offering a strict translation:
Sing to the Lord with joyful voice
Let every land his name adore;
The British Isles shall send the noise
Across the ocean to the shore.
Nations attend before his throne
With solemn fear, with sacred joy:
Know that the Lord is God alone;
He can create, and he destroy.
The alterations to this text in our Hymnal were made by John Wesley, who for a time lived and preached in the American colonies. Wesley — eager for his colonial congregants to benefit from singing this Psalm — excised the reference to the British Isles.
In 1737, another altered version of Watts’s verse was published in Charlestown, South Carolina, as part of John Wesley’s very first hymnal, Collection of Psalms and Hymns. In this setting — still in many hymnals today — the hymn opened with the words “Before Jehovah’s awful throne.” For this editorial license, Wesley was brought before a grand jury in Savannah, charged with “making alterations in the metrical psalms” and “introducing into the Church and Service at the altar compositions of psalms and hymns not inspected or authorized by any proper judicature.” I have not been able to ascertain the conclusions of the grand jury’s deliberations.
The tune we use for this hymn is WINCHESTER NEW, to which we also sing the Advent hymn, “On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry” (#10). Below is Andrew Remillard’s rendition of this tune on piano.
Our Sermon hymn — “Blest be the tie that binds” — has been widely used in Protestant groups, often as a closing hymn (and often in an atmosphere highly charged with emotion). The text is by John Fawcett (1739-1817), a Baptist minister and author of more than 160 hymns. Our Hymnal includes another of his texts, “Lord, dismiss us with thy blessing” (#489).
The tune to which we sing this hymn — BOYLSTON — is not as familiar as the second tune, DENNIS.
The Offertory proper this Sunday is taken from Daniel 9: “I, Daniel, prayed unto the Lord my God, and said: Hear, O Lord, the prayer of thy servant: cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary: and mercifully behold this thy people, which is called by thy Name, O God.” The text for the Offertory anthem is a very similar plea, taken from 2 Chronicles 6:19-21, part of Solomon’s prayer of dedication at the newly completed Temple.
Hear the voice and prayer of thy servants,
that they make before thee this day.
That thine eyes may be open toward this house night and day,
ever toward this place, of which thou hast said:
“My Name shall be there.”
And when thou hearest have mercy on them.
The musical setting for this prayer is by Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), and is evident of Tallis’s ability to convey a text with an elegant simplicity.
Here is a recording of this anthem sung by Chapelle du Roi, conducted by Alistair Dixon. This is from their collection Thomas Tallis: Complete Choral Works, which probably should be on many Christmas wish lists.
The Communion motet this Sunday is the Agnus Dei from a mass by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612). Hassler had a profound effect on laying the groundwork for the Lutheran composers of the 17th and 18th centuries (including a few generations of Bachs), but is probably best known for composing the tune to which we sing “O sacred Head, now wounded.”
Our closing hymn is — like Psalm 100 — another call to rejoice. “Rejoice ye pure in heart!” was written in 1865 for the annual choir festival at Peterborough Cathedral. The author, of the hymn, Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891) was a noted preacher, theologian, and translator whose career was centered in Oxford, including service as chaplain of King’s College from 1847 to 1868.
In his classic Dictionary of Hymnology (1907), John Julian writes of Plumptre: “The rhythm of his verse has a special attraction for musicians, its poetry for the cultured, and its stately simplicity for the devout and earnest-minded. The two which have attained to the most extensive use in Great Britain and America are: ‘Rejoice, ye pure in heart’ and ‘Thine arm, O Lord, in days of old.’”
This hymn also has multiple tunes associated with it. We will sing it to CARLISLE: