Service music

Quinquagesima (February 23, 2020)

The Epistle reading for today is St Paul’s famous essay on love from I Corinthians 13. While the focus of the apostle’s description is usually applied to the shape that our love for each other should take, that message is always received with the awareness that our ability to love is dependent on God’s prior love for us, on the fact that He is Love.

In the Gospel reading from St. Luke’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples about what is to happen when they go up to Jerusalem: that he will be captured, tortured, put to death, but rise again on the third day. Just before we enter Lent — preparing for the commemorations of Holy Week and Easter — we are reminded of the fact that the horrors Jesus undergoes were prophesied by him as well as by the prophets of Israel.

Our liturgy unites readings about Christ’s suffering and ultimate victory over death with a summary of the character of love. We thus enter Lent on Wednesday assured of God‘s generous constancy. And we are reminded of how we need to realign our minds, hearts, and bodies so as to be fit receptacles for his gifts.

Our opening hymn — “Jesus, Lover of my soul” — is one of Charles Wesley’s many gems. You can read here why it was once regarded as unfit for liturgical use.

Our sermon hymn — “O Love that casts out fear” — was written in 1861 by the Scottish minister Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Like his hymns “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face” and “I heard the voice of Jesus say,” this hymn reflects the gentle, mystical side of Scottish piety, rather than the more severe, assertive, and dogmatic aspect often encountered.

The Offertory anthem is Benedictus es Domine, a setting of the proper for today’s Offertory by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). The text expresses a desire for God’s truth to be implanted in and conveyed through us. “Blessed are you, O Lord: teach me your statutes. With my lips I have pronounced all the judgments of your mouth.” Throughout Lent, the choir will be singing a number of pieces by Palestrina, and I will be posting more writing about his life and work in the next few weeks.

Here is a recording of this motet, sing by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, conducted by Richard Marlow.

The Communion motet is one of the countless settings of a great great Eucharistic hymn by Thomas Aquinas. Tantum ergo presents only the fifth and sixth stanza of this six-stanza hymn. The congregation sings those two stanzas often in hymn #200 (the first four stanzas are in hymn #199). Our setting is one of several by Palestrina’s contemporary, Tomás Luis de Victoria (1548-1611).

Our Communion hymns are “Shepherd of souls, refresh and bless” and “The King of love my shepherd is.”

We close the service with a confident and joyous affirmation of God’s love. “Love divine, all loves excelling” is another of Charles Wesley’s 8,000+ hymns. Our Hymnal omits the original second stanza, which serves well as a Lenten meditation.

Breathe, O breath thy loving Spirit
into every troubled breast.
Let us all in thee inherit
let us find that second rest.
Take away our power of sinning,
Alpha and Omega be;
End of faith as its beginning,
set our hearts at liberty