Today’s liturgy involves several references to ocular activity. Our Processional hymn — “Saviour, when in dust to thee” includes a reference to our averting our eyes from God out of a sense of guilt and penitence: “when, repentant, to the skies scarce we lift our weeping eyes . . . ” God’s vision is also referenced in the hymn: in the second stanza, we plead with God to “turn, oh, turn a fav’ring eye; hear our solemn litany!” (You can read more about this hymn here.)
The Introit for today is from Psalm 25, and is referred to in liturgical texts by the first two words of the Latin of the biblical passage: Oculi mei, “Mine eyes are ever looking unto the Lord.” In the second half of the Introit, the cantor chants: “O Lord, will I lift up my soul.”
Looking and lifting are also present in the Tract for the Third Sunday in Lent: “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes, O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Behold, even as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters. And as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress: even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us.” Eyes don’t just look: they lift and wait.
In today’s Collect, the looking is done by God: “We beseech thee, Almighty God, look upon the hearty desires of thy humble servants . . . ”
Our Sermon hymn also includes references to vision. “My faith looks up to thee” is by the American hymn writer Ray Palmer (1808-1887), who wrote this text when he was but 22 years old. (Read more about him and this hymn here.)
The Offertory anthem is Ad te levavi oculos meos, a motet by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594). The Latin text is from the opening verses from Psalm 123 (also the text for today’s Tract), which renders in English as “Unto thee lift I up mine eyes: O thou that dwellest in the heavens. Behold, even as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress: even so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God, until he have mercy upon us.”
Palestrina’s setting of these two verses from Psalm 123 is often sung in combination with another motet based on the two verses which complete this short Psalm. That motet is called Miserere nostri, Domine, “Have mercy upon us, O Lord.” You can hear both of these works below, sung by the Coro della Radio Svizzera (Swiss Radio Choir), conducted by Diego Fasolis.
During Communion, the choir will sing the Agnus Dei from one of the masses composed by Claudio Monteverdi. You can hear the entire from which this Agnus Dei is taken here.