Monday, April 02, 2007

Holy Week

We've come to perhaps my favorite time of the Christian year, which is Holy Week. Besides the final week of Lent and the anticipation for Easter, the services of Holy Week are wonderful times of reflection and praise—Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday (although many churches, my own among them, have no vigil, which decimates the Easter triduum—a topic for another time).

Part of the moving nature of Holy Week is the wonderful hymns that get sung—"O Sacred Head, Now Wounded," "Ah, Holy Jesus," "Go to Dark Gethsemane," and, on Palm Sunday, "Ride on, Ride on in Majesty," "All Glory, Laud and Honor" and many, many more. Many of these hymns have survived in the English language in large part due to the Oxford Movement, the group of high-church Anglicans who sought to reform the church back to a more highly liturgical past. Such luminaries as Edward B. Pusey, John Henry Newman, John Keble, Henry Manning, Robert Wilberforce, and others were highly influential in the movement.

Hymnologically, it was largely this movement that provided for English singers the rich history of Latin, Greek, Russian, Syriac, German, and many other hymns. John Mason Neale was the biggest influence in this, and it is his work that started me thinking about the Oxford Movement this week. "All Glory, Laud and Honor," the great hymn for Palm Sunday, is part of his corpus. He translated it from the Latin of Theodulph, Bishop of Orleans, famous for his treatise on the term filioque. It's usually sung to ST. THEODULPH by Melchior Teschner, and harmonized by William H. Monk (who, interestingly, harmonized several of the other hymns I mentioned above).

The first verse was originally presented as a refrain, but now the hymn is presented with two verses together, leaving only three total.

All glory, laud and honor,
To Thee, Redeemer, King,
To Whom the lips of children
Made sweet hosannas ring.

Thou art the King of Israel,
Thou David’s royal Son,
Who in the Lord’s Name comest,
The King and Bless├Ęd One.

The company of angels
Are praising Thee on High,
And mortal men and all things
Created make reply.

The people of the Hebrews
With palms before Thee went;
Our prayer and praise and anthems
Before Thee we present.

To Thee, before Thy passion,
They sang their hymns of praise;
To Thee, now high exalted,
Our melody we raise.

Thou didst accept their praises;
Accept the prayers we bring,
Who in all good delightest,
Thou good and gracious King.

I'm interested that so many of the hymns for Holy Week and Easter are of the more ancient variety (at least, before the 18th century), like this one. Others include "O Sacred Head," "The Day of Resurrection," "Jesus Christ is Risen Today," and many more. These hymns appear in most denominational and nondenominational hymnals. It seems that this is one time when, in celebrating the central feast of the year, Christians are united in singing the same fabulous texts, which antedate the division of Protestant and Catholic, and, in many cases, of Eastern and Western Churches. I was especially reminded of this in thinking about all the Christians who have been blessed by these texts throughout the centuries from the times in which they were written—as the creed reminds us, the communion of saints, praising God in heaven and on earth.

No comments: