Happy New Year! Well, Happy New Lectionary Year!

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This Sunday, November 30, is “New Year’s Day” in the Christian liturgical calendar, as the First Sunday of Advent begins the new lectionary cycle of readings each year. Having just completed Year A, this particular liturgical year is Year B, the list of readings for which begins on page 901 of The Book of Common Prayer. However, as the Episcopal Church now has the option of following the New Revised Common Lectionary (NRCL), which we use in this parish, our Sunday morning readings may vary slightly from those listed in the Prayer Book. Indeed, we share these NRCL readings with many Protestant and Catholic parishes throughout the USA, Canada, and the UK.

Worshippers in today’s liturgy will notice a number of different things, including the Advent Wreath, with its four Advent Sunday candles and the center white Christ Candle for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and the 12 days following. We are also using a Plainsong Psalm tone to chant the Psalm for Advent, the same tone that we have used for a number of previous years. The slash ( / ) in the pointing of the Psalm corresponds to the place in the Psalm tone where the notes change; the Cantor will sing the first verse alone and model the Psalm pointing, to which all will respond. Moreover, the Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) setting for the Advent season is an easy call/response setting; the people will again respond, singing the exact phrases the Cantor sings.

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Kings and Coronations

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The Feast of Christ the King references a title for Jesus found in numerous passages of scripture and is traditionally observed on the Last Sunday of Pentecost, the Sunday immediately before the First Sunday of Advent and the beginning of the new liturgical year cycle. (Lectionary Year A ends on Nov. 23, and Lectionary Year B will begin next Sunday, Nov. 30.) The Roman Catholic Church and many Protestant traditions (Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, et. al.) observe Christ the King Sunday. Other titles for this Sunday are “Christ Our Sovereign” or “The Reign of Christ.”

Highlighting the images of kingship or lordship found in today’s lectionary readings and hymn texts, English coronation music seems appropriate for the day. The opening voluntary is an organ transcription of the sinfonia (also overture or prelude) to Act III of Handel’s oratorio Samson, played in the oratorio at the entrance of the Queen of Sheeba and Zadok the Priest. The Offertory anthem is from another of Handel’s oratorios Judas Maccabeus, a story from the apocryphal book First Maccabees. And finally, the closing voluntary is an organ transcription of the coronation march “Crown Imperial,” composed in 1937 for the coronation of George VI and revised and extended for the 1953 coronation of Elizabeth II.

The Arrival of the King of Sheba:

Crown Imperial:

Twentieth-Century Music, Fifth-Century Hymn

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When the text source of one of the selected Communion hymns for yesterday (Sunday, Nov. 16) is “Syriac Liturgy of Malabar,” I think any Episcopalian should want to dig deeper. The Syro-Malabar Christian Church, one of the 21 Eastern Catholic Churches, dates back to the third century in Edessa, Mesopotamia (modern-day Turkey). The term Syro-Malabar refers to the Syriac language (an Aramaic dialect, the language that Jesus spoke) and the Malabar region, now known as Kerala, on the southwest coast of India. In the fifth century, South Indian Christian followers of Nestorious, Patriarch of Constantinople (386-450) wrote a Communion hymn using a hymn of Saint Ephrem of Syria (c.306-373) as their model. The great Anglican priest, scholar and hymnist John Mason Neale (1818-1866) translated this hymn as “Strengthen, O Lord, the hands which are stretched out to receive the Holy Things.” Charles William Humphries (1840-1921) returned to the original source and retranslated Neale’s hymn, which was then slightly altered by priest/liturgist Percy Dearmer (1867-1936) for inclusion in The English Hymnal (1906), for which Dearmer and composer Ralph Vaughan Williams served as editors.

The hymntune Malabar was composed and aptly named by David McK. Williams (1887-1978), editor of The Hymnal 1940 and organist/choirmaster of St. Bartholomew’s, NYC. Moreover, today’s opening voluntary is Leo Sowerby’s (1895-1968) organ setting of Malabar. Called “the dean of American church music,” Sowerby was longtime organist/choirmaster of St. James Cathedral, Chicago. This important text and tune were first published in The Hymnal 1940.

Photo credit:

“Icône Ephrem le Syrien” by Original uploader was Troubageoff at fr.wikipedia – Transferred from fr.wikipedia; transferred to Commons by User:Bloody-libu using CommonsHelper.. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 1.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Old Words, New Settings

The old and the new collide this Sunday, Nov. 9, in the anthem, “As the bridegroom to his chosen,” the text of which is an avalanche of analogies. While many hymn and anthem texts that we sing are quite ancient, this text of German mystic Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361) is a very old one as well. Tauler was a Dominican priest, a disciple of German theologian “Meister Eckhart” (c. 1260-c. 1328), and affiliated with a group of clergy and laity called the “Friends of God” (Gottesfreunde). Exiled with the Dominicans and banned from Strasbourg in 1338 by Pope John XXII, Tauler believed that hearts and souls were more affected by a personal relationship with God rather than “outward acts and external practices.” In this belief, Tauler helped lay the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther himself highly valued Tauler’s sermons, even writing numerous notes in his own 1508 Augsburg edition of Tauler’s works. In the string of tangible analogies in today’s anthem text, we can absolutely see Tauler’s belief in this personal relationship with God.

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Composed in 1989, and thus not very new, this John Rutter (b. 1945) setting is, however, new to our parish choral library. One of the most prolific English composers of the 20th century, Rutter was music director of his alma mater, Clare College, Cambridge, where he later founded the Cambridge Singers, a professional choir comprised of Cambridge alumni and others.

Photos: above, statue of Johannes Tauler at Saint-Pierre-le-June Protestant Church, Strasbourg, France. Below: composer John Rutter.

John Rutter smiling

The Household of God

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Why do we celebrate Holy Baptism on All Saints’? The Book of Common Prayer historically suggests four feast days on which Baptism is appropriate: Baptism of Christ (First Sunday after the Epiphany), Great Vigil of Easter (Easter Eve), Day of Pentecost and All Saints’ Day (or the Sunday after). For the first three feasts, the associations are easy (Jesus’ baptism, the Resurrection, and the gift of the Holy Spirit). But what about All Saints’?

When we are baptized, we are, indeed, entering into full community with our local parish church, which is true for our baptism candidates today (Sunday, Nov. 2). However, the newly baptized are also entering into the great covenant community of those who have ever lived and worshipped Jesus Christ. St. Paul tells us that Christians are one community, one body – not only those who are alive today but also saints, martyrs, confessors, loved ones, and those known and unknown, all who now stand before the throne and worship God face to face.

Image: “Абраз сямічасны” by Хомелка – Own work. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution