Today Gospel reading (Mar. 1) includes an image and commandment of Jesus that is actually found verbatim in three of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke): “Take up your cross and follow me.” Of sung texts that extol the cross, none is better than the ancient verse Crux fidelis (“Faithful cross above all other”), a portion of St. Fortunatus’ (c. 530-c. 609) larger hymn Pange lingua (“Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle.”) This magnificent text is found in its entirety at Hymn 166 in our hymnal. It begins with the actual account of the Crucifixion, then extols the cross using various “wood” images, and ends with a Trinitarian doxological stanza, as do most Medieval hymns from this period.
As a liturgist I was trained (instructed, commanded, directed, et. al.) to follow the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer to the letter and space. After all, what is the point or privilege of truly common worship if we do not worship as both a collective voice and as individual voices? In our Prayer Book the rubrics often say may or shall, and there is a vast difference between the two. The rubrics usually instruct, “A hymn, psalm, or anthem may be sung,” but rarely do they specifically say, “The hymn, ‘Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle,’ or some other hymn extolling the glory of the cross, is then sung” (BCP page 282, Good Friday Liturgy). Indeed, this Good Friday rubric has always caught my attention; it points up Fortunatus’ great hymn, a portion of which is sung as the Anthem at the Offertory this morning. The music of this anthem is attributed to King John IV of Portugal (1604-1656).
Photo credit, top: “20060824 034” by Riwnodennyk – self-made. Also . Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:20060824_034.jpg#mediaviewer/File:20060824_034.jpg