Saintly Music

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In the Episcopal Church we frequently speak of “the prayer book” and “the hymnal.” Churches in the Anglican tradition have had only one standard approved Book of Common Prayer at any one time in history. However, various hymnals and psalters abounded until 1861 when the first standard Anglican hymnal, Hymns Ancient and Modern, was published, a direct outcome of the explosion of hymn texts written during the Oxford Movement in the Church of England in the 1830s.

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“For all the saints,” William Walsham How’s great All Saints’ text, first appeared in Hymns for Saints’ Days and Other Hymns by a Layman (London, 1864). The imagery of this grand text is beautiful and legendary. Indeed, it was published numerous times in various late-19th-century collections. Most hymnals since have limited the text to only eight of the original 11 stanzas. The omitted stanzas are rich as well:

3. For the Apostles’ glorious company
who bearing forth the Cross o’er land and sea,
shook all the mighty world, we sing to thee
Alleluia!

4. For the Evangelists, by whose pure word,
like fourfold streams, the garden of the Lord
is fair and fruitful, be thy name adored:
Alleluia!

5. For Martyrs who, with rapture-kindled eye,
saw the bright crown descending from the sky
and, seeing, grasped it, thee we glorify:
Alleluia!

Moving toward the 20th century, as the Oxford Movement evolved into Anglo-Catholicism (“high church”), Hymns Ancient and Modern was deemed too “low church” because it did not include enough plainsong chant. In 1906 The English Hymnal was published with Ralph Vaughan Williams serving as one of the two editors. For this hymnal Vaughan Williams wrote the tune Sine Nomine for the “For all the saints” text, and his tune has been associated with the text ever since.

Prior to Sine Nomine the text had been sung to a number of various hymn tunes. Some believe that Vaughan Williams named his tune Sine Nomine (Latin for “without a name”) as a reference to many of the saints whose names are known only to God.

The principal feasts of the Episcopal Church are Christmas Day, The Epiphany, Easter Day, Ascension Day, the Day of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday and All Saints’ Day. All Saints’ may be celebrated on the Sunday following (supplanting the regular Sunday propers). This year All Saints’ actually falls on a Sunday (Sunday, Nov. 1), and as usual our 10:30 liturgy will begin with this great hymn in procession.


Second photo: All Saints Episcopal Church, Jensen Beach, Fla.
YouTube: 5,000-plus people in London’s Royal Albert Hall singing “For all the saints” for the BBC TV series “Songs of Praise” on 24 October 2004

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