Things are different this Sunday, due to the pageant. We won’t sing a psalm or a sequence hymn, but we do have some very interesting music in other parts of the service. The organ prelude is a setting of the German chorale, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, better known to us as, Savior of the Nations, Come. This particular setting is by J. S. Bach (1685-1750), and it is my personal favorite. The chorale melody can be heard on a solo stop in the right hand, and it is highly ornamented. The unsung hero of this piece, however, is the bass line. Listen to the slow, steady pedal line ascend and descend beneath the other musical lines. This underpinning creates a special feeling of anticipation, and some venture as far as to say that the bass line depicts the imminent arrival of the Savior. What seems certain is that this piece depicts a deep yearning, and this mood would have made perfect sense to Bach’s original listeners who were familiar with the text of the chorale.
The introit was chosen to go along with the first reading this week from Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me [. . . ].” To highlight this, the choir will sing part of a congregational piece popular in France, The Spirit of God/Called to Proclaim. Known by French Catholics as, L’esprit de Dieu repose sur moi, this piece was written by Fr. Lucien Deiss (1921-2007), a Catholic priest internationally known for his musical compositions and work during the liturgical reform surrounding Vatican II. A brief biography is printed below, reprinted from Oregon Catholic Press.
“A native of France and resident of the Seminaire des Missiones in Larue, France, Spiritan Father †Lucien Deiss (1921–2007) was heavily involved in the liturgical reform of the Lectionary during Vatican II and was a member of the Concilium on Liturgy. He was a specialist in biblical exegesis and he formerly occupied the Chair of Sacred Scripture and Dogmatic Theology at the Grand Scholasticat des Peres du Saint-Esprit in Paris. He served as a member of the Committee for the French Ecumenical Bible and was formerly liturgical editor of the magazine Assemblee Novelle. As a missionary priest, he gave retreats and worked with the poor in several nations of the world, including Africa, Haiti and Taiwan, for many years.
Best known to Roman Catholics in the United States for his scriptural songs, “All the Earth” and “Keep in Mind,” Father Lucien wrote hundreds of liturgical songs and hymns.
Father Deiss passed away on October 9, 2007 at age 86.”
This brings us to the processional hymn, Savior of the nations, come, on which the prelude was based. Now, we get to sing the words that for centuries have expressed the longing of countless Christians for the coming of salvation. Although we will be singing a poetic translation of the German text, the ideas and images are much the same. Below, I’ve included various poetic and literal translations of the first verse. It is interesting to note that Martin Luther (1483-1546) wrote the famous German text as a fairly literal translation of a much older Latin hymn by Ambrose (337-397). Luther also modeled the tune after the Latin chant. I hope you enjoy singing this great hymn!
Ambrose’s original text:
Click here for a recording of the chant.
Veni, redemptor gentium;
ostende partum Virginis;
miretur omne saeculum:
talis decet partus Deum.
Come, Redeemer of the nations;
show forth the Virgin birth;
let every age marvel:
such a birth befits God.
Click here for a recording of Luther’s tune.
Click here for a recording of BWV 62, a Bach cantata using Luther’s tune as the roux for the whole piece.
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,
Der Jungfrauen Kind erkannt!
Dass sich wundre alle Welt,
Gott solch' Geburt ihm bestellt.
Now come, Saviour of the gentiles,
recognised as the child of the Virgin,
so that all the world is amazed
God ordained such a birth for him.
Metrical English translation (the one we sing):
Savior of the nations, come!
Virgin's Son, make here your home.
Marvel now, both heaven and earth,
that the Lord chose such a birth.