We often sing, Christ is made the sure foundation, at festive services, diocesan events, and at our Cathedral Celebration, but do we really know its significance beyond the fact that the text is appropriate and the tune is majestic? It turns out that the text was translated from the original Latin by John Mason Neale (1818-1866), an Anglican priest, and it was intended to be sung at the dedication of church buildings. The lyrics speak not only of “this temple where we call thee” made of physical materials, but primarily of the indwelling of God in our hearts and minds. It is inspiring to think of how many thousands of church dedications have had these lyrics accompany them in some form. The tune, entitled “Westminster Abbey,” was composed by famous English Baroque composer, Henry Purcell (1659-1695), and it was originally the last part of an anthem he wrote. In the nineteenth century, a clergyman at Westminster Abbey pared the lyrics we know today with Purcell’s tune, and a classic was born. However, it wasn’t until Princess Margaret’s 1960 wedding service at Westminster Abbey that this great hymn was made famous all over the world. We will sing it this Sunday as our processional hymn. It is amazing to think of how many isolated events took place to give us the gift of some of our favorite pieces of music.
May 7th is, on the calendar of the church, known as Good Shepherd Sunday
because the Gospel and Gradual Psalm both feature the image of God as shepherd and the faithful as a flock. Because of this, the introit I chose for this Sunday is the familiar poem, The Lamb, by William Blake (1757-1827). Many of us remember this poem from our childhood, and it beautifully and simply illustrates Christ as the Lamb of God. This calls to mind a hymn written by Sylvia G. Dunstan (1955-1993), Christus Paradox. In it, Dunstan writes, “You, Lord are both lamb and shepherd.” This paradox helps us to understand more about our relationship with God, and it also suggests reflection on the words of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel, “The greatest among you shall be your servant.” In this poem, a child addresses a lamb, saying, “who made thee?” The child goes on to describe the lamb’s wool and tender voice, “making all the vales rejoice.” In the second verse, the child ventures an answer to the question and expresses a beautiful, simple Christian faith that the lamb and the child were both made by God, the one who, “became a little child” and, “calls himself a lamb.” In order to express this poetry through music, I turned to the inspiration of both J. S. Bach (1685-1750) and Ralph (pronounced, “rayfe”) Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Scored for two violins, ‘cello, and soprano, the piece begins with the ‘cello playing a figure reminiscent of Bach’s Prelude from Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major. This is then taken up by the two violins in canon with each other. As the singer enters, the accompaniment continues in counterpoint, but it begins to ignore more traditional musical techniques in favor of a Vaughan Williams flavored texture that is in a constant state of movement. The vocal line is rhythmically independent of the accompaniment and is intended to cast the image of a shepherdess’ song in a lush pasture. For the second verse, I included the hymn tune, “St. Columba,” in the first violin line; although, it will be tricky to pick out of the texture as it is part of the fabric of the accompaniment. “St. Columba” is best known as the tune for the hymn, The King of love my shepherd is.
There is much more going on in this service than what is written above, and to read about it, I would direct you to the May 2017 issue of The Messenger. Certainly, it will be a moving service that will indelibly take its place among the hallowed events in the life of Christ Church, Mobile. Join us, and add your voice to our songs of praise and thanksgiving.