This Sunday we celebrate the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, better known in Mobile as “Joe Cain Day”! Lent is coming, and we celebrate these last days of Epiphany in a big way. Our Gospel tells the story of Christ’s transfiguration on Mount Tabor and nicely bookends with the Gospel from the beginning of this season, the story of Jesus’ baptism. At both events, the voice of God is heard confirming the divine identity of Christ. Hopefully, we have discovered more about our own spiritual identities over this season and are prepared to venture into the wilderness of Lent for a time of introspection and renewal. During Lent, we will no longer sing or say, “alleluia”, and so this word is featured quite a bit in our service this week.
You may have heard of the custom of burying the alleluias during Lent. Some parishes even dig a grave and literally bury a sign with the word “alleluia” written on it. Interestingly, this custom used to be much more elaborate. In northeastern France, during the 15th century, the alleluias were buried in the floor of the church, in a coffin, during an elaborate Requiem Mass! Placed in the coffin were the Latin words to a very old hymn, Alleluia, dulce carmen. This Sunday, we will sing these ancient words to a more familiar tune, Westminster Abbey, better known as the tune pared with Christ is made the sure foundation. This perfect text for the end of the Epiphany season is printed below. It is my hope that we will draw added inspiration from this ancient text that so beautifully transitions us toward Lent.
1. Alleluia, song of gladness,
voice of joy that cannot die;
alleluia is the anthem
ever raised by choirs on high;
in the house of God abiding
thus they sing eternally.
2. Alleluia thou resoundest,
true Jerusalem and free;
alleluia, joyful mother,
all thy children sing with thee;
but by Babylon's sad waters
mourning exiles now are we.
3. Alleluia though we cherish
and would chant for evermore
alleluia in our singing,
let us for a while give o'er,
as our Savior in his fasting
pleasures of the world forbore.
4. Therefore in our hymns we pray thee,
grant us, blessed Trinity,
at the last to keep thine Easter
with thy faithful saints on high;
there to thee for ever singing
Also of note this week is the organ prelude, the Toccata in F Major by J. S. Bach (1685-1750). This is a substantially long work that places demands upon the performer in a delightful way. A sparkling sixteenth-note texture permeates the entire work, and it is shared equally between hands and feet. From a listener’s perspective, this piece is one of the most joyful organ pieces in the repertoire, and its glittering texture perfectly fits the story of the transfiguration as well as the festive spirit of Mardi Gras. From a musical perspective, the piece is extraordinarily well crafted. The noted German church musician, Hermann Keller (1885-1967) said of this piece, "At the beginning the extensive linear construction of the two voices in canon, the proud calmness of the solos in the pedal, the piercing chord strokes, the fiery upswing of the second subject, the bold modulatory shifts, the inwardness of the three minor movements, the splendour of the end with the famous third inversion of the seventh chord, who would not be enthralled by that?" While this language may seem indecipherable to some, it certainly paints a fascinating picture of the piece.
Finally, please consider attending one of our Ash Wednesday services on February 18th at noon and 5:30 P. M. There will be music at both services. In the spirit of the season, happy Mardi Gras! We’re looking forward to an inspirational week ahead.