Music Notes | Ninth Sunday After Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

The modern three-year lectionary used at the celebration of the Eucharist on Sundays and other major holy days is built, particularly in Ordinary Time (the season after the Epiphany that continues after the ‘interruption’ of Lent and Eastertide), around the three ‘synoptic’ Gospels of Sts Matthew, Mark, and Luke. St John’s Gospel is used at some other times, especially in the particular seasons, and also appears in the middle of Ordinary Time in the current Year B, where for five Sundays passages from John 6 – the ‘Bread of Life’ discourse – interrupt the in-course reading of Mark and indeed replace the latter’s account of the feeding of the five thousand and two other deeds of power. Thus Eucharistic hymns will feature prominently for the next several weeks, not only during the Communion of the People but in other parts of the liturgy as well.

This week the theme is sounded in ‘Father, we thank thee who hast planted’ [302], Bland Tucker’s versification of parts of sections 9–10 of the Didachê tôn dôdeka apostolôn (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), a very early book of instructions and regulations about the Church’s life and worship. (It may be the earliest non-canonical writing, and these passages in particular are thought to be particularly old, possibly predating some of the canonical New Testament).

Fr Tucker hews very closely to the Greek, though he has cleverly extended and strengthened the agricultural metaphor in two ways: first, by changing the verb ‘caused to dwell’ (‘dwell’ here being the same word as in the Prologue to St John’s Gospel, literally ‘to pitch a tent’) to ‘planted’ (and of course one can metaphorically ‘plant a stake’ or ‘put down roots’); second, by wrapping up ‘to us thou hast given spiritual meat and drink, and life everlasting, through thy Son’ in the neat ‘[thou] didst give us food for all our days, / giving in Christ the Bread eternal’, which ties this hymn to both the day’s appointed Gradual Psalm, 145 (see vv. 16–17), and the Gospel.

This hymn is set to a tune from the [Calvinist] Genevan Psalter, which was discussed at some length in the notes for the 6th Sunday of Easter. This tune is also heard in two verses for organ, written by an unknown 17th-century Dutch composer and transcribed from the tablature manuscript source for our use this week.

As it happens, one of the three psalms for which this tune was used in the Genevan Psalter was 68, from which is taken the text of this Sunday’s Introit. This Introit likely forms part of the series of Introits taken from psalms in numerical order (see the Music Notes for the third Sunday after Pentecost) – and the chosen Verse draws attention to the entrance procession which the Introit is intended to accompany – but the Psalm also happily touches upon the theme of unity, or communion, found in ‘Father, we thank thee’:

God in his holy habitation,

God, who makes those of one mind to dwell in his dwelling –

he himself will give strength and power to his people.

The Hebrew rendered here as ‘of one mind’ apparently means ‘united, one, only, single’

and was translated in the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) as monotrópos, ‘of one manner’,

though most modern translations made from the Hebrew (including the King James) understand it to mean ‘lonely’ in the context of this psalm (our Prayer Book Psalter reads ‘God gives the solitary a home’). The Latin translations (most made from the Greek) vary; the text of this Introit reads unanimes, and in liturgical context the same sentiment as Psalm 133, ‘…when brethren live together in unity’ – where another form of the same Hebrew word is used – must have been intended.

A beloved passage from another Psalm, 84, forms the text of the Communion anthem by 20th-century British-Canadian composer Healey Willan: ‘O how amiable are thy dwellings, thou LORD of Hosts; my soul hath a desire and longing to entier into the courts of the LORD…’. Our entrance and postcommunion hymns are taken from metrical paraphrases of two further psalms, 104 and the aforementioned 145 respectively. 

The former, ‘O worship the King, all glorious above’ [388], is graced by several winsome turns of phrase: ‘pavilioned in splendor and girded with praise’; ‘whose robe is the light, whose canopy space’; and so on. The ancient Middle Eastern insight that the divine and splendid Creator is also the sustainer of even the lowliest, which became part of Hebrew religion, shines through this early-19th-century Christian paraphrase: ‘thy mercies, how tender! how firm to the end! / Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend!’. 

The postcommunion hymn, ‘God, my King, thy might confessing’ [414], dates from the same period, and given the somewhat similar subject material, forms an interesting comparison. Much of the difference in effect is due to the quite different meters (galloping amphibrachs or dactyls in 388, rather more stately trochees in 414), but the language of the former is also considerably more vivid, specific, and physical than that of the latter. Nevertheless 414 has its own kind of power born especially of some felicitous repetitions – ‘age to age’ twice in st. 2; ‘works’ beginning three of four lines in st. 4; ‘all his (thy) works’ tying st. 5 to 6 – and, of the very many inverted sentences, a few, particularly in the last stanza, that syntactically topicalize the LORD: ‘thee shall all thy saints adore: / King supreme shall they confess thee…’. Both psalm-paraphrases affirm that it is our duty and joy to acclaim God as the great King who is nevertheless ‘vast’ – vast! – ‘in love’.

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