Music Notes | Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost

Eric Mellenbruch Associate Director of Music and Organist

The Collect (Prayer) of the Day appointed for each liturgical occasion can sometimes be easy to overlook, especially in Ordinary Time, when the Collects are rarely thematically related to the appointed lessons, but the body of Collects contains many fine prayers, many of considerable antiquity, and it happens that this Sunday’s Collect –

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works…

– has certain themes in common with the appointed Introit:

Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I cry out to you all the day long: for you, O Lord, are gracious and merciful and abounding in merciful kindness to all of those who call upon you. All nations you have made will come and worship you, O Lord, and glorify your Name. 

Psalm 86.3, 5, 9

This happy coincidence has inspired the selection of two hymns upon the Name of Jesus: the Name, the Epistle to the Philippians tells us, which is above every name, the Name at which every knee shall bow. To Edward Perronet [450] this Name is indeed powerful, worthy of acclamation and coronation by angels, martyrs, Christians, sinners – indeed, as the Introit suggested, ‘every kindred, every tribe’. 

But what kind of power does this Name wield? It does many things, but the Acts of the Apostles and two thousand years of the Church’s life testify particularly to its power to heal and save (in fact Jesus, more properly Yehoshua [Joshua], means ‘YHWH is salvation’). This seems to have been the experience of John Newton [644], for whome the Name was not only powerful, but also sweet; it soothes, heals, drives away fear, makes whole, calms; it is manna, rest, a rock, a shield, a hiding-place, and a boundless treasury of grace. 

The other main theme of the day – also already introduced in the Collect, and treated in all of the Lessons (including the Epistle, by another coincidence) – is that of ‘true religion’, goodness, righteousness, purity of heart. The appointed Gradual Psalm 15 is heard again at the 11:15 Offertory in a polyphonic setting by 16th-century composer Arnold von Bruck; this piece is based on a tune (heard in the Tenor II voice) and metrical translation by Hans Sachs, an important Meistersinger (poet-composer-singer) of that period. 

The theme of Psalm 15 – Who may abide in the House and upon the Mount of the Lord? Those who are righteous and honest – naturally puts us in mind of the Beatitudes, and these form the basis of two other pieces of music chosen for Sunday. The full text of the Beatitudes, used in the Orthodox liturgy, is found at Hymn 560 set to a Russian chant, which will serve as our Communion anthem. 

Hymn 656, ‘Blest are the pure in heart’, is a composite of texts by the Oxford Movement leader John Keble (the present stanzas 1 and 3, which are the first and last of a long paraphrase of the entire Beatitudes) and William John Hall (stanzas 2 and 4). Keble wrote his text for the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple and Purification of St Mary the Virgin, whose collect asks that we be presented to God ‘with pure and clean hearts’; the present third and fourth stanzas, following patristic interpretations of the feast and, e.g., 1 Cor. 3.16 (‘Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?’), appropriately see the human heart as a fitting dwelling-place for the divine: thus the pure of heart not only dwell in God’s tabernacle (i.e. tent or booth), but actually constitute it, as Christ himself showed in taking on our flesh (in fact, ‘pitching his tent’, as John 1 says – and the tent of the desert nomad is made of skin).

Many of these themes are wrapped up in the Postcommunion hymn, ‘Lift up your heads, ye mighty gates’ [436]. This, like ‘Blest are the pure in heart’, was written for a different, specific, occasion, in this case Advent Sunday; like Keble’s text, it is also a Biblical paraphrase (a Christian interpretation of Psalm 24 by Georg Weissel, translated by the indefatigable Catherine Winkworth). We are blessed, our author says, when we confess Christ as King; moreover, Weissel invites us to ‘fling wide the portals of [our] heart, to ‘make it a temple’, and then places the response upon our lips: ‘I open wide my heart to thee: here, Lord, abide!’. 

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