Hymn of the Day for Lent 2B

Here is the second hymn of the day text that I have created for Cycle B of the Roman Catholic Sunday lectionary system. I invite Pray Tell readers to critique the text. I would ask that those offering their critiques stay focused on this text and not use this column to debate the wisdom of constructing Hymns of the Day for Roman Catholic use. It may be helpful to read the comments archived under Hymn of the Day for Lent 1B to get some sense of where the conversation has already gone. (For example, I recognize that this might be better characterized as a Gospel Hymn or a Sermon Hymn than a Hymn of the Day because it does not bring in the other readings, but your critiques will help me improve it.)

Note that the stanzas in brackets may be omitted when the hymn is sung.

Hymn of the Day for the Second Sunday of Lent, Cycle B

[How good it is for us
With Peter, James and John
To climb the heights at Jesus’ call
And bear with him alone.]

How good it is for us
To glimpse our Lord on high:
His clothes outshining earthly light,
His radiance as the sky.

How good it is for us
To view the speech unheard
When Law and Prophet both appear,
Companions of the Word.

How good it is for us
To hear the Father’s choice:
“This one is my beloved Son;
Come, listen to his voice.”

[How good it is for us
To see God’s future now,
To seek as Peter by our shrines
Eternity endowed.]

Yet better far for us
With Peter, John and James
To follow Jesus down the mount
And journey through the plains.

For on another hill
When he is lifted high
We’ll come to see his majesty
In love poured out to die.

Grant us, transfigured Lord,
To see your beauty shine
In lives transformed by charity,
By hope, by faith divine.

66.86. (SM)

Suggested Hymn Tune: FESTAL SONG (H1982 #551)
Alternative Hymn Tune: BELLWOODS [H1982 #600]

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas
15 February 2012
Redemptorist House, Washington, DC


  1. This is a very beautiful hymn, rich in contemplative imagery and relating it thoughtfully to praxis. Of the two tunes you suggest, I think ‘Festal Song’ is much the better… ‘St George’ also works nicely. Calling it ‘hymn of the day’, as you do, is the more appropriate choice. We need, considering that hymns are doubtless here to stay and are not intrinsically bad, hymns such as these for every Sunday, Solemnity, and feast day… ones suitable for procession, sober and of theological perspicacity for offertory, one prayerful for communion, and one suitable at the dismissal. This might also help to break the odious and tiresome ‘just sing something that everone knows’ syndrome.

    (To the governors of this blog: I think the time limit which seems to apply for the editing of one’s comments should be increased if not eliminated. Often, very often, have I wished in vain that I could alter or expunge statements that I have made. This, of course, encourages us to be more thoughtful to start with, but, alas, such thoughtfulness sometimes is wanting when one is in the heat of comment. On the Musica Sacra Forum, for instance, I can go back to edit things which I wrote at any time in the past.)

  2. Funny, I immediately read it to SWABIA. Anyway, this is a very nice text. There were only two lines that struck me a little oddly. The first was “and bear with him alone.” In what sense is he “alone,” if we, plural, are there, along with Peter, James, and John? And “bear” without any grammatical object is a bit funny; it sounds like the expression “bear with me,” i.e., “hang around while I say something at great length.”

    The second portion I wondered about was “To seek as Peter by our shrines / Eternity endowed” — I’m afraid I just don’t know what it means. Does “by” mean “by means of,” or “next to, alongside of”? What are our “shrines,” churches? Is there supposed to be a connection between the shrines and the tents/tabernacles Peter wanted to build?

    Oh, and lastly, I would reverse the words in “This one is my beloved son” in favor of “This is my one beloved son.” It’s unusual, I think, in English to point to someone and refer to him as “this one”; and with “one” in the later position it stands in for the familiar concepts of “only-begotten,” etc.

    Again, though, a very nice text all in all!

  3. A hymn tune with Lenten associations which fits is”Lord Jesus think on me” (perhaps that’s one of the tunes you suggest – I don’t recognise those names).
    The meaning of the last line of the first verse is not immediately obvious to me.
    Could this be a sample of “Heaven’s Harmonies in Human Habitats”, a Sophia lecture delivered recently in WTU?
    It’s wonderful to be on the mountain top; but the fruits grow in the valley.

  4. Wonderful hymn text, but I would not program this hymn since my congregation does not know a tune in 66.86 meter. Even after playing in several Catholic & Episcopal parishes over 20+ years, I’ve never heard either of the tunes you suggest, nor does Breaking Bread or Gather have a tune in SM any of my parishioners would recognize. Perhaps Episcopalians familiar with the 1982 hymnal would know these, but generally not Catholics.

    While some hymns seem destined for hymn festivals or as choir anthems (such as Silence, Frenzied Unclean Spirit) and not usual congregational singing, it seems this project would be more broadly useful if you limited your meter choices to those known by a majority of Catholics. Or Episcopalians, or Lutherans, or whomever your target audience is.

    1. Silence, Frenzied… has proven popular at my current and past parishes. I attach the text to the more gentler tunes of either “PLEADING SAVIOR” or “BEACH SPRING” – the latter being used this past month.

    2. To be fair, it’s not like SM is some obscure meter; it’s really quite common. If one parish doesn’t happen to know any SM tunes, I don’t think it’s a generalizable observation.

      My own parish knows FRANCONIA, ST. THOMAS and FESTAL SONG really well, as old chestnuts, and I recall they picked up SOUTHWELL pretty quickly, as a congregation who’s used to singing can do with a short and simple hymn tune.

  5. Hi Fr. Mike!
    May I join my Houston colleague in thanks for remediating a woebegone paucity of Transfiguration texts?
    The obvious question: no association with SWABIA?

    First stanza “And bear with Him alone.” Bear…alone?
    or “To recognize God’s Own/Son”

    Second stanza: “His clothes outshining earthly light
    His radiance as the sky.” (Sometimes the sky in CenCalifornia ain’t so radiant!

    “Such radiance beyond earthly light
    A thousand suns outshines.”

    Fifth stanza: Got the booth/shrine metaphor, but is the cosmology of “eternity now” shrouded or clouded by “endowed?” Dunno. “Eternity redowns….abounds…” Tough call.

    1. ‘“Eternity redowns….abounds…” Tough call.’

      What poets and other artists have to tolerate!

      In this part of the world a person would need a certain amount of impudence to critique and criticise an artist’s work by suggesting a word that is not found in the Queen’s English.

      1. Mary,
        In all honesty, I have the utmost respect for Fr. Joncas since meeting him in 1979. It’s part of the record.
        There was not an ounce of impudence intended by my post.
        What, pray tell, is the source of your obvious disdain for my personage? It cannot have any source in your love of the Queen’s English.
        Should you just declare me anathema to you, that I could accept. But, with many of your criticisms of my contributions, you seem to think I’m seeing “zebras” instead of “horses.”
        Please, could you exercise some charity by telling me why I upset you so?

  6. Just an additional tune thought, before I take time to digest the text:

    Gibbons, Song 20 (in cut time) aka Song Twenty: http://www.hymnary.org/hymn/CCEH/965

    For fellow tune-dogs: It seems this tune was the music for a setting, in Hymnes and Songs of the Church (1623), for the Second Song of Isaiah with the text by George Wither:

    Lord, I will sing to Thee,
    for Thou displeased wast:
    and yet withdrew’st Thy wrath from me,
    and sent me comfort hast.

    Lord, I will trust in Thee,
    Thou my salvation.
    I will no longer be afraid:
    Thou art my strength and song.

    Therefore with joy draw forth
    and call upon the same;
    then shall ye say, “Praise ye the Lord:
    exalted is His Name”.

  7. Swabia may be the best hymn tune choice as it’s already long associated with the Transfiguration hymn: “Tis good Lord, to be here” or as it’s been altered in some hymnals “How good Lord, to be here.” Also, it’s a very easy tune to learn for a congregation that may have never sung it before. In fact, GIA’s “Worship” hymnal has it at #700 with that very tune.

  8. I do agree with EK’s comment about
    ‘This one is my beloved Son’:
    To say ‘This is my one beloved Son’ seems surer in theology and in poetic flow. It also puts the stress in the right place.

    The provision of stanzas to be used when the hymn is not sung would seem to be… odd (and unique). What else does one do with a hymn but sing it? Would not speaking a hymn be oxymoronic? Then, I have heard that some actually recite the sequences instead of sing them!

    And, KLS – many thanks for the lovely George Wither text (not to mention Gibbons’ ‘Song Twenty’, which may be the best suggestion).

  9. Dear Friends, I’m again grateful for your comments. Notice that I, too, had some qualms about the stanzas that most of you questioned. In the case of the first stanza my thought was that we, the singing worshipers, were imaginatively present with the three disciples who were “bearing with” Jesus alone (as Emily accurately read), but I noticed the difficulties many of you pointed out as well. The problem with the fifth stanza is that I was probably introduced to (and fell in love with) Gerard Manley Hopkins poetry at an early age and his fracturing of syntax seems second nature to me. The last two lines of the stanza would be more normally rendered: “To seek eternity (i.e., ‘let’s stay here on the Mount of Transfiguration’) endowed by our shrines (i.e., made accessible to us, both in the case of the booths/tabernacles that Peter proposed to build and the churches that present worshipers know) as Peter [did].” But I agree with Emily and others that its probably too much of a stretch and, frankly, the hymn works well without those two stanzas. I also understand Emily’s and M. Jackson’s concern over “This one is my beloved Son” but I was actually trying to do two things: a) give a VERY literal translation of “houtos estin ho huios mou ho agapetos” and b) set up an internal rhyme with “one” and “Son.” But, once again, may throw off the singers by calling attention to the formulation. Giving up those two concerns, I’d probably emphasize the “apapetos” with “This is my dear beloved Son.”

  10. Dear Friends, I’d also like to thank all who have suggested other hymn tunes. SWABIA is a clear alternative choice. The Gibbons’ SONG TWENTY is extremely beautiful. I do feel I should respond to Scott’s concerns. It may simply be because I live in MN where we RCs have had a long-standing metrical hymn singing tradition, partially, I think, from German, Polish and Bohemian Catholic settlers in our area, and partially from a large Lutheran population with its Scandanavian and German hymn-singing traditions, but our congregations actually know many hymn tunes. I certainly don’t think I’d shy away from writing in CM, CMD, LM, LMD, SM or SMD. I do acknowledge a problem with next week’s hymn text which is 66.66.D. I have found no hymn tunes in that meter and can only suggest that the hymn be sung to a 66.66. tune. Even then there are very few 66.66. tunes that I’ve found that fit the character of the piece. But that’s for next week.

    1. In Missouri/Illinois, I’ve found that Catholics know a limited range of hymn tunes, but the ones they know they know well. Hymn singing is an under-utilized resource in Catholic churches, which is why I’m so glad to learn of your project. Unfortunately in many places, hymns are being squeezed out from two directions: folk/pop/P&W on one side and chant/propers on the other. All genres have their rightful place, I hope these can coexist in the future. All blessings on your work!

  11. I would never, ever, consider whether or not the people knew a tune in given metre when choosing hymnody appropriate to the day. In my experience, they can (and are glad) to learn it. Thankfully, I am in a parish environment in which no one ever says that they ‘don’t know that’. They just sing it and pick it up from the choir, the organ, and those who do because it has been carefully chosen for the day. How sane! I am aware that there are many Catholic churches in which a sort of institutionalised musical illiteracy is condoned and permitted. How sad for those people.

    So, continue to write in whatever metre you’re inspired to and we will learn it gladly.

    1. I do think people in the pews are more resilient in learning new tunes than many have come to think in Catholic circles. The issue is one of skill: choosing a well-crafted tune, and preparing the congregation well for it. The now seemingly antique (but in its day rather modern) simplicity, almost severity, of the line of Gibbons’ hymn tunes, for example, makes them fairly easy to learn de novo, while the unusual harmonic choices (something people are more familiar with today from Bach’s chorales) make them more interesting than the melodic lines alone would seem to indicate. Tunes that can speak ambiguously (in a good way) to both iambic and trochaic poetic meters (I will leave dactyls and amphibrachs aside for the time being) are tremendously important arrows to have in the repertorial quiver.

      1. LOL. It just seems to be less frequently used than the other feet in English hymnody. When one has an index of metrical tunes that distinguishes between iambic and trochaic tunes, it goes a long way for English hymnody.

    2. I’m especially sensitive to these issues right now, having moved from a parish where the congregation raised the roof (if they knew or had opportunity to learn the tune) to a parish where participation has been lukewarm for decades. Here, when I program something new or different, I can hear the hymnals hitting the racks half-way through the first verse. Lots of work to do.

  12. Michael:
    I began on the first Sunday of Lent to conclude my homily by reading the hymn for that Sunday and it worked well. I plan to do the same for each Sunday of lent, so thank you for providing them for us.

  13. This is yet another beautiful , poetic and theologically sound text. As I read the text, a tune – unbidden – came to mind and that was Optatus Votis Omnium (The Coming of Our God).
    As for familiarity, I tend to come down on the side of Scott, especially if these are to be done every week. Asking assemblies to learn a new hymn tune each week is a bit much – at least it is for my folks, who learn the proper psalm refrain each week. Giving them a new hymn tune occasionally is fine, but my folks do better with a new text when it is with a familiar tune. Your mileage may vary!!
    I did use the “much maligned” original text (2nd rendering) with my ensemble during the Preparation rite, with the Kingsfold tune. Despite the reservations expressed here, it was well received!

  14. A comment on terminology – Isn’t it proper to refer to A/B/C as “years” and not “cycles?” There is a 3 year cycle, made up of Year A, Year B, Year C…?

    1. Dear Sean,
      You are, of course, correct: 2-year weekday lectionary cycle vs. 3-year Sunday lectionary cycle; Years I and II vs. Years A, B, C. I tend to mix up year and cycle in casual writing.

  15. Scott said Here, when I program something new or different, I can hear the hymnals hitting the racks half-way through the first verse

    I agree with Scott that all congregations are not the same. One local parish generally sings almost everything; probably because most of the time they sing hymns they know, and they practice new hymns before Mass. A second parish generally sings the hymns they know, and lets the choir sing the hymns they do not know (they don’t even take the hymnals out of the rack). A third parish never sings; even at their Christmas concert they hardly joined in singing “Silent Night!”

    When I first started teaching college, I taught three introductory psychology courses. One class was great; they enjoyed the class and each other so much they wanted to continue another semester! Another class was average in participation. A third class was completely dull and unresponsive; I don’t know whether they or I hated it more! So I quickly learned that class participation was very much about the group of people who came together and how they interacted with each other as much as how they interacted with the professor and the course content.

    I suspect parish congregations are much the same, except that they have a longer and stronger history than semester classrooms. Whether people are going to sing or not depends as much upon the people around them and their past history as upon the choir, the choir director and the music chosen.

  16. On this side of the Pond, most congregations would know Narenza (normally sung to “To Christ, the Prince of Peace”) and Southwell (“Lord Jesus, think on me”). Some would know Optatus Votis Omnium (“The Coming of our God”), and some the tune normally used over here for “‘Tis good, Lord, to be here”: Edwin.

    1. The fine Church Hymnal (2000) of the Church of Ireland and its predecessor ensure that Festal Song and Swabia are well known here in this part of this side of the pond. 🙂

      Venice is another appropriate tune.

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