Hymn of the Day for Lent 4B

Here is my hymn text for the Fourth Sunday of Lent in the B Cycle of the Roman Catholic three-year Sunday lectionary cycle. (I treat the alternative set of readings in the A Cycle.) I look forward to readers’ suggestions for changes in word choice, rhyme scheme, progress of thought, and hymn-tune pairing.

Hymn of the Day for the Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year B

What words can sing the story
Of love so deep and true,
The love of God the Father
Bestowed on me and you?
He gave his Son, beloved,
To suff’ring and to strife
That we who claim his Name may
Gain his eternal life.

What words can sing the story
Of love so deep and true,
The love of Christ our Savior
Bestowed on me and you?
He came not to destroy us,
To shame us or condemn,
Instead to heal and save us,
Who once were lost in sin.

What words can sing the story
Of love so deep and true,
That God the Holy Spirit,
Bestows on me and you?
When evil overwhelms us
And challenges our sight
He shines within our darkness
And guides us with his light.

What words can sing the story
Of love so deep and true,
Of Father, Son, and Spirit
In love with me and you?
O God, so rich in mercy,
Help us to heed your call
To live the love you offer
Till you are all in all.

76.76.D.

Suggested Hymn Tune: PASSION CHORALE [H1982 #168]
Alternative Hymn Tune: KING’S LYNN [H1982 #231]

Fr. Jan Michael Joncas
16 February 2012
Flight from Washington, DC, to MSP

27 comments

  1. Michael:

    I’m enjoying this: it’s like my Lenten weekly crossword.

    3 observations:

    a) both your suggested tunes are fine, but they will generate, particularly in the US where King’s Lynn isn’t often sung, quite different experiences. Passion chorale will have its own associations; and it’s aaba structure might work differently from the abba of KL. I’m thinking Passion chorale

    b) I find the refrain element, given the season, a bit twee–in particular ‘me and you’ seems to be too folksy and to sell short the cosmic force of the gospel text. But once I started playing with it, then everything else unravelled.

    I also found the idea of words singing a bit weak. So what about:

    How wonderful the story
    Of costly love outpoured.
    The Love of God the Father/ v2 Xt the Saviour/ v3 God the Spirit/v4 God’s Three Persons,
    The Triune saving Lord.

    c) to avoid the awkward stress pattern at the end of st. 1:

    He sent his Son as serpent,
    As icon of our strife,
    That those who looked upon him,
    Might gain eternal life.

    (I’ve been lots of other places while thinking about this, and even to the rhyming dictionary website, but let all that pass!)

  2. A few random remarks.

    I don’t mind the “words can sing” – in fact I like it better than “wonderful”, because that’s an adjective that tends to be overused. But yes, “me and you” is a bit strange in this context.

    I like the allusion to the serpent in Fr Endean’s variation!

    I wish the word “grace” appeared somewhere. Isn’t that the main theme of the day?

    The word “love” is present three times in the last stanza. Isn’t that a bit much?

  3. Siobhan Maguire
    Two hymn suggestions:

    AURELIA “The Church’s one foundation”

    or ST THEODULPH “All glory laud and honor” – but without a final ‘refrain’

    Definitely *not* ELLACOMBE (!!)

  4. I agree with Father Endean — this does have a bit of the fun of a weekly crossword. I can’t agree about “He sent his Son as serpent,” though, which is more likely to come across as a blasphemy than as a reference to the mild simile in John 3:14. God certainly did not send his Son as a serpent, and that’s not what the Johannine gospel says either. I suppose I also disagree about “what words can sing”; I think it’s clear and easily understandable, and I found the proffered alternative stuffy and nineteenth-century.

    As to tunes, PASSION CHORALE is the better of the two choices you gave. I might suggest the underused LANCASHIRE as an good alternate, and then there’s also the well-known AURELIA which is not a bad fit.

    VERSE 1: Here, and in the second verse, I would change “The love of God … bestowed” to “The love that God … bestowed.” This lets “bestowed” come into its own as a verb; otherwise, it falls into an awkward participial no-man’s-land. The stress in the penultimate line also falls very strangely, as I’m sure you noticed. The best solution I’ve come up with so far is is “That we his firm believers / Might have eternal life.” Anent this verse also, I would draw your attention to the fact that “life / strife” is one of the most hackneyed of all rhymes in rhymedom, and if you can make it go away it will only improve things.

    VERSE 2: “He came not to destroy us” — and did anyone say otherwise? If I had written this verse (conjecturally speaking), it might have gone something like:

    “He came not to condemn us
    Or shame us in our sin;
    Instead to save and raise us
    Above where we had been.”

    VERSE 3: There is at least a grammatical venial sin in the sentence structure of “The story of love that God bestows on me and you.” I’m not sure there’s much that can be done without taking apart all the plumbing, though. The only other thing I don’t like about this verse is the blandness of “challenges.” I might recommend “And sin beclouds our sight,” or “obscures” if you don’t like “beclouds.”

    VERSE 4: Nice, except for that weak petition “help us” again. Among the many questionable changes in the new translations of the collects, one of the standout positives has been to eliminate the endless stream of “help us,” “help us.” I think even a little tweak like “Grant us to heed your call” would, er, help.

    1. Your dogmatic and doctrinaire review of Michael’s serpent motif is quite off-putting. The tendency of people who, like you do, search for the B word in the views of those they disagree with and find it wherever they look is not so distant from the actions of those who are quick to issue fatwahs.

      A simile takes one aspect of two or more phenomena which are being compared. It’s not an allegory. There is one aspect of Jesus which may be compared to one aspect of the serpent in the fourth book of the Torah. By employing a simile we are not saying that Jesus crawled around on his belly etc.

      And what is wrong with using a serpent-simile? The serpent too is God’s creature. Saint Thomas Aquinas called Jesus a pelican. Pie pelicane, Jesu Domine!

      1. Thanks for your unfriendly, erratic remarks, Mr. Flynn. First, Fr. Joncas did not use any serpent metaphor at all. That was proposed in a comment. And in case it wasn’t clear, I’ll try some boldface: what I said was that applying such an epithet to Christ “is more likely to come across as a blasphemy.” If you were to learn a little more about communication, you’d understand that it is important to be careful about not only what you are trying to say and the technical, literal meaning of your words, but also what people will probably think you are trying to say. Cf. “niggardly.”

      2. That was precisely my point. The problem is with those who would see blasphemy where none was intended. That requires a particular mindset.

        Re your recommendation about communication: it’s a fundamental premise that language works through taking for granted commonly accepted meanings of words. Perhaps in this case it’s a function of the difference between your part of the world and mine. Where I come from niggardly means parsimonious. It is irrelevant here.

    2. I was trying to be theologically provocative, both in the paradox of the serpent motif and in insisting on the three Persons ad extra working as one. I’ll leave any rethink till Michael responds.

      I am, however, thinking about the weakness of ‘wonderful’ and the Victorian-Anglican feel of ‘costly’: can anyone think of a better trisyllable for ‘wonderful’? Would it be better to go for something more conventional, like ‘healing love’?

  5. Unlike Fr. Endean, I found the repetition of the line “What words can sing the story Of love so deep and true,” very strong! Perhaps it is because I am a singer and I know that it takes more strength and creativity to sing than to speak. It was also evocative of the history-preserving and Courtly Love ballads sung with such fervor by traveling troubadours. The way each verse begins also gives the impression that the story of God’s love is too overwhelming for words to express. And, as I have said before, I really like the repetition of the opening lines – I find that it ties the hymn text together. But we are talking opinion here, and everyone has one!
    Despite the repetition of the word “love” 3 times in the final verse, I really like the use of the phrase “in love” ascribed to the persons of the Trinity. It adds another whole dimension to this all-encompassing love of God for us.
    For me, the jury is still out on the use of the verb “challenge”, as challenge can be positive (I.e.That project really challenged me) as well as negative

    I love this text united with the PASSION CHORALE – the longing of the tune enhances the text and there is the Passion/Love connection!
    Michael, thank you once again for these beautiful texts. I am afraid my comments are less helpful than others because I usually like more than I dislike 🙂

  6. MUNICH is another tune that would work well with this if the desire is to avoid the direct associations with PASSION CHORALE (being a tune-dog, I rather like the associations, but I know there are PIPs who cannot stand when a tune that has such exclusive associations – at least in English – is used with another text; let alone when Bach used it for Christmas music…).

  7. I like it–very distinct echoes of Horatius Bonar’s hymn “O love of God, how strong and true” (H1982 #455/456). We used that hymn on the 2nd Sunday of Lent as the sequence hymn before the Gospel (Mark 8:31-38).

    I’d avoid “Passion Chorale” for two reasons, 1) it’s strong connection to the words “O Sacred Head” and 2) because that hymn will be sung in just a few short weeks where it makes a bigger and better impression then than if used on the 4th Sunday when the mood, ostensibly is slightly lifted (rose vestments, flowers, more organ). I’d suggest “Llangloffan” #68 H1982.

  8. I’d be happy to use Passion Chorale for this text, because my congregation knows it well.

    For those who suggest using tunes from H1982, I’m curious: Are your parishioners all former Episcopalians who know these tunes? Or do you score them in Finale and print in a worship aid, in which case your whole congregation can sight-read a new tune every week? Or does your choir rehearse and sing these as simple choral anthems? How does this work in your parishes?

  9. Scott, when the tune is less familiar, I have used the texts as choir pieces during the Preparation Rite. (I used Lent 1B and 2B that way). But I have programmed some of Michael’s other texts, set to more familiar tunes, as congregational hymns (I.e. Immaculate Conception, Baptism of the Lord) by printing the words of the texts in a worship aid, (with proper copyright notice) with a brief rehearsal before Mass. I do not have my assemblies learn or sight read a new hymn tune every week!

  10. I have a question I hope some one can answer: what does “76.76.D” mean? I assume it has something to do with meter, but what exactly? I have asked three different music directors with actual four year music degrees who had no clue. I see similar designations in the Breviary for different hymns and suspect if I knew the code it could help with unfamiliar hymns.

    1. It means “One line of seven syllables, one line of six syllables, one line of seven, one line of six. Doubled (i.e., = 7.6.7.6.7.6.7.6).” Thus a haiku would be 5.7.5. I cannot *believe* that there would be (parish?) music directors who would not know this. The Peter principle at work, I guess.

      1. Also, be aware that there can sometimes be a slight difference between lyric and tune meter, because of the ability to tie musical notes. And one needs to be aware that not all tunes of the same meter will serve all lyrics of the same meter, e.g., where there is a strong iambic foot (where the first syllable is a pickup or weak beat) versus a strong trochaic foot (where the first syllable is a down or strong beat). That being said, those numbers allow quick mixing and matching of tunes and texts. The concept is rather fundamental to strophic hymnody. In the rear of any decent hymnal, you will find a Metrical Index of Tunes, where all the hymns are indexed by their tune meters.

        Finally:

        CM=Common Meter=8.6.8.6. (or 86.86.)
        CMD=Common Meter Double (that is, 86.86.86.86, et cet.)
        LM=Long Meter=8.8.8.8. (or 88.88.)
        LMD=Long Meter Double
        SM=Short Meter=6.6.8.6. (or 66.86)
        SMD=Short Meter Double

  11. Dear Friends,

    I’ve really been under the weather for some weeks now, but have taken great solace from the kindness with which you have offered critiques of my Lenten hymn texts.

    First, thanks to Emily and Karl for clarifying the mysteries of hymn tune meter numeration systems.

    Second, I’ve just finished a hymn text for Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Year B, that fits PASSION CHORALE, so I think I’ll take John’s suggestion to use LLANGLOFFEN. I thank those who suggested AURELIA as well, since this would probably be familiar to more communities, but not have the Passiontide associations of PASSION CHORALE.

    Third, I don’t quite know how to characterize what I was trying to do with the opening “me and you” lines. As Philip rightly notes, they were meant to occupy a more “folksy” register (to which “bestowed/bestows” might not belong!) and John caught the general influence of Horatius Bonar and others of his ilk. I am in awe of Philip’s working of the serpent-lifted-up imagery, but I don’t think it works with the register I am seeking after. (I REALLY encourage him to work out his own hymn incorporating that wonderful quatrain.) I thank Emily for “and sin beclouds our sight”; even though it might not fit my lowered register, I love the image of sin as cataract.

  12. If we drop the “sing your story” we lose the reference to the psalm. I would go the opposite direction and copy the psalm’s wording How could we sing… That really seems like the controlling metaphor. Phillip’s serpent verse does not have a liberation theme to fit that.

    The end of verse 1 does need some work. The doubled ‘to’ seems awkward to me, particularly since it demands an abbreviated suffering. Does “to suffering and strife” really not work?

    I like closing 2 on “lost in sin” but shouldn’t it be in present tense? Similarly, I would use “guide us through the night” to give a sense of present alienation. But that is getting away from cataracts, so I’d probably keep your words.

    These are your words,of course. I am just offering suggestions from the places your words take me. Thanks so much for doing this.

  13. Fr. Joncas,

    Following up on Jim McKay, you may wish to look at “may gain” in the final two lines of stanza 1. It’s not usual practice to break a verb construction across lines as you have done. Also both words end up falling on unstressed syllables in the meter. “May gain eternal life” may be a better final line. (Of course, you’ll need to add a syllable to line 7.)

    But hold on a second. Are you sure you wish to use “gain” at all? Sounds a bit Pelagian to me. “May have eternal life”?

  14. Dear Friends,

    As usual, I’ve weighed your helpful comments and connected them with my own understanding of what I was trying to do with this hymn text. Here is the revised text I’ve come up with (or with which I have come up [oops, I guess I’m still ending that sentence on a preposition: with which up I have come]):

    What words can sing the story
    Of love so deep and true,
    The love of God the Father
    Poured out on me and you?
    For God so loved this cosmos
    He gave his Son, the Christ,
    That all believing in him
    May gain eternal life.

    What words can sing the story
    Of love so deep and true,
    The love of Christ our Savior
    Poured out on me and you?
    He came not to destroy us,
    To shame us or condemn,
    Instead to heal and save us,
    Who once were lost in sin.

    What words can sing the story
    Of love so deep and true,
    That God the Holy Spirit,
    Pours out on me and you?
    When evil overwhelms us
    And sin beclouds our sight
    He shines within our darkness
    And guides us with his light.

    What words can sing the story
    Of love so deep and true,
    Of Father, Son, and Spirit
    In love with me and you?
    O God, so rich in mercy,
    Help us to heed your call
    To live the love you offer
    Till you are all in all.

    Fr. Phil, I understand that the Triune God acts as one ad extra, but I’m invoking the long-standing theological sleight of hand of ascribing activity to a Divine Person by appropriation. Fr. Ron, I don’t think this is any more Pelagian than the innumerable Roman Rite collects employing mereor and its variants. I know “cosmos” breaks the “folksy” register, but it does reflect the underlying Greek. I hope this is an improvement.

    1. Dear Michael,

      This is wonderful!! I like the changes you made and I like what you kept. Now this will be sung to
      LLANGLOFFEN, not the PASSION CHORALE?

  15. Fr. Joncas–

    As much as I appreciate this text–and I do; I like it very much–what really gets my admiration is that you wrote it on a flight from DC to MSP. Now, I know that for a lot of us the ideas have been stewing for a while before pen is set to paper (or whatever tech equivalent you’re using), but still…that’s amazingly quick. Terrifically quick. Wanna help out on my next musical when I’m in the deep woods?

  16. Dear Clay,

    Actually it’s not that quick. I had the luxury of four days in Washington around the time I received the Sophia award from Washington Theological Union when I had no responsibilities so I could “switch on” my hymn text writing mode. For me that means that the Lent, Year B, texts were always percolating in my subconscious during that period and the flight back home just gave me a chance to put on paper what had been stewing. In a way, this hymn was easier than most because the opening quatrain followed a pattern. As for writing for musicals, my heroes are Stephen Sondheim and John Bucchino (sp?), so I doubt I could ever produce texts as marvelous as they, no matter how long I percolated or stewed.

    Blessings,
    MJ

  17. Re: Linda at #24. When and if I publish these hymn texts, I hope to provide a Suggested hymn tune and an Alternative hymn tune for each. In this case, LLANGLOFFEN would be the Suggested hymn tune and AURELIA as the Alternative hymn tune. But I will also make it clear that music directors (per Scott Pluff’s insights) should feel free to use whatever hymn tunes their communities might know that fit the metrical pattern as long as they respect the character of the hymn text.

    Thanks again to all who have offered their critiques.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *