Season after Pentecost, 2023
Two years ago, I wrote about the "new worlds" sentiment found in two different hymns: new worlds - thousands of.
Frederick William Faber writes of "thousands / Of new worlds as great as this" in a stanza that has been cut from the Hymnal 1982.
And the midst of Robert Bridges's famous hymn gives us: "newborn worlds rise and adore"
But I had not realized how ancient the "many worlds" sentiment was in Christian liturgy.
Stephen Buzard, the director of the 2017 St. Louis Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) course drew our attention to a similar line in the Phos hilaron.
The Phos hilaron is truly ancient – the oldest known Christian hymn outside of the Bible.
While it's often rendered as "O gracious light," Lutheran theologian Marva Dawn loved to translate this literally: "O laughing light" or "O hilarious light".
The Phos hilaron was introduced to the Evening Prayer (Both Rite I and Rite II) with the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.
Here it is in the Rite I version:
O gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed! Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing thy praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Thou art worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified though all the worlds.
There it is again – right there in the very last line – the "many worlds" idea. The plural is deliberate.
This year is the 20th anniversary of St. Louis RSCM course, and a new setting of the Phos hilaron has been commissioned to honor the course's founders: Phillip Brunswick and Brother Vincent Ignatius, OSB. The composer is Gary Davison.
Yesterday, Mr. Buzard drew our attention to that last phrase of the Phos: "through all the worlds".
There is an exceptional, mystical way in which Gary Davison has set those words.
And so here we have it, the best of the Anglican choral tradition: an ancient Christian text in a brand new, beautiful, thoughtfully-composed setting.
It will be sung for the first time at Evensong on Saturday.
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