For March, Martin Draper selects two religious community texts: ‘Enter our hearts, O holy Lord’ and ‘With joy and by the Spirit led’
The English Hymnal, was not the first hymn book to contain translations of the ancient Latin ‘Office Hymns’, but it was the first major collection to include so many of them and to designate them as such. Because its sources were the hymns in the breviary in the offices of first and second Vespers, Matins and Lauds, there were actually more than most parishes needed. A degree of rationalisation in 1986 resulted in limiting the number in the New English Hymnal to two for the ‘seasons’ of the Church’s year as well as the most frequently used ‘commons’ (such as Our Lady and the apostles), and one for some most feast days.
The Revised English Hymnal has made fuller provision, restoring some ancient Latin texts which, even when not designated as Office Hymns, can nevertheless fulfil that function as well as being used outside the Divine Office in seasons where their objective, corporate character is especially fitting.
In addition, a cycle for every day of the week in ‘Ordinary time’ is provided, using a mixture of well-known texts and more modern compositions, often by members of Anglican and Roman Catholic religious communities.
The provision for Lent has been entirely rethought to reflect the fact that many parishes have been resorting to large numbers of ‘general hymns’, presumably because they thought that hymnals have not been providing enough usable material. The two texts given below represent the contribution of the Anglican monastic tradition. The first could be used as an Office Hymn on weekdays; the second is suitable for use during the first days of Lent at any service or for private devotion.
ENTER our hearts, O holy Lord,
To break the bonds that bind us still;
Speak to us your forgiving word
That we may do your perfect will.
2 Renew in us your Spirit’s flame,
Burn every evil thought away;
That we may love your holy Name,
And freely run your joyful way.
3 We praise you, Father, for your Son,
And Spirit, all-consuming fire;
Eternal Godhead, three in one,
Surpassing all that we desire. Amen.
ORDER OF THE HOLY PARACLETE, WHITBY
The words of this hymn are based on a prayer by Eric Milner-White, the writer of the ‘Bidding Prayer’ now used at traditional Christmas Carol Services throughout the world. He later became Dean of York, which is probably the connection with the sisters at Whitby.
The text links two Lenten themes: the forgiveness of sins and the renewal of our lives. Sin is seen as bondage, something which binds us and prevents us from living lives of true freedom; the opposite of our instinctive tendency to think that freedom consists of doing what we like.
A wise priest once said that ‘forgiveness breaks the chain of inevitability’ in that it stops one thing leading to another because the deeds and thoughts and omissions which make up our sins have consequences. Forgiveness cuts across all that, breaking the chain of ‘one things leads to another’ and enabling us to renew – in the sense of begin again – God’s gift of our lives.
The image of the purifying fire of the Holy Spirit is seen as getting to work at the very root of sin, while it is still at the level of our thoughts, ‘for the things which come out of a man are what defile him’ (Mark 7. 15). As St Paul writes, it is the law of the Spirit which sets us free from the law of sin and death (cf Romans 8. 2) to live lives full of joy.
WITH joy and by the Spirit led
The Church of Christ seeks desert paths,
All else forgotten, God alone
To worship and to follow there.
2 There silence shall set free the will,
The heart to one desire restore,
There each restraint shall purify
And strengthen those who seek the Lord.
3 There bread from heaven shall sustain
And water from the rock be struck.
There shall his people hear his word,
The living God encounter there.
4 All praise to God who calls his Church
To make her exodus from sin,
That tested, fasting and prepared,
She may go up to keep the feast.
ST MARY’S ABBEY, WEST MALLING
The corporate nature of the Church infuses this text for the beginning of Lent, which is a season celebrated first and foremost in public liturgy. It isn’t primarily about individuals ‘giving up’ something, nor about making a resolution to spend more time in prayer, study and acts of charity, valuable though those things are. From the earliest days, the whole Church accompanied catechumens and penitents on their pilgrimage to Easter; they were not just left leave to get on with it.
In the first two verses, the ‘desert path’ is that into which Christ entered ‘led by the Spirit’ (Luke 4. 1) according to the Lucan account of the temptations we read this year. It is God alone and not our ‘dearest idols’ that the Church is to worship. Might we incorporate more silence into the liturgy during this solemn time, which should be characterised by a deliberate and purifying sense of restraint?
In verse 3 we are reminded that the desert is also that of the people of the Exodus, in which gifts of God are received in ‘bread from heaven’ and ‘water from the rock’ and the living God ‘encountered’ in hearing his word.
The last verse underlines again the corporate nature of our Lenten pilgrimage. The whole Church is to make an ‘exodus’ from sin, the whole Church (like Christ in the wilderness) is to be tested, to fast, and to use Lent to ‘prepare’, as Christ did throughout his life, to go up to Jerusalem and fulfil his and our destiny as ‘Christ our Passover (who) is sacrificed for us’ (1 Corinthians 5. 7). That is the feast we are to keep. How lovely it would be if we were able to see the purpose of everything we do this Lent as being so that we ‘may go up’ to it ourselves.