Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

During this time whilst we can’t sing together in worship we are aiming to post a different hymn each week.  For some Sundays it will be the obvious hymn in Common Praise for a particular Sunday and a brief commentary – partly with reference to The Penguin Book of Hymns edited by Ian Bradley – will be published with our hymn choice for the week.  The words of the hymn will be provided alongside a recording of the hymn, courtesy of Lucy Colbourne at home whilst Lancaster University is in lockdown.  This will have been recorded by Billy Colbourne (Assistant Organist) and includes use of his Hauptwerk organ also at home, with the sounds of Salisbury Cathedral’s organ.

Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster

Christ is Made the Sure Foundation

Christ is made the sure foundation,
Christ the Head and corner-stone,
chosen of the Lord, and precious
binding all the church in one,
Holy Sion’s help for ever,
and her confidence alone.

All that dedicated city,
dearly loved of God on high,
in exultant jubilation
pours perpetual melody,
God the One in Three adoring
in glad hymns eternally.

To this temple, where we call thee,
come, O Lord of Hosts, to-day;
with thy wonted loving-kindness
hear thy servants as they pray,
and thy fullest benediction
shed within its walls alway.

Here vouchsafe to all thy servants
what they ask of thee to gain,
what they gain from thee for ever
with the blessèd to retain,
and hereafter in thy glory
evermore with thee to reign.

Laud and honour to the Father,
laud and honour to the Son,
laud and honour to the Spirit,
ever Three, and ever One,
consubstantial, co-eternal,
while unending ages run.

Latin, before 9th century
tr. J M Neale

Tune: Westminster Abbey
Music: Adapted from an anthem by Henry Purcell

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Hymn Commentary 

This is a great hymn!  Well at least I think it is and certainly the regular tune that is sung to it has a majesty quite unlike any other.  As a choirboy it was sung in a higher key than is set in Holy Trinity’s hymnal, Common Praise, so it got us singing a top F on only the second word.  Those of you don’t like high notes will be pleased to know that you don’t have to sing up there for the rest of each verse. 

Yet, despite my promotion of this hymn, Christ is made the sure foundation is not a regular at Holy Trinity and indeed, an announcement of it in a service would be along the lines of “We shall now sing hymn number 208, part two.”  To stop it sounding like a second division hymn let us briefly look at its history and how it is an equal to part one.

Christ is made the sure foundation is part of a pre-ninth century Latin hymn translated by John Mason Neale (1818-1866).  It is to be found in the oldest known hymn books of the Western Church dating from the eleventh century.  Due to its age it was not surprisingly tied up with the monastic cycle of praise and would have been sung to a plainsong melody.  Part one, Urbs beata Jerusalem (translated by Neale as ‘Blessed city, heavenly Salem’), would have been sung at matins or evensong.  Part two of the hymn – our point of focus this week – would have been sung at daybreak at lauds, the first service of the daily office.  So although not even listed in the index of Holy Trinity’s hymnbook (you will need to look up ‘Blessed city, heavenly Salem’), part two could potentially have been the first thing that the monks sang each day.  In his lifetime, John Mason Neale translated some one hundred hymns from both Latin and Greek.  At times a controversial high church Anglican priest, he was born in London and died in East Grinstead, Sussex.  Not one to have enjoyed good health, he followed a career path that took him around various part of England and, briefly, Madeira.

The tune to this hymn is Westminster Abbey, composed by another Englishman, Henry Purcell (1659-1695).  It was originally part of an anthem of his and the tune’s name perhaps corresponds with that majestic feel to which I referred earlier.  So I stand by what I said at the start, this is a great hymn, perhaps suitable for big events of which Saints’ Days would be a good excuse.  Choosing Christ is made the sure foundation this weekend sees it coinciding with the Sunday before St Peter’s Day.  And if Christ is the sure foundation, Peter was the rock on which Christ’s Church was built.

Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster

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