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
Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise
Hail the day that sees him rise, Alleluia,
There for him high triumph waits; Alleluia,
See, he lifts his hands above; Alleluia,
Lord, though parted from our sight, Alleluia,
Words: Charles Wesley,
CCLI - 1073121
In my earlier years I was organist at The Church of the Ascension, ten minutes’ walk along Newtown Road from Link Top. Not surprisingly, the big day for that church’s year was Ascension Day, just as Holy Trinity’s big day is Trinity Sunday in a couple of weeks’ time. As we are posting the hymn for the week in time for Sunday morning, THE hymn for Ascension, Hail the day that sees him rise, is being posted in time for the Sunday after Ascension. And it is a big hymn with an alleluia after every line of the six verses printed in Common Praise. For the purposes of Hymn for the Week we have cut it down to four verses…that’s still sixteen ‘alleluias’, although some may consider that you can’t have too many ‘alleluias’ (e.g. Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah).
For those of you would wish to know, both spellings of ‘alleluia/hallelujah’ have come into English from the same origin but via different routes. The original word is Hebrew and means “Praise the Lord/Yahweh (the Hebrew name of God)”. "Alleluia" is from the Hebrew via the Latin transliteration and ‘Hallelujah’ is from the Hebrew via the Greek transliteration and is closer to the original Hebrew.
But all this talk of ‘alleluias’ ignores the fact that, when Charles Wesley (1707-88) wrote this hymn, he didn’t include the word at all! The original ten verse version, as first published in Hymns and Sacred Poems in 1739, has been printed at the end of this commentary. Only verse five of the original has remained unchanged and it will be seen and heard as the third verse this week. Modern tastes don’t like Heaven being so definitely located ‘up there’ and, when the Anglican clergyman Thomas Cotterill (born in 1779 in Cannock, died in 1823 in Sheffield) took the first axe to the original in 1820, he also removed some of the more ecstatic and emotional language. The word ‘alleluia’ started to appear from 1852 and the version that we know now was first published in Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1861.
So finally we come to the tune. The Penguin Book of Hymns suggests that the usual tune, Llanfair, has not always been the most widely used but I have never been aware of any other tune being sung to this hymn. It was composed by Welshman Robert Williams who was blind from the day he was born in 1782. He was a native of Anglesey and, although a very reputable musician, he earned his living as a basket weaver. The tune is dated 14 July 1817, one year and one day before he died. Originally called Bethel, it is not clear when this tune and the words of Hail the day that sees him rise came together but this only adds to the transformation that this hymn has seen for its entire existence.
Charles Pavey – Organist & Choirmaster
PS. For more information on Charles Wesley, please refer to Love’s redeeming work is done, a previous Hymn for the Week.
Original Ten Verse Version
Hail the day that sees him rise,
There the pompous triumph waits:
Circled round with angel-powers,
Him though highest heaven receives,
See! he lifts his hands above.
Still for us his death he pleads;
Master, (will we ever say,)
Grant, though parted from our sight,
Ever upward let us move,
There we shall with thee remain,