Now, my Tongue

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, The Nation’s Favourite Hymns by Andrew Barr or research on the internet – 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

Now, my Tongue, the Mystery Telling 

Now, my tongue, the mystery telling
of the glorious body sing,
and the blood, all price excelling,
which the Gentiles' Lord and King,
in a Virgin's womb once dwelling,
shed for this world's ransoming.

Given for us, and condescending
to be born for us below,
he, with us in converse blending,
dwelt the seed of truth to sow,
till he closed with wondrous ending
his most patient life of woe.

Therefore we, before him bending,
this great sacrament revere:
types and shadows have their ending,
for the newer rite is here;
faith, our outward sense befriending,
makes our inward vision clear.

Glory let us give and blessing
to the Father and the Son,
honour, might, and praise addressing,
while eternal ages run;
ever too his love confessing,
who, from both, with both is One. Amen

St Thomas Aquinas
tr J M Neale, Edward Caswall and others

Music: Mode iii
accompaniment by M Fleming

CCLI - 1073121

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hymn Commentary 

Although Now, my tongue, the mystery telling is a suggested hymn for the third Sunday in Lent, this week’s Hymn for the Week is a significant hymn for Maundy Thursday (and in some churches for the feast of Corpus Christi which is the Thursday after Trinity Sunday).  The hymn expresses the doctrine that the bread and wine are changed into the body and blood of Christ during the celebration of communion.

The hymn is known as Pange Lingua with words originally written in Latin by St Thomas Aquinas (1227?-74), the famous friar and catholic priest.  An influential philosopher and theologian, the name ‘Aquinas’ identifies his origins to the county of Aquino in present-day Lazio.  Holy Trinity’s hymnal, Common Praise, lists the translators of the hymn into English as ‘Neale, Caswall and others’.  Of the named ones John Mason Neale (1818-1866) translated many ancient hymns and, amongst them, the very grand Christ is made the sure foundation was a previous Holy Trinity Hymn for the Week.  The other, Edward Caswall (1814-1878), wrote his own hymns as well as translating and his See amid the winter’s snow has also previously been a Holy Trinity Hymn for the Week.

As set in the hymnbook the tune uses the Latin name Pange Lingua too as it would have been the original plainsong tune set to the hymn.  More modern tunes can be used to this hymn too but, particularly to accompany the solemnity of Maundy Thursday, the plainsong tune does seem to be the most appropriate.  The vision of religious orders in monasteries or convents singing unaccompanied come to mind but the use of the organ works well in a church setting.  The version of the accompaniment used here was by Michael Fleming (1928-2006), once a warden at the Royal School of Church Music.  The hymn book also tells us that the plainsong tune uses Mode iii.  I am no expert on modes except to say that there were eight of them and they were the beginnings of scales as we know them today.  The theoretical framework of modes originally described the structure of the chants composed by Pope Gregory I (AD540-605) as his variety of chants were to become dominant in medieval western and central Europe at that time; suffice to say that mention of Gregorian Chant immediately leads one to the sound of plainsong.  However, modes have never gone away and are used abundantly in contemporary jazz and pop as well as having infiltrated folksongs over the years; What shall we do with the drunken sailor? And Scarborough Fair being two very good examples.

But let us get back to the focus of this hymn as we have started to stray!  In this week’s anthem for the week I refer to music that encourages the emotional power of the words.  In this week’s hymn, however, we have to go searching for that power as plainsong doesn’t offer the same musical contrast to accompany any drama.  So go searching and you may find words that stand out; the words that stood out for me are those that end verse two and refer to the drama that was to unfold following the events of that first Maundy Thursday: ‘till he closed with wondrous ending his most patient life of woe’.   But perhaps it is the consistency and calm of plainsong that does, in fact, allow an atmosphere to contemplate the emotion associated with the mystery which unfolded that night in and around Jerusalem.

Charles Pavey - Organist & Choirmaster

Anthem for the Week