Hymn of the Week: December 5
by Ed Hanson, Director of Music and Choirmaster
Calvary Episcopal Church, Columbia
“Once He Came in Blessing”
For many of us, Christmas music makes the season. I can also say that about Advent music. Lovely and poignant hymns abound. Some, like “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” are often mistaken for Christmas carols. The Hymnal 1982 is full of wonderful choices for the four Sundays of Advent, and I often struggle trying to fit them all in!
One of my favorites is “Once He Came in Blessing,” found on page 53 of our hymnal. The tune, of German origin from the 1500s, is wonderfully lyrical. But it’s the poetry of the text that really draws me in. When I checked to see who wrote the lyrics, I discovered that they were translated from the original German by an Englishwoman named Catherine Winkworth. And Miss Winkworth was a most interesting person!
Born in London in 1827, Catherine was raised in a progressive family. Well-educated for a young woman of her day, she became a lifelong feminist and a champion of higher education for women. At a young age she became interested in German hymnody and decided that she would set about translating some of her favorites for use in English churches. The website Hymnary.org lists 465 hymn texts translated by her! She published several volumes of German collections, called “Lyra Germanica.” The first volume was published around 1854.
The Hymnal 1982 features ten of her translations, and Catherine Winkworth is commemorated on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on August 7 as a hymn writer. Here are her other translations found in our hymnal: 67, 151, 184, 339, 396, 397, 436, 440, 635. Have fun looking up each number to see if you know that particular hymn!
Here are Winkworth’s lyrics for our featured hymn:
Once he came in blessing, all our ills redressing;
Came in likeness lowly, Son of God most holy;
Bore the cross to save, hope and freedom gave us.
Still he comes within us, still his voice would win us
From the sins that hurt us, would to Truth convert us;
Not in torment hold us, but in love enfold us.
Thus, if thou canst name him, not ashamed to claim him,
But wilt trust him boldly nor dost love him coldly,
He will then receive thee, heal thee, and forgive thee.
One who thus endureth bright reward secureth.
Come, then, O Lord Jesus, from our sins release us;
Let us here confess thee till in heaven we bless thee.
Have a blessed Advent, everyone!