Hymn of the Week: March 6, 2022
by David Sinden, Organist and Director of Music
St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Ladue
Hymn 146/147: "Now let us all with one accord"
One long-standing tradition in the Western Church is that of the Office Hymn. Office Hymns were a fixed part of the offices of Matins, Lauds, and Vespers. In The English Hymnal (1906), specific Office Hymns are prescribed for Matins and Evensong. The Episcopal Hymnal 1940 devised its own suggestions for Office Hymns for particular seasons.
Though the current Episcopal Hymnal does not refer to Office Hymns, many of the traditional Office Hymns of the church are contained in the Hymnal 1982.
But I have to wonder if we haven't lost one of the church's gifts given our present unfamiliarity with the traditional Office Hymns. These hymns were not optional. On the contrary, these prescribed hymns were an expected part of the church's regular worship. And as such, these hymns provided timely meditations on each season of the church year. They were another kind of "liturgical color" encountered in each part of the church year.
The historic Office Hymn at Evensong for the first days of Lent is "Ex more docti mystico." This hymn, often attributed to Pope Gregory the Great, was sung until Vespers for the Third Sunday in Lent.
In an elegant translation by James Quinn, this hymn appears in the Hymnal 1982 at Hymns 146 and 147: "Now let us all with one accord." The hymn can either be sung to its traditional plainsong melody 'Ex more docti mystico' (146), or the early American tune 'Bourbon' (147).
The hymn begins:
Now let us all with one accord,
in company with ages past,
keep vigil with our heavenly Lord
in his temptation and his fast.
The Rev. Nancy Roth, in her book of meditations on hymns, A Closer Walk, zeroes in on the word "vigil" in this hymn in connection with the darkness and self-examination of the season of Lent. During Lent, Roth writes, we are called to be "extraordinarily awake."
This hymn is an excellent companion for the start of Lent, a season when we keep watch with Jesus in the wilderness; a time when we prepare to mark time after Jesus' arrest, wait before the cross, and, ultimately, keep joyful vigil in the Paschal night.
At St. Peter's, Ladue, this Office Hymn will provide additional Lenten liturgical color as part of a service of Choral Evensong on Sunday, March 13.
You can hear the Hymn 146 sung as an Office Hymn at St. Thomas, New York from Evensong on the First Sunday in Lent last year: https://www.saintthomaschurch.