12 May 2008

A beautiful Pentecost celebration

Our celebration of Pentecost was…well… Spirit-filled! The prayers, the readings, the music – all of it was beautiful. The men’s schola outdid itself at the Latin Mass. They sang a Kyrie by Antonio Lotti, and all of the minor propers (including the sequence) really did conjure the image of the Holy Spirit descending. The English Masses in the morning had equally beautiful music. Of course, the old barn-burners like “Come Holy Ghost” are always sung with gusto, and at the time of the offertory we sang one of my absolute favorites, “Come Down, O Love Divine” to the incomparable tune, “Down Ampney.” The text is such a thing of beauty:

Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.

O let it freely burn, til earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let Thy glorious light shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes His dwelling.

The final hymn we sang was a text by Timothy Rees:

Holy Spirit, ever living
as the Church's very life;
Holy Spirit, ever striving
through her in a ceaseless strife:
Holy Spirit, ever forming
in the church the mind of Christ;
thee we praise with endless worship
for thy fruits and gifts unpriced.

Holy Spirit, ever working
through the Church's ministry;
quick'ning, strength'ning, and absolving,
setting captive sinners free;
Holy Spirit, ever binding
age to age, and soul to soul,
in a fellowship unending

thee we worship and extol.

The tune to which this text was sung is a joy to sing, “Abbot's Leigh” by Cyril V. Taylor. Canon Taylor was the Precentor of Salisbury Cathedral during the time I was student at the Theological College there, and he used to take some of us under his wing to teach us how to chant. I was privileged to get to know him, and he was one of the kindest and most gentle men I have ever known. I remember talking to him one day about this hymn tune, and he told me that the second part of it was a bit different when he was composing it. He wasn’t pleased with it, however, and he showed me how he developed it from what it was, into the gorgeous hymn tune it ended up being. It was a delightful conversation, and I remember him with great fondness every time we sing it.