It is for 4 weeks only. This week we are looking at the background to the hymns.
The hymn for Tuesday Week 4 Morning Prayer : also Tuesday Week 2 Morning Prayer : begins with the lines “Father, we praise You, now the night is over” and has three stanzas.
Originally written in Latin, this hymn is attributed to St Gregory the Great, 540-604, although there is controversy about this, with some thinking that Alcuin of York or someone associated with St Gregory the Great was the author.
What do we know about Gregory? He came from a wealthy and influential family, and was a very generous man. There is evidence that he was also an intelligent and learned man, because we still read his writings. He has extant works about Ezekiel and the Gospels. After a distinguished public career he became a Benedictine monk in 575, but only had about 2 years of peace in the monastery before the then pope made him one of the seven Cardinal Deacons of Rome. In that capacity he was sent as a diplomat to Constantinople for six years. In 590 he reluctantly became pope after every escape option was cut off. We also know that he took an intense interest in liturgy and in sacred music, and Gregorian chant is named for him. But he was never a well man, and had stomach complaints.
As someone who had frequented papal courts and kingly courts, the line “Monarch of all things, fit us for your mansions” fits. As someone who struggled with ill health, the line “Banish our weakness, health and wholeness sending” fits.
From my weeks of delving into the origins of various hymns for the liturgy of the hours there is a constant to be noticed: both the original writer and the translator are exceptionally learned and gifted, with deep knowledge of the bible. Therefore for St Gregory the Great to be the author fits with that pattern, and if not, he certainly had a hand in the collaboration or inspiration of this hymn.
The hymn itself certainly evokes a group of monks gathering in the very early hours of the morning in some building made of thick stones, belting out these hymn lyrics to a military-like cadence in a burst of praise to God.
I did try to find out the origins of this 18.104.22.168 hymn meter, and failed. That tends to indicate the antiquity of this particular pattern.
Now we turn to the translator into English. That’s Percy Dearmer, 1867-1936, who studied at Oxford and became an Anglican cleric. He was part of the Anglo-Catholic movement that had begun to take shape under John Henry Newman and friends. In Percy’s time there was a flourishing of interest in things liturgical and in studying what could be gleaned from the medieval and pre-medieval eras. Percy himself helped edit hymn books and contributed translations of Latin hymns. His final years were spent as a canon at Westminster Abbey.
I’m sure he never considered that some of his translations would still be being used over a hundred years later, and in Roman Catholic circles.
But how like God for Him to make sure that works of excellence are preserved for future generations to be blessed by. He raises up gifted scholars at various times in history to make inspired contributions under the influence of His grace.
St Gregory the Great, pray for us.