MUSIC AND LITURGY
SUNDAY, MAY 26: TRINITY SUNDAY
All of today's services include the singing of Hymn #362, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” the best known of hymns to the Holy Trinity. Inseparable in our minds today from the tune Nicaea by John Bacchus Dykes, the words of this wonderful hymn were written by Bishop Reginald Heber. Heber was one of the outstanding Anglican clergymen of the beginning of the nineteenth century, having distinguished himself first as a student at Oxford, then as a country pastor, an educator, and finally as a bishop. He accepted his assignment to the Diocese of Calcutta, which included all of British India, against the council of friends and family, and only with great reluctance. It was an impossible assignment, one that would break his health and lead to his premature death at age forty-three.
Heber was convinced of the value of hymns in worship and wished to see them used in the parish churches of the land. At the same time, he was far from happy about the standard of many of the hymns emanating from dissenting and evangelical circles of the previous century. They tended to be too subjective in character, too narrow in outlook, of poor literary quality, and to have little relation to the Church’s year. Percy Dearmer writes that Holy, Holy, Holy was “all the more valuable, because in the Victorian books, there were so few hymns about God; and this, free from all subjectivity, filled a large gap, expressing the pure spirit of worship in stately language based upon Rev. 4:8-11.” Among Heber’s best known hymns are “Brightest and best of the suns of the morning” (Epiphany), the Communion hymn, “Bread of the world in mercy broken” and the once popular missionary hymn “From Greenland's icy mountains.”
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