Psalms etc for Lent

Domine Probasti in Four Parts
Dominus Probasti in Four Parts

This blog is a bit late.  I’ve been quite busy recently. But here is an outline of what the collection provides for Lent.

A curiosity of Common Worship Daily Prayer, is that it splits Lent into two. Although Lent runs from Ash Wednesday to Easter, Daily Prayer makes extra provision for what it calls the Passion season, which runs from the Sunday before Palm Sunday until Easter Eve. This blog is only going to cover what I’ll call for this purpose ‘just-Lent’. I’m hoping to write a second blog sometime later about the resources in the collection for the Passion.

Morning Prayer

Opening –

Daily Prayer recommends a selection of verses from Psalm 51. The whole psalm runs to twenty verses.  Famously, its headnote tells us that David wrote it when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had taken Bathsheba.  He is having to repent not just for that adultery but also for procuring the death of her husband Uriah.  The collection provides three versions, one in Short Metre, one in Common Metre and the third in Long Metre. The tune recommended for the Short Metre version is Wirksworth, an attractive and simple minor tune which sadly seems to have dropped out of use.  I think it deserves revival. There are a number of other SM minor tunes that would be suitable. The tune provided for the Common Metre version is Cambridge Old, from Playford but with the addition of an alto line.

In many ways, though, it is the Long Metre version that is the most interesting. It is from the Old Version and the words were written by William Whittringham. At the moment, it is – as far as I know – as he wrote it. Some of the phraseology is on the cusp of being too archaic. In v12, for example, ‘Spirit’ is compressed to one syllable and rhymes with ‘sight’.  Can a C21 person sing of the Holy Sprite without being put in mind of a being more akin to Ariel in the Tempest?  Besides ten stanzas of Double Long Metre is probably more than one could inflict on a modern congregation, though Daily Prayer’s selection works out as only four stanzas. If it were not for the archaisms, I think that for personal devotional use, this version has a considerable edge on the other two.  For example, in Whittringham’s rendering of v2, David eloquently cries out,

“Wash me, O Lord, and make me clean ~ from this unjust mad sinful act,
And purify me once again ~ from this foul crime and bloody fact.”

I have been looking at rendering some of the odder or less felicitous phrases into slightly modernised language, but am not sure whether this can be done without being fair to the quality of the original.

There are relatively few tunes in DLM, but in Playford this psalm has its own dignified proper tune in E minor, again with an alto line added for the collection.

Canticle between the Readings –

Daily Prayer offers almost a superabundance of choice for this season. Its first recommendation is the Prayer of Manasseh, a selection of verses from the Prayer of Manasseh, a deuterocanonical book which is also one of the Orthodox Odes. There is a curiosity about the selection in Daily Prayer in that it includes one verse, v7, which is not in most texts of the LXX, but is in the Vulgate. The selection of verses in the collection is not quite identical that in Daily Prayer.  It is in 10 10 10 10 metre.  The tune suggested is Orlando Gibbons’s Song 4.  I particularly like the first line of v  6, using a rendering into English that goes back at least as far as the Authorised Version.

6.  And now I bend the knee within my heart.
Your kindness I implore.  Do not depart.

Do not break me, though that would be your right,
For I have sinned, done evil in your sight.

In the LXX, it is linked to 2 Chron 33, though usually appears at the end of the book rather than in its chronological position in the text. Manasseh, son of the good king Hezekiah, has been an unmitigatedly bad king.  Eventually he is taken prisoner by the Assyrians where he repents. The Hebrew Old Testament refers to the prayer’s existence as being in another book, but does not include it.

For those – and I am not one of them – who do not quite approve of singing canticles from the deuterocanonical books, there are three other options. The first is Deuteronomy 32: 1-12, which I have not yet rendered into metre. The second is Seek the Lord, Isaiah 55: 6-11. This is also recommended for Wednesday mornings in Ordinary Time.  It is in DCM and goes to a tune Penmaenmawr, by Sarah Geraldine Stock (1838-98) in A♭ Major.  In that setting, it is four stanzas, with the second half of each stanza repeating Is 55:7 as a chorus,

Come back. The LORD is merciful: ~ your good is what he seeks.
He yearns to pardon gen’rously; ~ these are the words he speaks.

The first half of each of the following stanzas set out God’s utterance through his prophet.

The third option is Hosea’s Song, Hos 6: 1-6, also recommended for Friday mornings in Ordinary Time.  It is in CM and the tune provided is called Eardisley.  This is an attractive anonymous tune, listed as ‘Trad’ which sounds as though it may be distantly related to the tune of ‘It came upon a midnight clear’. It includes these lines,

3.   So strive to know the LORD whose dawn ~ is sure as the day’s birth:
He comes to us like showers in spring ~ that water the cold earth.

4. ”How, Ephraim, Judah, shall I treat ~ your infidelities?
Your love melts like the morning mist, ~ or dew that early flees.

Evening Prayer

Opening –

The opening hymn in Daily Prayer is the hymn ‘Lord Jesus think on me’  in Short Metre.  It is in most respectable hymn books. CWDP also suggests a selection of verses from Psalm 143 under the name ‘A Song of entreaty’. The selection is marked in the collection with asterisks, and is also recommended for Friday evenings in Ordinary Time. The whole psalm, unexpurgated, is recommended for Compline in Advent. The tune, Crowle, is attractive, in triple time but in F minor. Although that is a difficult key and the tune will work quite adequately transposed into G Minor, the balance between the parts works better in the lower key.

Canticle between the Readings –

The recommended Canticle is For you Christ suffered, 1 Peter 2.21b-25 and No 66 in CWDP where it is called a Song of Christ the Servant. So far as I know, these verses have no history of having been regarded an early hymn or adopted as one, though they do echo other verses from Is 55 fairly closely. When I put them into metre, I had envisaged linking them to a different tune, but curiously, its tenor and subject matter insisted on being linked to Horsley, the tune for There is a green hill far away.  These are the words.

1.     For you Christ suffered. He gave you ~ his model how to live:
How you should follow in his steps, ~ to him those footsteps give.

2.     He did not sin, do any wrong; ~ his lips were free from guile:
When his accusers bullied, he ~ did not in turn revile.

3.    He suffered but he spoke no threats;  ~  nor did he bear a grudge:
But gave himself into God’s hands, ~ trusting in his just judge.

4      Christ bore our sins himself in his ~ own body on the tree:
That we might die to sin and live, ~ in righteousness to be.

5.      You’ve been healed by his wounds. Like sheep ~ you’d strayed; you’ve missed your goals:
But to your shepherd you’ve returned ~ the warden of your souls.

It is particularly important in this canticle not to allow a musical break to insert itself where the tildes are.

The alternative canticles in CWDP are Philippian Hymn, Philippians 2.5-11, which in this collection is in SM and goes to Franconia, Blest are the pure in heart and 1 John 1: 5-9 which as yet I have not set to metre.

Night Prayer (Compline)

The Psalm at Compline in Lent is 139. This is another of the truly great psalms, but at eighteen stanzas may strike many people as too long to sing.  There are two versions in the collection, both in Long Metre.  That means their tunes should be interchangeable. The first is a slightly updated version of Tate and Brady’s provision.  It goes well to Rivaulx, Father of Heaven whose love profound, by J. B Dykes.  The headnote in the collection provides some suggestions for suitable selections for those who would like to sing this psalm but who baulk at its length.

The other version is a very slightly more compressed version, twelve stanzas, by the Royalist poet, Sir John Denham (1615-69). I happened to find a delightful, and as far as I know, otherwise forgotten tune from the early c19 by  Alfred Pettett. Its title is Dominus Probasti. That is the title for this psalm in the Book of Common Prayer, the first two words of Psalm 139 in the Vulgate. So it must have originally been written for this psalm, though almost certainly for the Tate and Brady version. As in the collection, that was already linked to Rivaulx, I have linked it to this version.   It is very much in the style of its era, and possibly quite difficult to sing, but would be well worth the effort. Although it is not a fuguing tune, the echoing cadenzas in the last line are particularly attractive.


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