A gift in honour of Mary Magdalene

ikon Mary Magdalene
Ikon showing Mary Magdalene and the linen cloths lying. I have been unable to find its source.

The 22nd July, this Saturday, is St Mary Magdalene’s day. So I thought I would mark it by posting this canticle.  It is a metrical version of No 83 in Common Worship Daily Prayer where its title is Victimae Paschali – A Song of the Resurrection. It is a version of what is called the Easter Sequence, one of only four pre-Reformation Sequences which were not suspended at the Council of Trent.  The other three are The Golden Sequence for Pentecost, No 85 in CWDP, the Dies Irae and one for Corpus Christi. All four were originally written in Latin, and are western only. According to wikipedia,  it is usually attributed to the 11th century Wipo of Burgundy, chaplain to the German Emperor Conrad II, but has also been attributed to Notker Balbulus, Robert II of France, and Adam of St. Victor.

The version in CWDP is in prose.  That is odd.  The original Latin is in verse.  More than one metrical version already exists in English.  CWDP does include some office hymns and metrical versions of the Magnificat and Benedictus. So one would have thought it would be more appropriate to reflect this by rendering any English version into metre.

As one might expect, the Easter Sequence is normally sung at Easter. There is quite a well known hymn version of it, Christ the Lord is ris’n to day: Christians, haste your vows to pay, by Jane Leeson (1807-1882) in 7777 7777 which appears in several hymn books. If still sung, it is usually sung to Llanfair, the tune for Hail the day that sees him rise with Alleluias at the end of each line.

The Latin version includes the dialogue with Mary Magdalene that the CWDP version replicates. However, even in the full version of Jane Leesom’s version, Mary’s answer lacks a certain ‘punch’. Rather than describe the grave clothes, she just says, “I beheld, where Christ had lain, ~ Empty tomb and angels twain;”. Furthermore, those hymn books that still contain the hymn, often only have part of it, and leave out the dialogue with Mary Magdalene.

The words

Here is a quite different version. It is usually attributed to Sir Walter Kirkham Blount (? – 1717) but it is just possible it might have been written by his father, Sir George Blount (? – 1667). The family were recusants. It appears at least as early as 1670 in a bilingual companion to the Catholic offices of Holy Week and Easter published (allegedly) in Paris in that year. I say ‘allegedly’ since according to Professor Eamon Duffy, by the late C17 some recusant works were being illegally printed in England with false title pages to give the impression they had actually been printed abroad. I have no idea whether this book was one of them.  As it is quite a substantial book, I suspect not.

Anyway, here are the words. I have made a few small changes to fit modern grammar, and one more significant one.

The significant one is in the sixth line. Sir Walter’s original reads “and made his father’s anger cease,”. That represents theology that in the C17 everyone on both sides of the Reformation divide would have taken for granted. They would not have noticed it. It would have neither jarred nor struck them as remotely controversial. However, it is not what the underlying Latin says, which is, “Christus innocens Patri reconciliavit peccatores” ‘The innocent Christ has reconciled sinners to the Father’.  There has been acrimonious controversy about the line ‘the wrath of God was satisfied’ in the modern hymn ‘In Christ alone’.  It is not something I feel strongly about. When it comes to atonement theory, there is one thing one can say with confidence.  If a person tells you that their explanation is the right and only one, they are wrong.  However, some people dislike that line so much that they have refused to sing the hymn. I felt that there was no need to insist on Sir Walter’s theology if it is not in the Latin original, and if it meant people might not sing this version. So I have replaced it with “made your breach with the Father cease.”

The metre means that Magdalene in the eleventh line is three syllables. It is not ‘Maudlen’. It is up to congregations whether they prefer to sing ‘Madeleine’ or ‘Magdalene’.

The original is in Long Metre, but for the reasons explained below, this is set out as Double Long Metre.

1. Bring, all ye dear-bought nations, bring
your richest praises to the king,
That spotless Lamb, who more than due,
paid for his sheep, and those are you.
The guiltless Son, who bought your peace,
made your breach with the Father cease.
Then, life and death together fought,
each to a strange extreme were brought.

2. Life died, but soon revived again,
and even death by it was slain.
Say, happy Magdalene, oh say,
what did you see there on your way?
“I saw the tomb of my dear lord,
I saw himself and him adored,
I saw the napkin and the sheet,
that bound his head and wrapped his feet.’

3. ‘I heard the angels witness bear,
Jesus is ris’n; he is not here;
Go, tell his followers they shall see,
yours and their hope in Galilee.”
We, Lord, with faithful hearts and voice,
on this your rising day rejoice.
O you, whose power o’came the grave,
by grace and love us sinners save.

The original Latin version included a stanza that is now almost universally omitted as anti-semitic. There is a sanitised reflection of it in the section of the CWDP text that reads

“Trust Mary, believers,
for only she has truth to tell,
unlike the falsifying crowd
of rumour-makers and deceivers.

I have not, though, attempted to reinsert anything comparable.

The tune

Among Catholics, the Blount version is often sung to the excellent tune Lasst Uns Erfreuen which will be familiar to almost everyone as the tune for All Creatures of Our God and King. That is a Long Metre tune with two repeats of Alleluia after the second line of each verse and five after the fourth. Even though that makes a six verse hymn fairly long, I would like to have retained it. It is particularly appropriate for an Easter hymn. Alas, although the tune is recorded at least as far back as the 1620s, the version everybody knows was arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. So in the UK, I assume it is still in copyright and will remain so until 31st December 2028. If you have a hymn book with his version in it, please feel free to use it, but I cannot publish it here.

In stead, I am providing London in F Major by John Sheeles (1688?-1761). It has been the usual tune for the hymn The Spacious Firmament on High, by Joseph Addison (1672-1719), itself a fairly free paraphrase of Ps 19:1-6. I feel that the change in timbre between the first four lines of the melody and the second four draw out the switch from question to answer in the middle verse. It would make sense for male voices to sing,

Say, happy Magdalene, oh say,
what did you see there on your way?

And then for female voices to sing Mary’s answer, the rest of that verse and the first four lines of the next. Everybody could then sing the last four lines from “We, Lord, with faithful hearts and voice, … ” to the end.

Very little seems to be known about Sheeles apart from his having been a celebrated player of the harpsichord. The tune occasionally appears entitled Addison or Kettering. It is usually in F Major.

The last line repeats. A sample of the tune is on the Soundcloud page.

London in Hymn Format
London by John Sheeles (1688?-1761)

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