First song of Isaiah, 13 Dec 15

Positive organAs we noted two weeks ago, we are into canticles or individual songs of praise (from the Latin canticulum meaning little song) in the place of the psalm during Advent.

Which ones?

Which texts are accepted as canticles is another question. Different church traditions tend to use different lists. One web-site lists dozens of them which, it says, are:

… mostly collected from the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours and the 1979 Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. Not included are the Psalms which are used as Canticles (Psalms 95, 100, 67, 24).

The Magnificat, Nunc dimittis and Benedictus are understandably favourites in most traditions, especially during Advent. Regarding those popular ones, I’d really like to have a go at the settings à4 by John Blow (1649 – 1708). Maybe another time?

What about our lot? A search of the official UCA site says nothing about the canticles at all, save the pronouncement that:

The Uniting Church in Australia welcomes Pope Francis’s encyclical letter on the environment, Laudato Si (Canticle of the Sun)

Fine, especially in the face of reluctance in many quarters to take on, or even recognise, the challenge of global warming. But it doesn’t shed much light on the UCA’s expectations for the traditional canticles. That’s fine by me too; I see nothing wrong with a little freedom. How often has revolution erupted from frustration with prescriptive doctrine, rules and regulations? (You won’t find too much of that stuff at South Woden.)

IMG_1121Aside: In honour of Bruce, our cantor from last Sunday’s song to whom our warmest of thanks, I hasten to acknowledge that standardisation and common measures are also important; Bruce earns his crust in this obscure field after all. In 1796-7, the French installed metre standard measures around their capital as reference points, presumably in the interests of fair trade — the one shown here (in a rather poor photograph, sorry) is the sole survivor in its original position. Such measures never prevent cutting one’s cloth to suit the purpose, of course and in today’s context, verse and song are marvellously malleable media, serving myriad moments and messages.

This one

This week’s First song of Isaiah is relatively obscure. It is no doubt in use, but does not appear in numbered lists in the Anglican and Eastern Orthodox liturgy. It’s called Canticle 9 in the Roman tradition.


Well, the ecclesiastical authorities have clearly given me a non-metric inch, so I might as well take a musical mile. For this Sunday, I have borrowed the tune of a song that John Bell wrote for Advent (He came down that we may have love) and added a paraphrased First Song of Isaiah as a children’s song.

It’s a simple tune that concludes ‘hallelujah for evermore’. We sang it in Advent 2012 and 2103 to the delight of our children. One of our mothers-of-young and creative children’s blogger will sing for us. We can anticipate their strong support, especially now that they are so much older and taller a couple of years on, and — is it possible? —  even more beautiful.

We welcome back our former pastor Jonathan Barker as our leader this week.

The Magnificat, 21 Dec 14

This lovely Song of Mary, found in Luke 1:46b-55, is called Magnificat since that is the first word of the text in the Latin:

My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour.

The inattentive visitor looking up at the vaulted cathedral of Siena might step on this simple but beautiful marble unawares. A wondering Mary?You can feel the thrill springing up in her heart — to be the mother of the promised one!

The subject of this outpouring of joy is not just personal, although that surely would be enough for several songs.

She quickly broadens the focus to recognise divine benevolence to all the faithful, bringing mercy, justice and equality:

God’s mercy is for believers from generation to generation. God has shown strength by deeds, scattering the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, bringing down the powerful from their thrones, and lifting up the lowly. (vv. 50-52 alt.)

Each newbornIt is a lovely song, reminiscent of the Song of Hannah, mother of Samuel. Mary’s thoughts and examples range across both the personal and the community, with many ideas threaded into the central theme of Mary’s awe at this surprise honour.


Over the last few years our ladies and girls have sung versions of this song to inspiring effect, the Canticle of turning in 2012 and then Holy is your name (PFAS p. 1020 — see the post last year for discussion of other music options).

All women and girls are welcome to share this experience again, meeting on Saturday for the first sampling of an arrangement in Psalms for all seasons.

You may wish to add your comments on this reading.

Song of songs, 6 July 14

Quilt detail VFIn place of the set psalm this week, we find a reading of that lovely poetry of The Song of songs, or of Solomon.  It’s a small emotional poem of love and devotion:

Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the young women

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. (Song 2:1)

On Sunday we will only hear half a dozen verses of chapter 2, not including those quoted above, so it’s worth reading the Song in full. We do hear some warmly familiar ideas (and, even though we are not quite up to spring yet, appropriate themes after our mid-winter solstice):

Now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.

FigsCenturies of Christian theologians have drawn allegorical parallels to the relationship between Christ and the church, God and the people. A search of our hymn book Together in Song for songs based on this scripture draws only two references, including 223 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds. So it’s a good thought and worthy of reflection. (And if it is allegorical, then one of the considerations for exegesis must surely be that element of equality and dialogue that is evident between the partners?)

VIne flowersThis well-worn interpretation, however, is not strongly supported by the text itself and can thus seem a little theoretical. This does not invalidate the vision and the inspiraton that might follow: but on the other hand, the overt celebration of human love is much more direct, imminently resonant, part of our creation.

Either way, it’s cause for rejoicing.


There are some lovely settings of this lovely poetry around. It really calls for an approach that is more romantic than rock, more glad than trad, and — at the risk of pushing it — more emo than frozo.

We hear one of our young couples render a comely duet by Laura Farnell, Arise my love. Having no congregational refrain, the song is not actively responsive; but the force and beauty of the poetry, the power of love both human and divine, will inevitably evoke their own response.




Magnificat, 15 Dec 13

The inattentive visitor looking up at the vaulted cathedral of Siena might step on this simple but beautiful marble unawares. A wondering Mary?

The inattentive visitor, looking up at the vaulted ceilings of the cathedral of Siena, might carelessly step unawares on this simple but beautiful marble. A wondering Mary?

The third Sunday in Advent (we are around to Year A again, by the way) brings us to the song of Mary, generally known by its Latin name (from the first line Magnificat anima mea Dominum) as the  Magnificat. The text is in Luke 1: 46-55.

Understandably, settings for this song abound. In our own song book alone, Together in song, there are seven tunes that are either settings of or references to this lovely paean of thankful wonder – or was it wondering thanks?

The text has been identified for centuries as one of the key liturgical canticles. It’s  part of the Marian tradition of course, but is also appropriate during Advent as we rehearse the story of the coming of the baby Jesus.

This Sunday, a group of women will lead us in singing Holy is your name, set to the traditional Irish tune Wild mountain thyme. (Psalms for all seasons, page 1020). One line goes:

I am lowly as a child, but I know from this day forward that my name will be remembered, for all will call me blessed.

What a moment for Mary!

Sculpture V KerylosWe respond to each verse with this antiphon:

And holy is your name through all generations!

Everlasting is your mercy to the people you have chosen

And holy is your name.

Here is one version on youtube >

Ladies, please arrive early on Sunday in preparation.

For those interested in just a few of the other canticle candidates, read on …

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