Hail to the Lord who comes

A hymn for Candlemas

The feast of The Presentation of Christ in the Temple (which used to be called The Purification of St Mary the Virgin) recalls the story of Jesus being brought to the Temple 40 days after his birth to complete Mary’s ritual purification after childbirth, and to perform the redemption of the firstborn son, in obedience to Jewish law.

The Gospel records that Simeon had been promised that “he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ”. Simeon then uttered the prayer that would become known as the Nunc Dimittis, which prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus:

Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel

In our old Book of Common Prayer there was an service of The Churching of Women, which echoed the ancient Jewish practice although it did not refer to purification, but was a service of thanksgiving that the mother had survived the childbirth.

The words of the hymn were written by Revd John Ellerton (1826-1893), whose best-remembered hymn is The day Thou gavest, lord, is ended.

One good reason (especially today!) for including this hymn in our collection is the tune, which is called St Veronica. It was composed by Sir Henry Francis Champneys (1848-1930). An am­a­teur mu­si­cian, he stu­died un­der John Goss, held var­i­ous mu­sic­al po­si­tions from 1880 to 1913, and (appropriately for a feast celebrating childbirth) he was an eminent obstetrician and chaired the Cen­tral Mid­wives’ Board from 1903 to 1930. He was the son of a Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral who later became Dean of Lichfield.

Saint Veronica is commemorated in the Roman Catholic Church on 12 July, but does not seem to appear in the Church of England Calendar. Well, not yet, anyway.

Verses 1 and 4 start with the word “Hail”, which for greater emphasis comes on what would otherwise be the second note of the tune. I think this is easy enough to understand when you play the tune.

St Veronica

Hail to the Lord who comes,
comes to his temple gate!
Not with his angel host,
not in his kingly state:
no shouts proclaim him nigh,
no crowds his coming wait.

But borne upon the throne
of Mary’s gentle breast,
watched by her duteous love,
in her fond arms at rest;
thus to his Father’s house
he comes, the heavenly guest.

There Joseph at her side
in reverent wonder stands;
and, filled with holy joy,
old Simeon in his hands
takes up the promised child,
the glory of all lands.

Hail to the great First-born,
whose ransom-price they pay!
The Son before all worlds,
the child of man to-day,
that he might ransom us
who still in bondage lay.

O Light of all the earth,
thy children wait for thee!
Come to thy temples here,
that we, from sin set free,
before thy Father’s face
may all presented be.

  • Veronica on Hail to the Lord who comesThank you! Much appreciated - lovely tune and a great way to celebrate my birthday 🙂 xxx

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