Hymn of the Month


Child So Lovely/ Nino Lindo

One of the most pervasive Christmas folk traditions is the singing of lullabies. The Austrian "Silent Night" the Polish "Infant Holy" and the North American 'Away in a Manger" are some common examples of Christmas carols that often function as lullabies in Christmas season tableaux, church school programs, and carol services.

This lullaby tradition is rooted in the early Christian and Medieval stories of the Virgin Mary nursing the Christ child and rocking him to sleep while singing lullabies. As Christina Rossetti suggests in her hymn "In the Bleak Mid-Winter" the (sometimes anglicized) imagery of Christ's birth consists of "frosty wind" and "snow on snow" "a breast full of milk and a manger full of hay" adoring "ox and ass and camel," an angel choir that "thronged the air," and mother Mary who "worshiped the beloved with a kiss."

Visual artists as diverse as Rembrandt, Luis de Morales, Leonardo, and Artemisia Gentileschi have depicted for us various scenes in which Mary nurses her son, holds him in her arms, and rocks him to sleep. The story of Joseph, Mary, and Jesus' escape into Egypt has particularly generated charming nursing and rocking visuals. The "Coventry Carol" {Carols for Choirs, Book 1, Oxford University Press) is probably the best-known musical equivalent of such art works. Its reminder of the mass murder in Bethlehem helps to include in our Christmas celebrations some sense of the suffering and death that already attends Christ's birth (which is more true to life than the "clean and tidy" scenes of most of our Christmas cards, and for that matter, many of our carols!).

"Child So Lovely"/ "Nino Lindo" is a traditional Christmas lullaby from Venezuela that is rooted in the Roman Catholic veneration of the Virgin Mary, although its use, for our purposes, extends beyond its Mariology Such veneration is particularly prominent in Hispanic cultures, where the Christmas creche, processions and tableaux with villancicos (Spanish carols), and Marian devotions find a heightened place at Christmastide. A full setting of the refrain and three stanzas of "Child So Lovely" may be found in the United Methodist Hymnal (1989), #222; the English translation was provided by George Lockwood, who prepared various Spanish-to-English texts for that hymnal.

The text of the refrain, presumably representing Mary's own words as she sang to the Christ child, is a simple verse that honors Jesus as Christ the Lord; it is a childlike confession that should come easily from God's children of any age. The tune, CARACAS (named after the capital of Venezuela), is equally straightforward: its mostly stepwise motion hovers over a simple bass line.

The simplicity of this lullaby does not need extensive "dressing up" during the Christmas season. Sing it as a solo, with a children's choir, or with the entire congregation during a church school program or carol service, possibly with the use of the trio setting (included here) for organ and/or other instruments. Combined with several other lullaby carols (eg., those mentioned above), "Child So Lovely" could be sung while nativity art is projected from slides and the Christmas story is acted in mime or drama.


I Was Glad They Came to Call Me (Psalm 122)

Psalm 122 is one of the "psalms of ascent," that group of psalms (120-134) that were sung by the Jews during their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem, probably in conjunction with other pilgrimage and "Zion" psalms such as 15,24,48, and 87 These "psalms of ascent" were compiled into one of the post-exilic psalm collections that predate what we now know as the book of Psalms.

Similar in theme to Psalms 84 and 132, Psalm 122 embodies the pilgrims' joy over Jerusalem, the city of David's line, and utters the pilgrims' prayer that Jerusalem will truly be a city of salem or shalom. The English paraphrase was prepared for the Psalter Hymnal in 1982 by the Toronto aesthetician Calvin Seerveld. Seerveld has a special fondness for these "psalms of ascent," and paraphrased most of them directly from the Hebrew.

The tune JESU JOY was originally composed by the Hamburg musician Johann Schop (c. 1600-1665) and was associated with Johann Rist's "Werde munter mein Gemute" in his 1642 collection Himmlische Lieder. Bach used the melody twice in his St Matthew Passion, and in four cantatas. His concerto-like setting of this chorale tune in Cantata 147 (for the Feast of Visitation; i.e., of the Virgin Mary visiting Elizabeth) produced "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" (and thus the tune title), which has become one of the most popular tunes in church music.

Though Psalm 122 is appointed for the first Sunday of Advent in Year A of the Revised Common Lechonary, it is useful at the beginning of worship in almost any service throughout the year. Church choirs will be quite familiar with text and tune of "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" as an anthem. Numerous publishers issue this work for SATB or other voice combinations. Some provide a simple organ realization; others a more difficult one. The challenge this month will be to use the familiar Bach setting with the text of Psalm 122.

Obviously the psalm may be sung by the congregation exactly as printed, with just an organ introduction featuring the first long phrase of the tune. Another option is to use Bach's introduction (or ritornello—printed here in F major) as the introduction to stanza 1 and as an interlude between stanzas 1 and 2 (then dovetail the final word of st. 1 with measure 1 of the introduction). Bach's conclusion (also printed here) could then be used as the ending or coda.

A choral option is to sing Psalm 122 with the full use of Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" so that the phrases of the psalm text replace the chorale text (teach the words by rote or write them into your anthem copies and decide what to do about the small rhythm change in phrase 7) and are interspersed with the running triplets of the ritornello theme. A good violinist could play this ritornello with lighter chord accompaniment on the organ for the second or third of these performance options.

Organists will find various preludes on the JESU JOY tune, also known as WERDE MUNTER. Here are three suggestions (in order of increasing difficulty): Marpurg, 21 Chorale Preludes (Augsburg); Walther, in 80 Chorale Preludes, ed. by Keller (Peters); and Walcha, Chorale Preludes IV (Peters). Hearing this tune in something other than the familiar Bach setting can be refreshing!

Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive

Hymns about God forgiving our sins are not hard to find, but hymns that deal with our need to forgive others are all too rare. Rosamund Eleanor Herklots' text, "Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive," remedies that deficiency.

Herklots originally wrote these lyrics in 1966 after digging weeds out of her garden and contemplating how their deep root system was symbolic of the depth of human evil. After minor revisions, the text was published in a British hymnal supplement, 100 Hymns for Today (1969), and has appeared in many hymnals since then.

The hymn begins with a cry for God's grace to make our forgiveness of others an authentic reality in our lives. Who among us does not bear periodically an "unforgiving heart that broods on wrongs and will not let old bitterness depart"? Then the text rerninds us that all forgiveness is practiced only in the "blazing light" of Christ's cross, and concludes with a call to holy living in which resentment is replaced by "bonds of love."

"Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive" has not yet met with consensus in the choice of a Common Meter tune, but DUNFERMLINE is certainly one suitable choice—the more so if it is sung in its original rhythms in two long musical phrases fas in Rejoice in the Lord 339), which is a better match to the two long textual phrases in each stanza than the more square setting in the Psalter Hymnal. DUNFERMLINE is one of the twelve common tunes (i.e., not wed to a specific text) from the Scottish psalm-singing tradition. It appeared in Andro Hart's Scottish Psalter of 1615 and has been attributed to John Angus, a Reformation-era precentor at the Dunfermline Abbey in Scotland (thus the tune title).

Ordinarily, this hymn belongs in the Service of Confession and Forgiveness, and may be sung in its entirety by the congregation or by an unaccompanied choir. In The Hymn of October, 1992,1 suggested a more full-length use: sing stanza 1 followed by spoken corporate prayers of confession; sing stanza 2 followed by spoken personal prayers of confession; follow stanza 3 with silent prayers; and append the Beatitudes (Mart. 5:3-12) to the singing of stanza 4.



March: Christ, the Life of All the Living (JESU, MEINES LEBENS LEBEN)
April: Give Thanks to God for All His Goodness (GENEVAN 98/118)
May: The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns (ST. MAGNUS).

Bert Polman was a hymnologist, professor and chair of the music department at Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan. He passed away in July 2013. 

Reformed Worship 29 © September 1993, Calvin Institute of Christian Worship. Used by permission.