I’m trying something a little different with this installment of the Hymnal Project: instead of having a discussion article on the MCI website for each hymn, I’m going to create one only for spiritual songs which I know have issues (edit to be considered, or the question of whether to included it in the hymnal or not). If you have comments, please post them here!
Hymns to the Holy Trinity
So far, we have looked at hymns grouped according to their place in the liturgical year: hymns for Christmas, the Great Fast, and so on. We will also be looking at hymns to the Mother of God, and for saints and feasts throughout the rest of the year.
Next, I would like to look at hymns directed to God, starting with those we sing to the Holy Trinity, or simply to “God” (which in our tradition can mean God the Father, the source and fountainhead of divinity):
Follow the links for more information about each hymn!
The first is our primary spiritual song which praises the Trinity, and so it is most suitably sung at Pentecost; but it could also be sung before the Divine Liturgy on virtually any occasion. The Slavonic original has several verses which name each of the groups praising the Trinity (cherubim and seraphim, archangels and angels, apostles and martyrs), and from these verses I had added three to the English text.
The second is known well outside our particular church, and has a long and somewhat checkered past, being used by others primarily on secular occasions. But for US, it remains a “churchly” hymn. I have added the (English translation) of the second verse of “O Jesus Lord, we ask you to bless us” here, since it fits much better here. This hymn has no particular “place” in the liturgical year, but could be sung before any Divine Liturgy that does not have a particular theme.
The third hymn is explicitly one of thanksgiving; the words “You have enlightened us” make it particular suitable for singing as a thanksgiving AFTER the Divine Liturgy, where we thank God for our enlightenment in the Eucharist, but it could also be sung on other occasions as well, where these same words become a general thankgiving for revelation, for holy Baptism, and so on. Unlike the other two hymns in this set, this one’s origin is somewhat mysterious (Edit: FOUND – see comment below!), appearing in our recent collections of paraliturgical hymns without a clear source.
Titles, titles, titles
If you look at the PDFs of these hymns, you will see that each one has a “theme” or “title” in the upper right, suggesting when it might be most appropriate to sing. These were relatively easy for feasts like Christmas and Theophany.
Here, “Holy Trinity” is fairly obvious for Hosts of angels on high, but what do we do for So great is God? Some of our books have simply labelled it as “Hymn to God”; I am included to title it “God the Father,” not meanly to absolutely exclude thought of the other Persons of the Trinity, but because we have so few non-liturgical hymns directed to this Person.
The case is a little different with “We thank you, God Most High.” This hymn could be labelled “Holy Trinity” or “God the Father”, but it could also be labelled “Thanksgiving” so that cantors might select it for that purpose.
Please post your thoughts and comments below!