I syng of a mayden

No, the title of this week’s blog is not a spell-check disaster. I love to see the words of this ancient carol printed in its original Middle English.

In Lectionary Years B and C, by its Gospel accounts of the Annunciation and the Visitation to Elizabeth, the Fourth Sunday of Advent is devoted to Mary the Mother of Jesus. Indeed, the Magnificat is even an option for the Psalm in Year C.

But if Advent IV remains devoted to Mary, even in Year A where we are this year, this Sunday’s Gospel account is clearly Joseph’s story.

“Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:20-21)

For the Parish Choir’s anthem this Sunday, perhaps I should have selected “Righteous Joseph,” one of my favorite carols from The Oxford Book of Carols, the tune of which we often use in our Sunday evening contemplative liturgy:

When righteous Joseph wedded was
Unto a virtuous maid,
A glorious angel came from heaven,
And to the virgin said –

“Hail blessed Mary, full of grace,
The Lord remains with thee,
Thou shalt conceive and bear a Son,
Man's Saviour he shall be.”

'Tis wondrous strange, quoth Mary, then,
I should conceive and breed,
Who ne'er was touched by mortal man,
In word, or thought, or deed.

When Joseph he returned
To Mary, meek and mild,
He wondered strangely at his wife,
To see her big with child.

God's messenger she did believe,
And is to Jerusalem gone,
Three months with her friends to stay,
God's blessed will be done.

Thus spoke the angel Gabriel,
This is not the work of man,
It is by God's ordained will,
E'er since the world began.

She's mother, maid and married wife,
By Jesu's birth befel,
And by his power and by his grace,
He'll conquer death and hell.

O Joseph do not blame your wife,
She's still a virtuous maid;
For no consent to any sin,
Against her can be laid.

The story leading up to Bethlehem is a “both/and” story of Mary and Joseph, hand-in-hand: Joseph’s care for Mary, a pregnant, unmarried young woman; Joseph making the necessary journey to Bethlehem to register; Joseph’s search for a room in the inn as Mary is about to give birth; Joseph fleeing into Egypt with his family, after an angel appeared to him in another dream.

The choir could have also sung “The Cherry Tree Carol,” based upon a story from the 7th century and sometimes nicknamed “Joseph and Mary.”

You see my wonderful, seasonal predicament: I read one lesson and can often come up with 10-20 hymns or anthems to illuminate said lesson. I frequently want to sing all of the above, but alas, a choice has to be made.

Mary made a choice.

‘Tis the season for choices, perhaps. Another subject for another blog day.

Because its text and tune are beautiful, we landed upon Patrick Hadley’s cherished gem, “I sing of a maiden.” English composer Patrick Hadley (1899-1973) studied at the University of Cambridge and the Royal College of Music, where he work was influenced by Ralph Vaughan Williams, Frederick Delius, William Walton, and Herbert Howells, all major English composers themselves.

In 1938 he returned to Cambridge as a professor and was elected Chair of Music in 1946, a post he retained until his retirement in 1962.

Though written for organ accompaniment, I chose this anthem for our choir this Sunday because it is also beautiful when played on the piano. The piece is written for treble choristers; our Parish Choir sopranos and altos have worked hard and will offer this exquisite work at the 10:30 service Offertory.

This 15th century carol is a beautiful poem when printed in its original Middle English and in Modern English. Readers will notice the thorn, the letter that resembles a combined “b” and “p.” This letter is found in Old English, Gothic, Old Swedish, Old Norse, and is replaced in Modern English with the characters “th.”

I syng of a mayden þat is makeles,
kyng of alle kynges to here sone che ches.

He came also stylle þer his moder was
as dew in aprylle, þat fallyt on þe gras.

He cam also stylle to his moderes bowr

as dew in aprille, þat fallyt on þe flour.

He cam also stylle þer his moder lay

as dew in Aprille, þat fallyt on þe spray.

Moder & mayden was neuer non but che – 

wel may swych a lady Godes moder be.

I sing of a maiden that is matchless,
King of all kings, for her son she ches. (chose)

He came as still where his mother was

As dew in April that falls on the grass.

He came as still to his mother's bower
As dew in April that falls on the flower.

He came as still where his mother lay
As dew in April that falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden, there was never one but she;
Well may such a lady God's mother be.

Listen to the Ely Cathedral Girls Choir sing "I sing of a maiden" here.
Photo credit: www.freeimages.com. 

Posted by Dr. David Ouzts at 5:17 PM
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