All Saints’ Day (November 1) is today, the day when we remember all those who have gone before us.
In the Episcopal Church, we have quite a list of major saints and “minor saints” in our liturgical tradition. Those “minor saints” are listed in our supplemental liturgical book A Great Cloud of Witnesses, formerly known as Holy Women, Holy Men and Lesser Feasts and Fasts.
The Book of Common Prayer (1979) lists the “red letter” feast days for the major saints, including Saint Mary the Virgin, Saint John the Baptist, Saint Mary Magdalene, Saint Joseph, and Saint Michael and All Angels (see BCP pp. 16-17).
A Great Cloud of Witnesses includes those people throughout the modern decades who have witnessed and proclaimed the faith in some way. This volume includes everyone from Hilda, Abbess of Whitby (680) to Martin Luther, Theologian (1546), Florence Nightingale, Nurse and Social Reformer (1910), Martin Luther King, Jr., Civil Rights Leader and Martyr (1968), and just about everyone else between.
The Prayer Book allows the Feast of All Saints’ to be celebrated equally on the actual date (November 1) and the Sunday following (see BCP p. 15).
In our parish, St. Mary’s Episcopal School celebrates the Holy Eucharist on the morning of All Saints’ Day, mainly to honor the school’s direct lineage to Constance and Her Companions, Nuns (1878), who died in the yellow fever epidemic in Memphis.
We will celebrate the Sunday after All Saints’ Day in all three liturgies, 8 a.m., 10:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. The evening service will be Choral Evensong and the Holy Eucharist, in which the Motet Choir will sing a setting of one of the traditional, great All Saints’ choral texts.
O quam gloriosum est regnum (O how glorious is the kingdom) originates in the Roman Catholic Missal as the antiphon (refrain, response) to the Magnificat canticle in the Vespers liturgy on All Saints’ Day. The Anglican rite of Evening Prayer, or Evensong when a sung service, descended from the Vespers liturgy, which is why we sing the Magnificat at Evensong.
On a side note, the Anglican rite of Evening Prayer is a combination of Vespers and Compline, from which we take the Nunc dimittis as the second canticle in Evening Prayer. The Book of Common Prayer (1979) restored a separate Compline liturgy to the Anglican/Episcopal tradition.
Composers throughout the ages have set the O quam gloriosum text and/or its plainsong chant. In fact, Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611) penned an entire mass setting using this chant.
Other composers such as Vincenzo Bertolusi (c.1550-1608), William Byrd (c.1540-1623), Luca Marenzio (1556-1599), and Heinrich Pfendner (c.1588-1630) have also set this text. In previous years, the Motet Choir has sung the beautiful Byrd and Marenzio choral settings.
This Sunday evening, the Motet Choir will for the first time sing the Jacobus Vaet (c.1529-1567). Vaet was born in Kortrijk, Belgium, where he was a chorister in the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk (Church of Our Lady). He sang tenor in the chapel choir of Charles V of Belgium and served as kapellmeister to Maximilian II, King of Bohemia, Germany, Hungary, and Croatia. He died in Vienna, Austria.
Vaet added an Alleluia chorus of sorts to the end of his O quam gloriosum setting. With its imagery taken from the Revelation to John, this text is one of the most beautiful for All Saints’.
O quam gloriósum est régnum, in quo cum Chrísto gaudent ómnes sáncti!
Amícti stólis álbis, et sequúntur Agnum quocúmque íerit.
O how glorious is the kingdom in which with Christ all the saints rejoice!
Dressed in white robes, they follow the Lamb wherever he goes.