This Sunday’s Music: Trinity Sunday
Seldom do we the laity (and even our ordained brothers and sisters) truly understand the beauty of the traditions handed down to us by the Church over centuries because they may seem distant without explanation or disregarded by mindless repetition. However, today is one of those phenomena: the consummation of months of liturgy. At the Easter Vigil, we recounted in the extensive Liturgy of the Word the marvelous deeds of God the Father toward His Chosen People, followed by the redeeming Passion, Death and Resurrection of God the Son, and last week, after 50 days, God the Spirit descended upon His People. In our liturgical year, we have now reached the moment when all Three Persons have been revealed to us, and fittingly, as we enter the longest stretch of Ordinary Time (until Advent), we celebrate this weekend the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, which is one of the central beliefs and mysteries of our faith.
You can check out our music on our weekly Youtube playlist below and also by visiting our growing Youtube channel (at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCsDSd2zUrlJlm4W_wA5RqmQ):
O GOD, ALMIGHTY FATHER
In addition to being Trinity Sunday, today is also in the United States of America Father’s Day; so, it works doubly well that our opening hymn opens with addressing God the Father, the providential Creator and Giver of Grace and Mercy. You may remember the multilingual closing hymn from our Tenebrae service on Good Friday: the Trisagion (or the “Thrice-Holy” hymn in Greek). The Orthodox equivalent of our Sanctus (the “Holy, Holy, Holy” in our Liturgy of the Eucharist), the Trisagion has a set place in the Roman Catholic Church in two main occasions: 1. during the Veneration of the Holy Cross on Good Friday and 2. in the recitation of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. However, it is present today in our opening hymn with this refrain, which addresses 1. God the Father, 2. God the Son and 3. God the Spirit:
O most holy Trinity,
Holy God (1), mighty God (2),
God immortal (3) be adored!
The inspiration for the classic hymn How Great Thou Art, Psalm 8 sets forth the image of King David’s marveling at the mastery of God’s Hand, which surpasses (or “excels”) all things both in the heavens and on the earth. With song-like rhythms and patterns, which often do not sit well in translations, the Psalmist declares: “O LORD our Lord, how excellent is Thy Name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1, 9). In verses 4 through 6, humankind is set apart from all the rest of Creation as something special:
What is man, that Thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him? For Thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of Thy hands; Thou hast put all things under his feet.
Perhaps, we can even stretch this to be a foreshadowing of the Messiah’s mission, i.e. the reason, for which God the Son came into the world: that humankind, a creature unique throughout the universe, might be reconciled to the Father.
Don’t we love this Hezekiah Walker classic at SFDS? Yes, we do! Every moment is an opportunity for praise, and especially on this day, we offer every action, every word, every thought to the Triune Godhead — the Three in One. “‘Glory! Hallelujah!’ is to our God! Ev’ry praise, ev’ry praise is to our God!”
A staple in Christian music since the 90s, Thy Word directly draws its inspiration from Psalm 119:105 with its famous refrain: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” Yet, it is equally related to today’s celebration through the Gospel Reading:
I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will shew you things to come. (John 16:12-13)
Last week, we received the Spirit into our lives… well, liturgically and scripturally…, and truly, He is always with us. He will lead us into the light of truth, and we shall remain stern in our hope through our sufferings because, as we hear in our Second Reading, “the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost” (Romans 5:5).
As a preface to this meditation, we will hear the famous Doxology sung to the tune of Old Hundredth. What is a doxology? From the Greek compound word meaning “saying glory”, it is a short hymn of praises that hails all the way back to the traditions of the Jews before Jesus. In Christianity, a doxology is usually associated with the Trinity and concludes with an “amen” as an acknowledgment of belief. Then, we come to Richard Smallwood’s Total Praise, which has become indisputably one of the — if not the — most famous songs in all of gospel music. Quoting Psalm 121 in the verse, this song is more or less the culmination of all of today’s readings and hymns. Seemingly in response to Psalm 8 and our Offertory hymn, we lift our hands in total praise to our God, who is “the source of [our] strength” and “the strength of [our] life”. His love and providence are eternally with us in our creation, in our redemption and in our commission. Like a doxology, we seal this hymn with probably the most famous part of this song: the Amen’s. Continuing in our lesson on traditions passed down, what is “amen”? Often, we utter such words without knowing fully what we are saying or affirming. It is the acknowledgment of our faith, which, in Aramaic, means something equivalent to “it is so” or “ I believe”.
HOLY, HOLY, HOLY! LORD GOD ALMIGHTY
One of the most famous hymns throughout all of Christendom, the hymn tune — which is the melody, to which certain texts are set — is appropriately called “Nicaea”. No, this will not become a lecture on Church history and theology. If you want to learn more about the Council of Nicaea, you can go here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Council_of_Nicaea. You may, however, recognize two familiar things if we consider the title of the hymn and the name of its hymn tune. It echoes the Sanctus, or the “Holy, Holy, Holy”, that we sing during every Mass before the consecration — that moment when we join our human voices with the angelic choirs. Thrice Holy is our (Triune) God! Secondly, we are reminded of the Council of Nicaea in the Creed, or the Profession of Faith, that we say every single Sunday (and solemnity). Its full name is the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed — fancily incapable of being pronounced, huh? —, and we receive this statement of belief from this AD 325 council, which defined the Trinity as a core belief in a world that witnessed a still-young Christianity yearning to be unified in its doctrines. When would be a better opportunity to raise up this hymn “early in the morning” to the God, “which wert, art, and evermore shalt be” than on Trinity Sunday? Let us shout forth our faith… in a very SFDS style. You all ready?