Monday, November 01, 2010

Sine Nomine

It’s hard to believe that today is November 1. Where has the year gone? As I write this, I’m looking out the window from the room that serves as my office and the spare bedroom in our house, and it is clear just from this view that we had a hard frost last night. The leaves on the trees that were so vibrant and colorful are now dull. There is a breeze that is evident from the branches of these same trees moving back and forth. And I wouldn’t be surprised if the chill is back. When I got out of work at 1:00AM this morning it was downright cold. It was certainly below freezing, and I suspect we are now locked into that cold weather pattern that is only going to increase over the next month or so. Then it will simply stay that way until the spring makes its appearance next March and April.

It is a long time to be cold, isn’t it?

Today is All Saints Day, of if you like, the Solemnity of All Saints. It is the day the church commemorates all of the saints, both those who are known about and those not known about. Traditionally, Hallowe’en (which was yesterday for those of you who weren’t paying attention…) is the Eve of All Hallows which, in the past, was unofficially treated as a vigil for All Saints Day. While the church doesn’t officially recognize it (it’s simply another day on the liturgical calendar), it used to be observed regularly by many. The whole concept of Hallowe’en – trick or treat, the costumes, etc. – had many of its origins in Christian tradition. The “trick or treat” was originally the poor begging for food, and their gift was a doughnut-like cake known as a “soul cake.” The origin of costumes came out of wearing disguises that would confuse evil spirits. And while these customs were originally observed in the past (the costume idea may have had some sort of pagan origin, but I don’t know that to be true), it’s interesting to note how they are observed today. And for the most part it’s all in good fun.

The hymn “Sine Nomine” was composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams in the early 20th Century – actually, that’s not entirely true. Vaughan Williams composed the tune. The actual words to the hymn itself were written by the Anglican bishop William Howe in or around 1864-1865. All Vaughan Williams did was reset the hymn to his Sine Nomine. It is one of those hymns that stays with you. The first time I heard it set in the way it is performed in the below video was in 1999; I was in London on a business trip and I went to Mass at the Westminster Cathedral. I happened to be there during Hallowe’en/All Saints so I went there to worship as I was staying not too far from the Westminster district. The choir was made up of boys and young men ranging in age from 8 or 9 to about 17. And while I had heard this particular choir before (they visited St. Anselm College approximately a year earlier) I hadn’t heard this hymn done by them. It was well done. And the below rendition is also quite good – done in what is known as a choir scramble.

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