(Rabanus Maurus ninth century; trans. John Cosin, 1627)
This hymn, from the 9th Century, is attributed to the German monk Rabanus Maurus who was a Biblical commentator and became Abbot at the monastery at Fulda in Germany. John Cosin, the translator, was an Anglican priest who was deposed under the Commonwealth but became Bishop of Durham after the restoration of the monarchy.
This hymn is often sung at ordinations – and is included in Rejoice and Sing – but isn’t well known in the URC despite the haunting plainsong tune which is easy to learn and well worth knowing.
The hymn is a beautiful prayer to the Holy Spirit – who is often neglected in churches. The Spirit’s blessing is, to us, “comfort, life and fire of love.” The evocative second verse reminds us of the precariousness of life which, thankfully, we don’t experience in Western Europe now the way many in our world do and in the way that Maurus would have done in a much more dangerous age. The Spirit is urged to teach us about the Father that we may sing for ever in praise of the Three-in-One.
The song is one I love not just because of its antiquity and haunting Plainsong tune (best sung a cappella), nor because of its resonance with ordination (and papal elections) but because it reminds us of the power of the Spirit sustaining the Church and believers through the ages that we may better know God and better sing the praises of the Divine.
The hymn unites us with our past and reminds us of our vocation – to live and sing the praises of Almighty God.
Holy Spirit, fire of Divine love, anoint and cheer us, that we may sing God’s praise, with our lips, heart and action, now and forever, Amen.
Andy Braunston is a minister-elect of the Glasgow Southside Cluster and co-ordinator of the URC Daily Devotions project.