Thursday, January 12, 2012

In Praise of the Te Deum

The source of the Te Deum is traditionally ascribed to Ambrose and Augustine, specifically for the baptism Augustine by Ambrose in AD 387. Some have posited its source in Saint Hilary of Poitier and now, some have decided, it was written by Nicetas, bishop of Remesiana; (4th century)".   Some of the hymn is drawn from  a selection of verses from the book of Psalms and do not appear to be original, though they are traditional.

It is a hymn that sings like a creed.  It seems to follow the outline of the Apostles' Creed while also drawing upon the vision of the heavenly liturgy from Revelation. The hymn begins with an affirmation of faith -- we praise Thee,  O Lord, we acknowledge Thee to be the Lord.  But it quickly proceeds to name the faithful who praise and venerate God -- the whole company of heavenly creatures to those Christian faithful already in heaven to the Church throughout the world. The creedal structure of the hymn returns to sing of Christ --  recalling His birth, suffering and death, His resurrection and glorification.  Then the hymn returns to those the theme of praise, petitions for mercy, protection amid temptation, and for the long awaited reconciliation of the Church on earth and the Church in heaven.

If I ever got a chance to Pastor another congregation (hopefully smaller than my current parish), I might start by establishing a parish schedule of Matins at 8 am, the Divine Service at 9 am, Breakfast and Sunday School at 10:30 am.  This fond wish is, in part, moved by the desire to see the Sunday experience to be more fully expressive of the liturgies of the hours, and to establish a greater sense of community by the restoration of a normal expectation of fasting prior to the Mass and a common meal (I remember the smell of the Orthodox cooking for their common meal after the twelve hour fast before the Divine Liturgy).  But I digress...

Of all the hymns of Matins I miss most, the Te Deum ranks highest (closely followed by the Venite).  I lament that our return to a weekly Eucharist has left this hymn more on the fringes of our life together than part of our common core of hymnody and song.  It is not that we never use it but that we use it far less frequently than we should.  On occasion, I have, now you liturgical purists should take a deep breath here, substituted the sung Te Deum for the Creed.  I love the hymn paraphrases of the Te Deum but find them not a fair substitute for the singing of the Te Deum itself.  I love the TLH setting in the Office of Matins but I especially love the Healy Willan setting for that Te Deum (at least for congregational song).  I have too many favorite choral settings of the Te Deum to name them all here (or to list the YouTube places where you can hear them).

Our familiar words are but a modernized version of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer.  Those words are as follows:

We praise the, O God, we knowlage thee to be the Lorde.
All the earth doeth wurship thee, the father everlastyng.
To thee al Angels cry aloud, the heavens and all the powers therin.
To thee Cherubin, and Seraphin continually doe crye.
Holy, holy, holy, Lorde God of Sabaoth.
Heaven and earth are replenyshed with the majestie of thy glory,
The gloryous company of the Apostles, praise thee.
The goodly felowshyp of the Prophetes, praise thee.
The noble armie of Martyrs, praise thee.
The holy churche throughout all the worlde doeth knowlage thee.
The father of an infinite majestie.
Thy honourable, true, and onely sonne.
The holy gost also beeying the coumforter.
Thou art the kyng of glory, O Christe.
Thou art the everlastyng sonne of the father.
Whan thou tookest upon thee to delyver manne, thou dyddest not abhorre the virgins wombe.
Whan thou haddest overcomed the sharpenesse of death, thou diddest open the kyngdome of heaven to all belevers.
Thou sittest on the ryght hande of God, in the glory of the father.
We beleve that thou shalt come to be our judge.
We therfore praye thee, helpe thy servauntes, whom thou haste redemed with thy precious bloud.
Make them to be noumbred with thy sainctes, in glory everlastyng.
O Lorde, save thy people: and blesse thyne heritage.
Governe them, and lift them up for ever.
Day by day we magnifie thee.
And we wurship thy name ever world without ende.
Vouchsafe, O Lorde, to kepe us this daye without synne.
O Lorde, have mercy upon us: have mercy upon us.
O Lorde, let thy mercy lighten upon us: as our trust is in thee.
O Lorde, in thee have I trusted: let me never be confounded.


Terry Maher said...

"a normal expectation of fasting prior to the Mass" ????????? Oy.

Even the Romans barely do that any more! As of the last I followed their horsecrap, it was one hour prior to reception of Communion, not the start of Mass -- which means, allow for the time of the service prior to Communion on a Sunday, and driving time to church, you could finish breakfast as usual, then go with time to spare to fulfill this legalism no problem. No "fast" at all. Quite the change from my earlier years when you fasted from midnight. Which does have the effect of encouraging attendance at the earlier Masses!

Utter nonsense. Leave the "fine outward preparation" optional for those who wish to do it. "But that person is truly worthy and well prepared who has faith in these words: Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins." That's what's normal, and all that's normal. Anything else or more is just Romanism or Easternism and we don't need it.

The Te Deum does have a resemblance to the Apostles Creed, but its use liturgically is tied to the Gloria, not the Creed: when you don't say the Gloria at Mass you don't say the Te Deum at Matins either.

And now, actually you don't say nuttin at Matins, because it's abolished and the Office of Readings, sayable anytime, has taken its place, but you still don't say the Te Deum during Lent, so if we're using one of our Vatican II wannabe liturgies we should follow that too, Office of Readings, not Matins and no Te Deum in Lent.

Fact is though, Communion and the Te Deum survive quite well without any wannabe Romish pseudo-pious practices and legends, like fasting for the one or spontaneous composition at Gus' baptism for the other.

Dr.D said...

It is very interesting how Terry is always quick to cite the rulings of Rome as authoritative, but then equally quick to say "we don't need any of that stuff." Still just a wee bit conflicted perhaps?

I agree about loving the Te Deum. That is one of the beautiful features of the Office of Morning Prayer. I was interested in reading the BCP 1549 version that Pr. Peters cited to see how slightly it has changed to the BCP 1928 version that I use regularly; they are almost identical (except for spellings).

Fr. D
Anglican Priest

boaz said...

Why don't Lutheran churches use matins with midweek bible study? Bible studies should be in the context of a liturgy.

Anonymous said...

Aside from any technical problems people may have with it, I think we need to acknowledge that the Te Deum is one of the most beautiful and edifying hymns of Christendom. Its beauty is in the truth it conveys, in the praise with which it is filled, and in the humble, simple but confident petition with which it ends, while it so clearly gathers the saints of all time into one communion. It reflects the essence of our faith better than any words I know.

Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Terry Maher said...

"DrD", what I cited as authoritative re preparation for Communion was from Luther's Small Catechism. The rest was characterised as "utter nonsense" and "wannabe Romish pseudo-pious practices and legends".

Perhaps I will have to write in a stronger tone to avoid sounding so "conflicted".

Ad hominem is a nice way to avoid considering what a person says, and ad hominem aside, the point was if we are to go to other sources for our practice then do it, not half-assed, but do it. Which in this case would be to take into account that Roman fasting before Communion has changed, and that Matins no longer exists.

Dr.D said...

Terry, lashing out smooth and gracious as ever!

The Roman office of Mattins may have been abolished, but Pr. Peters was actually quoting the Te Deum from the Office of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer, 1549. The Office of Morning Prayer is still very much alive in Anglicanism, so there is no need to refer to Rome for anything in this regard. And yes, it is not said during Lent. This is the practice of the Church, not the Roman Church.

You feel free to criticize the devotional practice of many devout Christians, fasting before Mass, calling it "horsecrap." Who has put you in a position to judge their faith? Is fasting not enjoined upon us in Scripture? You call it "fine outward preparation," but in just what sense is it outward? Can you see that the person has fasted? If you do find the practices of the Church useful to your situation, ask yourself whether the problem is with you or with the Church. The practices are ancient.

Fr. D

Chris said...

So, what's stopping you from celebrating Matins prior to the Liturgy? Just do it. If people come, they come.

As far as the musical examples you give, I'm sorry, but they're all horrible. Give me Berlioz, Bruckner, Mozart, Byrd or even a gregorian chant version over any of those you posted.

Terry Maher said...

Well DrD, I didn't call it fine outward preparation. The Small Catechism does, and I was quoting the Small Catechism. Maybe you could read it -- if for nothing else than to clear up that "outward" has nothing to do with being able to spot someone who hasn't eaten for a few hours.

Nor do I have any comment on the faith of those who do that before Communion. "Horsecrap" refers to the practice, which even so is left optional. I have no idea about the faith of those who do or don't fast. What I oppose is the opposite, that the practice is normative; if it is normative and not optional, not doing a normative practice indeed reflects on the faith of the one who does not do it.

The post specifically mentions the 1549 BCP then says "those words are as follows". No, I did not miss that. Comments re that were not about the text, but its liturgical use, which keys to the Gloria, not the Creed.

Read the black, not the white.

Anonymous said...

In the Liturgy of the Hours of Paul VI, the Te Deum is sung at the end of the Office of Readings on all Sundays except those of Lent, on all solemnities, including the octaves of Easter and Christmas, and on all feasts. It is also used together with the standard canticles in Morning Prayer as prescribed in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, in Matins for Lutherans, and is retained by many other churches of the Reformed tradition. It is also used by the Eastern Orthodox Churches in the Paraklesis (Moleben) of Thanksgiving.