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Inspiring Lyrics: "O Day Full of Grace"
One of the most beautiful hymns sung in Lutheran Churches combines the inspired words of a Danish poem titled, "O Day Full of Grace" with music composed by the Norwegian Minnesotan, F. Melius Christiansen.
I cannot imagine a funeral without this hymn, and I have it on good authority that it works as a lovely wedding hymn as well.
I first noticed "O Day Full of Grace" when my Grandpa Shirley died. The sanctuary, with its black clothed congregation, and my Gram's drawn and pale face did not inspire confidence that Grandpa had, in fact, departed with joy as the first line of this song indicated. His heart had been attacked. So sad for him to go so young. "Only 56," strangers murmured.
These observations shrouded me in confusion. I didn't consider him young. And where exactly had he gone?
The colorful stained glass windows of First Lutheran Church in Fargo illuminated my dark struggle. The words, "endless light" captured my attention.
I was seven and had yet to lose a pet. My grandfather had stretched out his hand with nuts to feed inquisitive chipmunks under the seemingly endless light of last summer's sun.
Did this song speak of something beyond the sun?
My Mother's Alma Mater Concordia in Fargo/Moorhead
O day full of grace
Den signede dag by N.F.S. Grundtvig, 1826
The tune to this hymn was written by C.E.F. Weyse in 1826.
O day full of grace, which we behold,
to us from the sea ascending;
you over the earth your reign unfold,
good cheer to all mortals lending,
that children of light in every clime
may prove that the night is ending!
How blest was that gracious midnight hour,
when Christ in the flesh was given;
then flushed from the east the dawn with pow’r,
that spread o’er the darkened heaven;
then rose o’er the world that sun divine
which gloom from our hearts has driven.
Were all of the trees endowed with speech,
were all of the leaflets singing,
they never with praise His worth could reach,
though earth with their praise were ringing.
Who fully could praise the Light of Life,
who light to our souls is bringing?
As birds in the morning sing God’s praise,
His fatherly love we cherish,
for giving to us this day of grace,
for life that shall never perish.
His Church He has kept these thousand years,
and hungering souls did nourish.
With joy we approach our Father’s land,
where day is forever dwelling,
where ready for us His mansions stand,
where heaven with praise is swelling;
and there we shall walk in endless light,
with blest ones His praise forth telling.
The translation is a composite of translations by O.H. Smeby, G.A.T. Rygh, and C. Døving. The midi sequence of the tune linked above was kindly provided by Poul Christian Rasmussen.
F. Melius Christiansen directed the St. Olaf Choir
F. Melius's legacy
"O Day Full of Grace" is "among the best vocal tone paintings ever written. The music beautifully depicts the sunrise. The text of the first verse describes the day just appearing on earth's horizon, while the second verse takes us from the gracious midnight hour through dawn and the rising sun, driving gloom from our hearts. Later verses continue the swell of activity and joy as the day continues, and it all ends with a nod toward the future and our trip to the eternal promised land." (See Music at Bethany)
Lutheran choirs all over America know of F. Melius Christiansen, who attended my alma mater, Augsburg College, before becoming associated with St. Olaf. Competition is fierce among college choirs because of the legacy created by F. Melius and his sons, who directed two college choirs: the Concordia College Choir (Paul J) and the St. Olaf Choir (Olaf), both in Minnesota.
With siblings comes sibling rivalry; Paul J and Olaf were no different from any other brothers. Their rivalry inspired excellence in choral music and furthered their father's mission. According to the St. Olaf Choir website, F. Melius wished to "improve the quality of choral singing and reacquaint the church with its heritage of chorales and a cappella (unaccompanied) music."
Lutheran Choral music continues to benefit from this musical dynasty.
On the Bonny, Bonny Banks
If you take the high road
Then I'll take the high road
So we walk the same road
No me and my true love
Will never part again
On the bonny, bonny banks
Of Loch Lomand.
- Singers.com: Concordia Choir: F. Melius Christiansen 135th Anniversary Concert (00 2 CDs)
Five Lutheran college choirs sing the music of F. Melius Christiansen.
© 2010 Barbara