Hymns for Times of Lockdown

Once I was teaching 3rd graders to sing the chants of Benediction, and the school experienced a “lockdown,” which means that the windows and blinds are closed for security.

Kids get scared when this happens, and as soon as it was over, I told them the next time we met I would tell them a story of a lockdown that happened about 1700 years ago.

During a persecution, the Church at Milan gathered together and sang hymns to encourage one another in the faith. Their bishop, Saint Ambrose, wrote the hymns, as Saint Augustine recounts in his Confessions. 

How did I weep, in Thy Hymns and Canticles, touched to the quick by the voices of Thy sweet-attuned Church! The voices flowed into mine ears, and the Truth distilled into my heart, whence the affections of my devotion  overflowed, and tears ran down, and happy was I therein.

Not long had the Church of Milan begun to use this kind of consolation and exhortation, the brethren zealously joining with harmony of voice and hearts. For it was a year, or not much more, that Justina, mother to the Emperor Valentinian, a child, persecuted Thy servant Ambrose, in favour of her heresy, to which she was seduced by the Arians. The devout people kept watch in the Church, ready to die with their Bishop Thy servant. There my mother Thy handmaid, bearing a chief part of those anxieties and watchings, lived for prayer. We, yet unwarmed by the heat of Thy Spirit, still were stirred up by the sight of the amazed and disquieted city. Then it was first instituted that after the manner of the Eastern Churches, Hymns and Psalms should be sung, lest the people should wax faint through the tediousness of sorrow: and from that day to this the custom is retained, divers (yea, almost all) Thy  congregations, throughout other parts of the world following herein.

One of the hymns attributed to Saint Ambrose was the great Te Deum, translated into English by Clarence A. Walworth as Holy God, We Praise Thy Name, which is often sung at the close of Benediction. Another was the following, here in my translation.

Deus Creator Omnium
Vespers Hymn
St. Ambrose

O God, Creator of all things,
Who rules the firmament as King,
Who clothes the day with gilding light,
And with the grace of sleep, the night,
With welcome rest our limbs restore
To their accustomed work once more.
Relieve our mental weariness,
And free us from our grief and stress.
We hymn you thanks for this done day,
And for the rising night we pray,
That you will hasten to our aid,
To help us fill the vows we made.
To you our deepest hearts resound,
To you our voices’ tuneful sound,
To you arises high above,
From sober minds, our purest love.
And when the darkness is profound,
And day lies in dark’s prison bound,
May faith not know the want of light
But light the very dark of night.
O Christ and Father, we request,
From you and from your Spirit blest,
That You who rule with single might
May care for us throughout the night. Amen

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