Home History of Hymns: "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart"

History of Hymns: "Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart"

"Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart"
Edward H. Plumptre
The UM Hymnal, Nos. 160 and 161

Edward H. Plumptre

Rejoice, ye pure in heart;
rejoice, give thanks, and sing;
your glorious banner wave on high,
the cross of Christ your King.
Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice, give thanks, and sing.

Anglican priest and professor Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891) composed “Rejoice, ye pure in heart” as a processional hymn for a choir festival in one of England’s majestic places of worship, Peterborough Cathedral.

Writing in the mid-20th century with perhaps a hint of condescension, hymnologist Albert Bailey describes the context for this hymn by saying that the “untravelled American can hardly realize the emotional effect of a processional made up of choirs from a dozen different communities, marching with full panoply through ‘long-drawn aisle’ and under ‘fretted vault’ while we hear:

The storm their high-built organs make,
And thunder-music, rolling, shake
The prophets blazoned on the panes.

“The massiveness of the old Norman Peterborough makes a marvelous background and amplifier for such a processional.”

Plumptre was a distinguished scholar of his day. Educated at University College, Oxford, he then became a fellow at Brasenose College, Oxford, receiving his ordination in the Anglican Church in 1846. After serving as a clergyman, he became chaplain and professor of New Testament exegesis at King’s College, London, and dean of Queen’s College, Oxford. His most prominent position as a clergyman was that of dean of Wells Cathedral.

Of the original 11 stanzas, five or six stanzas appear in most hymnals. Stanza one refers (in the original text) to the “festal banner” and “Cross of Christ your King,” symbols of the faith that would be carried at the head of such a procession in the Anglican context.

Omitted stanzas refer to this processional in martial terms as warriors who “march in firm array.” This kind of imagery is not only consonant with the times, but also reflects the theology of the Anglican Communion that views its role on earth as the “Church Militant” while the church in heaven is the “Church Triumphant.”

Of course, the music used for this text must reflect the spirit of a stately processional. American hymnologist Leonard Ellinwood said that the tune MARION was written for this text by Arthur Messiter (1834-1916). Messiter added the refrain drawn from the first two lines of stanza one: “Rejoice, rejoice, rejoice give thanks and sing” echoes Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

Hymnologist William Reynolds noted that it “was not unusual for a cathedral processional to take from ten to thirty minutes, and the hymn that was sung by both the choir and the congregation needed to have enough stanzas for this.”

Mr. Bailey’s earlier comments notwithstanding, not all participants in festival worship were enamored by such lengthy processionals. Mr. Reynolds goes on to say that “A review of a hymnal... [commented] that some of the processional hymns were so long that some of the congregation would need to walk about in order to stay awake.”

The United Methodist Hymnal includes a second tune, VINEYARD HAVEN, with this text. Richard W. Dirksen composed this tune in 1974 for the installation of John M. Allin as the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in Washington Cathedral.

Carlton Young, editor of The UM Hymnal, found this text less than worthy, and notes: “Dirksen’s setting... [saves] a maudlin hymn from its deserved place in hymnic obscurity.”

Regardless of how one evaluates the quality of this text, we can all be grateful to be spared from 30-minute processionals in worship.

Dr. Hawn is professor of sacred music at Perkins School of Theology.

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