History of Hymns: "Una espiga" (“Sheaves of Summer”)
By C. Michael Hawn
Editor's Note: This column (September 25) marks the ten-year anniversary of Michael Hawn's "History of Hymns" column. We celebrate this milestone and thank Dr. Hawn for this significant contribution.
"Una espiga" (“Sheaves of Summer”)
by Cesáreo Gabaráin
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 637
Sheaves of summer turned golden by the sun,
grapes in bunches cut down when ripe and red,
are converted into the bread and wine of God’s love
in the body and blood of our dear Lord*
Monseñor Cesáreo Gabaráin (1936-1991) was one of the best-known composers of Spanish liturgical music following the reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He was inspired by the humble people he met during his ministry. His hymns were recorded on thirty-seven albums (the last completed posthumously). He is the only Roman Catholic Church composer to receive the honor of a Gold Record (at least 50,000 copies) in Spain. Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) appointed the priest Chaplain Prelate of His Holiness.
Gabaráin entered the minor seminary in Zaragoza at the age of ten in 1946, where he began his musical studies. He then continued his education in the Seminario Mayor of San Sebastián, near his hometown, in 1952, and was ordained to the priesthood at San Sebastián on December 19, 1959.
Following ordination, he served as chaplain of the College of the Marist Brothers of Antzuola in his home province of Gipúzkoa in 1960. In 1964, he continued his ministry as chaplain at Fundación Zorroaga, a nursing home in San Sebastián. In 1966, he returned to the chaplaincy in the College of the Marist Brothers, this time in Madrid, where he began to compose. In 1980, Gabaráin served in parish ministry in Nuestra Señora de las Nieves (Our Lady of the Snows) and was head of religious education in the College of San Fernando. Following a tour of 22 cities in the United States in 1990 to conduct workshops in conjunction with OCP (Oregon Catholic Press), he died of cancer in 1991, just before his 55th birthday in Antzuola.
In addition to his theological education, Gabaráin studied journalism and musicology. As a parish priest, he was known for his athleticism and work with young people. His ministry to cyclists is legendary, taking so many tours with them that he became known as “priest of the cyclists.” In addition to spending many summer vacations ministering to cyclists participating in the Tour de France, he also performed a similar role with well-known soccer players in Madrid.
Gabaráin’s “Pescador De Hombres” (“Lord, you have come to the lakeshore”) became one of the most popular new songs among United Methodists following the publication of the hymnal in 1989. “Una espiga” is less well known, but captures beautifully the spirit of Eucharist following the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).
“Sheaves of summer,” a hymn of Christian unity that invites everyone to sit together at Christ’s table, was written in 1973, but first appeared in Alabemos al Señor (Let us praise the Lord) in 1976. The translation by George Lockwood (b. 1946) for The United Methodist Hymnal captures both the meaning and lyrical quality of the Spanish.
The first stanza paints a picture of grain growing in the sun (“espiga dorada por el sol”) and heavy clusters of grapes being cut from the vine (“racimo que corta el viña dor”). The rich description of the grain and grapes recognizes that the bread and wine are the result of a partnership between the Creator and humanity, the Creator who offers of the gifts of grain and grapes made available to us through the rich earth and warming sun, and humanity who cultivates them and gathers them for our consumption. This strong agricultural grounding adds a sense of authenticity and abundance to the elements of Communion.
The second stanza continues the agricultural theme and links it to Christ the great Sower of seed, a reference to the parable of the sower and the seed in the synoptic gospels, Matthew 13:1-3; Mark 4:1-3, and Luke 8:1-3. Just as the millstone grinds down the grain, so life grinds us down; but Christ transforms us in our adversity into “pueblo nuevo en el amor” (new people through [God’s] love). Perhaps there are echoes of John 4:36-37 here: “Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true” (NIV).**
The use of the poetic device of simile characterizes stanza three. Christians will become one body in Christ just as (1) the grains make up one loaf of bread (“granos que han hecho el mismo pan”), (2) each note comes together to make a melody (“notas qu tejen un cantar”), and (3) individual drops of water combine to make the sea (“gotas de agua que se funden en el mar”). This is surely one of the richest and picturesque uses of simile in twentieth-century hymnody.
The final stanza points toward the future when all Christians will sit together around one table with Christ at the Gran Fiesta. Our celebrations of Communion offer us the opportunity to experience a foretaste of this fiesta on earth. This hymn captures the ecumenical fervor of the early years following Vatican II. Though this spirit has waned to a serious extent in this century, the promise of the Gran Fiesta is still central to the Christian understanding of the Eucharist. The meaning of the Greek term eucharisteo (to give thanks) is captured in 2 Corinthians 9:10-11: “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (NIV).**
C. Michael Hawn is University Distinguished Professor of Church Music, Perkins School of Theology, SMU.