History of Hymns: "Where Charity and Love Prevail"
"Where Charity and Love Prevail"
from the 9th century Latin; trans. by Omer Westendorf
The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 549
Where charity and love prevail,
there Christ is ever found;
brought here together by Christ’s love,
by love are we thus bound.*
Omer Westendorf (1916-1997) was one of the leading composers following the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council.
Beginning at age 20, he received his master’s degree in music at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, and for most of his professional musical career served as organist and choirmaster at St. Bonaventure Church in Cincinnati. Under his direction the Bonaventure Choir sang concerts and recorded sacred music for several decades.
One of his greatest achievements was the founding of the World Library of Sacred Music in 1950 and World Library Publications in 1957. These organizations have been primary distributors of music for the Mass in the United States and beyond.
Westendorf was also known for his lectures and seminars on sacred music, consultations on liturgical music and as a hymn writer.
UM Hymnal editor Carlton Young notes that Westendorf’s People’s Mass Book, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1976, was the first vernacular hymn and service book to implement the Catholic liturgies decreed by Vatican Council II. He wrote Music Lessons for the Man in the Pew to teach the art of sight reading choral music.”
“Where charity and love prevail” (1961) provides an English hymn version of a 9th-century Latin hymn, “Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est” (Where there is charity and love, God is there) based on 1 John 4:16. Traditionally, this is the final hymn on Maundy Thursday, called in the Latin tradition Mandatum novum (New Commandment), referring to the act of washing of the disciples’ feet initiated by Jesus.
Scholar H. Myron Braun comments on this ancient ritual: “[The Latin chant] is said to date from the ninth century . . . with its emphasis on community within the faith, on Christians holding one another in love and concern . . . It is appropriate for . . . [Maundy Thursday] when we note the “new commandment” that we love one another, and also several times in Eastertide when the lectionary leads us to reading on love from the Gospel and the epistles of John.”
The text draws directly on John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” This version appeared first in Westendorf’s People’s Mass Book (1976). Before the publication of The UM Hymnal in 1989, the hymn appeared in the Supplement to the Book of Hymns (1982) with a plainsong melody.
Beyond the Roman Catholic sphere, this hymn is appropriate at any time that the theme is on the unity of Christ. The first stanza stresses that those gathered in Christ are “brought together by Christ’s love.” The second stanza states that we learn charity through Christ’s “grateful joy and holy fear;” thus we naturally “love Christ in return.”
Christian charity requires the act of mutual reconciliation. Therefore, following the example of Christ’s model prayer, we “Forgive . . . each other’s faults as we our faults confess.” Receiving Christ’s charity is not enough; we must magnify Christ’s love through our relationships with each other.
The fourth stanza continues this line of thought by offering the petition that “strife should be unknown” and “all contention [should] cease.” This is possible only if “the glory that we seek” is Christ.
The fifth stanza recalls the Scripture, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:20). Whenever we gather, we “recall that in our midst dwells God’s begotten Son.” Through Christ’s presence “we are in him made one.”
The sixth stanza makes explicit a theology of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965): “Love can exclude no race or creed/if honored be God’s name.” The ecumenical spirit implied in this stanza exemplifies Westendorf’s contribution to congregational song.