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For All the Saints

posted Nov 1, 2015, 4:10 PM by Steven Vaughan   [ updated Nov 1, 2015, 4:10 PM ]
Written by an Anglican Bishop as a processional hymn, For All the Saints was first printed in 1864 in Hymns for Saint's Days, and Other Hymns. Originally paired with a different melody, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the setting we’re familiar with, calling it
SINE NOMINE (literally, "without name") and published it in the English Hymnal of 1906.

Best known for The Lark Ascending, Ralph Vaughan Williams composed nine symphonies, five operas, several song cycles, chamber and choral music, and film scores. He was an avid collector of English folk songs, arranging many of them into hymn tunes. At the time, his tune for For All the Saints was rejected by many for being too “jazzy”. Today, though, most scholars consider it one of the finest hymn tunes of the last century.

Unfortunately, most people don’t sing it all the way through and miss its total picture. It opens stating its purpose, that we sing and praise God for all those who have finished their work here, encouraging us to look back through history and think of the millions now enjoying rest and salvation in the presence of God. It acknowledges the unity of the whole Church in heaven and on earth, and urges us to press on, and to look forward to joining the heavenly liturgy described with Jesus passing by in triumphal procession. And it reminds us that we are never isolated as it asks us to look out and see the magnificent procession of all who will come after us.