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Lift High the Cross

posted Aug 27, 2011, 10:54 AM by Unknown user   [ updated Jan 20, 2013, 3:19 PM ]

A minister’s son who became an Anglican clergyman himself, George W. Kitchin spent most of his life in academic institutions researching and writing his book A Life of Pope Pius II; as Illustrated by Pinturicchio’s Frescoes in the Piccolomini Library at Sienna.  He wrote the original version of the text of Lift High the Cross in 1887 for a festival service at Winchester Cathedral in honor of a missionary organization formed in 1701 as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.


In 1916, four years after Kitchin’s death, another Anglican priest, Michael R. Newbolt, revised the text and set it to a tune called crucifer by Dr. Sir Sydney H. Nicholson.  Once a music director for Westminster Abbey, Nicholson founded the Royal School for Church Music and was eventually knighted for his contributions.  His hymn-tune title means “cross-bearer” and refers to one who carries the cross in the liturgical procession.  With its triumphant melody, it’s considered his finest tune for complimenting the text’s call of action and outreach.  But it didn’t become popular until the 1970’s, when it started being included in both Catholic and Protestant hymnals.


Perhaps similar to Constantine’s vision of Christ’s cross, the text makes clear that the cross is a symbol of Christ’s love, and the text provides a response to Christ’s sacrifice.   But remember the philosophical riddle that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?  Doesn’t the same apply to music and the Gospel?  If they can’t be heard, does either fully awaken to life?    


By singing scriptural texts, we lift and bear the Word of God, not just as individuals, we address one another and become a community.  And whether you’re in the choir, in a music ensemble, in a pew or up on the altar, why not lift high your Cross, and your hymnal?