HYMN 114 O Day Full of Grace/Danish
Danish: Den signede dag som vi nu ser
Text: Nikolaj Frederik Severin Grundtvig (1783-1872). Christoph Ernst Friedrich Weyse (1774-1842)
1. O day, full of grace, which we behold, Now gently to view ascending; Thou over the earth thy reign unfold, Good cheer to all mortals lending, That children of light in every clime May prove that the night is ending.
2. How blest was that gracious midnight hour, When God in our flesh was given; Then flushed the dawn with light and power, That spread o'er the darkened heaven; Then rose o'er the world that Sun divine Which gloom from our hearts hath driven.
3. Yea, were every tree endowed with speech, And every leaflet singing, They never with praise His worth could reach, Though earth with their praise were ringing. Who fully could praise the Light of life, Who light to our souls is bringing?
4. As birds in the morning sing God's praise, His fatherly love we cherish, For giving to us this day of grace, For life that shall never perish. His Church He hath kept these thousand years And hungering souls did nourish.
5. Now softly the light of Pentecost Is shining its beams around us, God’s blessings for us cannot be lost, As brooks in the fields surround us. And leave in their wake the woods and fields, The bright summer green astounds us.
6. With joy we depart for our fatherland, Where God our Father is dwelling, Where ready for us His mansions stand, Where heaven with praise is swelling; And there we shall walk in endless light, With blest ones His praise forth telling. Tr. Carl Døving
HYMN MEDITATION Now it can be told. When the LBW committee was working on providing fresh translations of old favorite hymns, the need to include “O Day Full of Grace” was urgent. It was Grundtvig’s well known and beloved hymn. The anthem by F. Melius Christiansen, which almost every Lutheran college choir had sung, had made it popular. It was left out of the Service Book and Hymnal (1958) for reasons that were never clear, except that the editor, the Philadelphia Lutheran Seminary Professor of Worship, Luther Dotterer Reed (1873-1972) disliked the Scandinavian treasury of hymns. He wanted the hymnal to be free of the accents of the old countries; he did not think Døving’s translation was good English. The preface to the hymn section noted with pride that over 2/3 of its hymns were originally in English—meaning mostly Anglican or Methodist.
So when we started to redress the mistakes of the Service Book and Hymnal (1958), we knew we had to have a new and fresh translation of “Den signede dag” to include in the Lutheran Book of Worship. It had been embarrassing not to have it in the SBH. The Danish Americans especially were so upset that they published a small collection of Danish hymns in English to make them available.
So it was ironic when, on April 25, 1960, the American Lutheran Church celebrated its formation with a concluding cantata by Paul Christiansen of Concordia College, Una Sancta. A grand event, the piece was in three parts, featuring three chorales, one German, one Norwegian and one Danish, Weyse's "O Day Full of Grace." It was performed by the nine Lutheran college choirs (550 singers) of the merging churches from around the country. There was a reader, a bass soloist, the St. Olaf Band; and organist, Kathryn Ulvilden Moen. A thrilling beginning of the new church for the 10,000 attending the concert in the Minneapolis auditorium.
As we were working to get the hymn in the new book, however, we made a mistake that was almost worse: we used the old Day Song text, not Grundtvig's and significantly reduced the stanzas, leaving out the birds and trees. Grundtvig had based his text upon the medieval text "Den signade dag" we spoke of two days ago--making it his own distinctive hymn as he often did. So we worked on that version without seeing our error.
When the green hymnal came out, the mistake was discovered immediately by the Danes. The Norwegian Americans were also appalled. They missed the leaves on the tree and the birds, too. John Ylvisaker who knew the Døving translation from his years singing under Paul Christiansen at Concordia simply would not sing the new version.
Grundtvig had his troubles with the hymn as well. He had hoped it, and two others, could be sung at the festivities around the 1000th anniversary of the Danish church in 1826, but the authorities ruled that only hymns from the authorized hymnal of Denmark could be sung, so Grundtvig's hymns were not used. His revenge, if one could use such a word in Christian discourse, is that it is now among the favorite Danish hymns of all time.
Hymnals are political documents that become sacred documents as they are used. People working on them represent factions and traditions they will fight to get into the book. New movements can be included or excluded. Today, because the internet and desktop publishing have made it possible for people to go around the editors of the hymnal and find favorite hymns, it is harder to dismiss a tradition than it was. But it happens.
How many of us have thrilled to the Christiansen anthem with the first lines from male voices sounding like medieval monks greeting the morning and the dawn of our Lord Jesus? Those sounds are always there, with the high sopranos trilling like birds above them. Its last stanza describing our last journey to be with our Father in heaven is a lovely way to think of all we have to look forward to: the mansions, walking in the light, speaking with the saints, O day full of grace!
This hymn comes from Denmark's Golden Age--about the first half of the 19th century when little Denmark produced artists, thinkers, writers, still world famous today: the sculptor, Bertil Thorvaldsen; the philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard; the writer, Hans Christian Andersen; and Grundtvig, to name a few.
The composer Weyse was born in Altona, now Germany, near Hamburg. When Weyse was fifteen he was sent to Copenhagen to study with his uncle. He lived there for the rest of his life where he became an important part of the musical life of the city, as organist, composer, and leader of music.It was a glittering time. Over the years he became a well regarded composer of cantatas, songs, and many other compositions. This is his most famous work.
St. Olaf Anniversary Massed Choir
Concordia College Choir/Rene Clausen directing
Nordic Choir/Luther College
Bo Holten's choir
Oslo Cathedral Choir
Iver Kleive, Poul Dissing, Knut Reiersud