Updated: Feb 4
Danish: Bliv fuld av hellig Glæde
Text: Birgitta Boye (1742-1824) Tune: Erfurt (1577) Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
1. Be filled with holy gladness
O blessed one, come forth
And prayerfully go to meet him,
Who made you out of earth.
Sing goodness’ praise abroad:
Let ev’ry gift rise upward
To heaven’s sturdy kingdom
With praises to your God.
2. For you whom pain has driven
To heavy cries of woe,
You have been blest most richly,
As you with faith and trust
Have met your troubling trials
With God and loving fam’ly
And bravely gone to battle
Against death’s bitter wiles!
3. Though you will soon forget it:
The pain of facing death,
When happy voices shouted,
“A child, a child is born!
Who gladly will be giv’n
The legacy of heaven,
A hope without comparing.”
You will forget the pain!
4. See! God has given children
As fruit, a loan for life,
And what a joy receiving
A worthy little child!
I shout: “My grave is free;
It does not hold my body.
And you are here, Lord Jesus,
With those you gave me.
5. Sing! Praise and strength and glory
Through all eternity
Belong to God in heaven
Who saw me pained and weak.
O God! By grace so new:
My lips sing out your praises,
A happy sigh that struggles
To rise up unto you!
6. To you!—I scarce can say it—
To you, O risen Christ,
My soul, with all its power,
Still lifts itself to you;
Still sings my Lord and God,
The Alpha and Omega.
He was the strength I trusted,
My all! Hallelujah!
Tr. Gracia Grindal
This is Candlemas, the day the church remembers Mary’s Purification, forty days after the birth of Jesus. It is one of my favorite days in the church calendar. The young couple, too poor to afford the normal offering required, brings two turtle doves. They are met by Simeon, the old priest who has waited for this day his entire life. As he takes the baby Jesus he sings the great song Nunc dimittis, or Lord, lettest thou thy servant depart in peace....
The attention then turns to the old man and his song. Mary is only mentioned again when Simeon tells her a “sword will pierce her heart.” And then Anna appears and gives thanks.
The rite of purification and what it meant for Mary has been somewhat overlooked in our rightful interest in Simeon. Mary is undergoing the purification required by the law. The Christian church adopted a version of that–known as churching--and it is now making a slight comeback in liturgical churches
Because Mary in giving birth has touched blood, she is considered unclean, and needs to be purified. Ritual cleansing was part of Jewish practice and was necessary after many major and minor events in life, especially the birth of a child. Mary Douglas, the great student of these rites, says this is a moment when a woman is at a liminal place in life, really holy, and needs welcome back into normal life through some kind of ceremony. Mary had been confined after the birth of Jesus for forty days.
The time of confinement helped woman to recuperate from childbirth. Friends and relatives would come to take care of her and the baby. In England it was called the gander month since the husband was expected to help.
Medieval people began to think that birth made the woman pagan again and so the churching ritual was something like a rebaptism. Luther fought that idea and looked upon the rite as a time for the woman with her child to be blessed and welcomed back from near death.
Lutherans in the north when they were compiling hymnals included a couple of hymns for the day, both written by men. They emphasized the sinfulness of the woman and her husband’s joy in the birth of the child. One hymn by Kingo began “I am unclean from top to toe.” It was sung during the "leading in" when the pastor would come to the woman in the door of the church, hand her the edge of his stole and walk in with her. She was usually there with her friends, all dressed to the nines.
Birgitte Boye is the first woman we know of to help with the editing of a major Lutheran hymnal. She was a member of the minor aristocracy in Denmark, her husband the steward of the king’s forest near Vordingborg, south of Copenhagen. A bright young woman, she learned German, French and English while she was raising four children. When the Danish hymnal committee advertised for new hymns that would meet the requirements of the new day—the Enlightenment—she sent in, anonymously, over a hundred texts which were greeted with high praise by the men who would be the editors. She was asked to help them in their work and she did. Over 100 of her hymns were included in the Guldberg hymnal of 1788. It was the hymnal most Norwegian immigrants brought with them to America. Her festival hymns after the reading of the Gospel on Christmas, "Rejoice, Rejoice, This Happy Morn," and Easter "He is Arisen, Glorious Word" remained in the LBW. My father could never read any of those festival texts without having the congregation stand and sing her hymns.
Most interesting for me, however, is her hymn on the churching of women, the first by a woman who had given birth. The first stanza describes how she will be received back into fellowship. The experience of childbirth, the pain and then the joys, which the woman will soon forget, are new to hymnody. She then rejoices that she has escaped death, which happened frequently in childbirth until the past century. (Both my grandmothers died in childbirth so I have a keen sense of that in my own experience.)
Her last stanza is an ecstatic cry of praise that Christ has kept her safe through the experience. It is a little treasure that has disappeared from the hymnals as the rite has disappeared, but it still could be sung after childbirth by women who know exactly what she means and might like the words Boye gives them to sing.
Boye’s hymn was printed in the Guldberg hymnal, 1788, but did not survive into the next Dano-Norwegian hymnal the Evangelical Christian hymnal, 1798. The Norwegian church kept her hymns longer than the Danish church. But this one did not make it.
The suggested tune for her hymn is below. We are not sure of its composer, but it appeared in 1577 in Christliche und Tröstliche Tischgesenge from Erfurt. I include also a wonderful cantata by Bach, "Ich habe genug," which once again focuses on Simeon.
Concordia Publishing House Version
German congregation singing Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
Bach Cantata 82 Ich Habe Genug