I’m always amazed at how little music there is that has been written in honor of Saint Joseph. Somehow, I suspect he’s pleased by that fact. But at the same time, it makes finding an appropriate musical selection for today’s feast a bit of a challenge. (I couldn’t very well ignore it, could I? It’s staring me in the face, so to speak.)
One of the suggestions that kept cropping up in connection with the feast was “Nunc dimittis,” the opening of the Canticle of Simeon. Now at first, it seemed a bit odd to pick the words of an entirely different man, especially a man whose name is so closely associated with those very phrases. But it’s not like Christ’s foster father offers us much in the way of dialogue. Plus, the more I thought about it, the more fitting those words seemed to be, especially when I thought of Saint Joseph’s death. He, like Simeon, was not present for Christ’s public ministry. But he recognized the Glory of Isreal residing in his home, all the same. He saw his people’s Salvation ever before him. And he bowed out gracefully (and quietly), as he did in all things; happy (even grateful) to leave the limelight to others.
There are a number of (mostly English) settings available — Samuel Wesley, Henry Purcell, T. Tertius Noble, John Stainer, and Gustav Holst, to name a few — but the one that stuck with me was actually a setting from Mendelssohn, whose sacred motets have been a revelation to me during this Lenten trek.And so, in honor of Saint Joseph, here is “Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener:”
Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Frieden fahren, wie du gesagt hast.
Denn meine Augen haben deinen Heiland gesehen,
welchen du bereitet hast vor allen Völkern,
ein Licht zu erleuchten die Heiden, und zum Preis deines Volk Israel.
Ehre sei dem Vater und dem Sohn und dem Heiligen Geist,
wie im Anfang, so auch jetzt und alle Zeit, und in Ewigkeit. Amen.
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Ghost;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.