The Good Shepherd, by Phillippe de Champaigne, 17th century

   Are you prepared to “die for love”?  It’s a romantic cliché, of course, but today is the traditional feast of a martyr who did die for love, literally.  I discuss the story of 3rd Century Saint and Martyr St. Valentine in greater detail  in “St. Valentine, Patron of Agape.”

     One thing is clear from the story of this saint: for Valentine and his fellow Christians, romantic love was inseparable from Christian marriage.  In that spirit, I chose for today’s Music Monday selection a piece that has been traditionally played at weddings, “He Shall Feed his Flock Like a Shepherd” from Handel’s Messiah.

     Although most of us today tend to associate the Messiah with the season of Advent and the run-up to Christmas, Handel originally composed his oratorio for the season of Lent.  As it happens, Lent is just around the corner. And in fact, if you attended the Traditional Latin Mass yesterday, you probably noticed that father was already wearing the purple vestments of the penitential season.  For many centuries the Church observed a pre-Lenten season known as Septuagesima, starting on Septuagesima Sunday, the third Sunday before Ash Wednesday (which falls on February 13th this year).  Septuagesima disappeared for most of the Roman Church in 1969 in the same reform of the liturgical calendar that removed St. Valentine’s Day as a formal observance.

     It’s not surprising that the Messiah has shifted to the less somber penitential season of Advent, since the exuberance of much of its music seems a little out of place for Lent. “He Shall Feed his Flock Like a Shepherd,” with it’s quiet intensity, however, never sounds out of place.  It starts out with the description of the Good Shepherd from Isaiah 40:11: “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd . . .” Midway through the piece we shift to Matthew 11:28-29 “Come unto Him, all ye who labour . . .” In this context “He Shall Feed His Flock” emphasizes the love of the God who is Love (see John 4:8) for all of us, but especially for our own love as expressed in the Sacrament of Marriage.

     Soprano Regula Mühlemann sings in the clip below, accompanied by the Neue Philharmonie Westfalen, with Ramus Baumann conducting.

He Shall Feed Clip

 

He shall feed his flock like

A shepherd

And He shall gather

The lambs with his arm

With his arm

He shall feed his flock like

A shepherd

And He shall gather

The lambs with his arm

With his arm

And carry them in his bosom

And gently lead those

That are with young

And gently lead those

And gently lead those

That are with young

Come unto Him

All ye that labour

Come unto Him, ye

That are heavy laden

And He will give you rest

Come unto Him

All ye that labour

Come unto Him, ye

That are heavy laden

And He will give you rest

Take his yoke upon you

And learn of Him

For He is meek

And lowly of heart

And ye shall find rest

And ye shall find rest

Unto your souls

Take his yoke upon you

And learn of Him

For He is meek

And lowly of heart

And ye shall find rest

And ye shall find rest

Unto your souls

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