A familiar song at St. Paul’s is “Ubi caritas” (831 in Wonder, Love, and Praise), a chant from the ecumenical monastic Taize community in France. We have sung it often as we gather at the Lord’s table to receive the Blessed Sacrament, especially on Maundy Thursday. Maybe these are the most familiar Latin words that you know: “Ubi caritas et amor, ubi caritas, Deus ibi est.” (Where true charity and love abide, God is there.)
This Sunday we will sing a 20th-century translation of the “Ubi caritas” text, “God is love, and where true love is” (577 in The Hymnal 1982). James Quinn (1919-2010) wrote this paraphrase. He preserved the original form of the text as it was used in the Latin rite for the Maundy Thursday solemn evening Mass. This hymn version has three four-line verses, with a refrain that introduces and follows each verse.
James Quinn was a theologian and Roman Catholic Jesuit priest in Scotland. He was involved especially in ecumenical matters. A leading 20th-century hymn writer, he has two published collections, New Hymns for All Seasons (1969) and Praises for All Seasons (1994). Another of Fr. Quinn’s hymns which we have sung at St. Paul’s is “Lord, make us servants of your peace” (593 in The Hymnal 1982), based on the prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi.
The music for “God is love” comes from Anthony Gregory Murray (1905-1992). He was a well-known organist in England, especially through radio broadcasts in the 1930’s. In addition, he was a choirmaster, composer, authority on Gregorian chant, and a Roman Catholic parish priest. His goal was to provide music that would enhance the Roman Catholic liturgy, while at the same time producing “music as a servant of the liturgy.” In his later years he was delighted when his music was accepted enthusiastically by the Church of England.
The beautiful theme of “God is love” is that the source and inspiration of our love for each other is our love for Christ. During this unique and perilous time in our history, I keep going back to some words about God’s love that we heard as we gathered for worship on July 26, that nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39).
Refrain: God is love, and where true love is God himself is there.
Here in Christ we gather, love of Christ our calling.
Christ, our love, is with us, gladness be his greeting.
Let us fear and love him, holy God eternal.
Loving him, let each love Christ in one another. Refrain
When we Christians gather, members of one Body,
Let there be in us no discord but one spirit.
Banished now be anger, strife and every quarrel.
Christ, our God, be always present here among us. Refrain
Grant us love’s fulfillment, joy with all the blessed,
When we see your face, O Savior, in its glory.
Shine on us, O purest Light of all creation,
Be our bliss while endless ages sing your praises. Refrain