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    Michaelmas and The Dream of Gerontius

    By Joel Clarkson

    September 24, 2019
    • Ellis Spear

      Very nice commentary and explanation of Michaelmas

    The Plough Music Series is a regular selection of music intended to lift the heart to God. It is not a playlist of background music: each installment focuses on a single piece worth pausing to enjoy.

    September 29th is Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels. In premodern Europe, the feast marked the passing of seasons as summer’s warmth gave way to the shadow of winter. Saint Michael was invoked, along with all the angelic host, to aid the faithful as they brought in their harvest. To these communities, angels were guardians of the righteous, seeking their well-being and defending them from evil.

    In Edward Elgar’s unstaged opera The Dream of Gerontius, an adaptation of John Henry Newman’s poem of the same name, the protagonist Gerontius endures a holy death and traverses heaven to face his final judgement, after which he will enter purgatory. Along the way, Gerontius is met by angels, who accompany him, pray for him, and encourage him in his journey.


    William Turner, The Angel, Standing in the Sun, 1846

    The scene below finds Gerontius and his guardian angel approaching the judgement seat of God. As they draw near, Gerontius’s guardian angel points out the Angel of the Agony, who aided Christ in the Garden of Gesthemane, and who now pleads for Gerontius before Christ. The Angel of the Agony asks that Christ “hasten the hour” when Gerontius will forever be in God’s presence. Just before Gerontius approaches his judgement, he receives a comforting benediction from his guardian angel, who blesses him for his divine encounter.

    In Gerontius, as in Michaelmas, angels assist humans, seeking their good, safeguarding them from harm, and even pleading for them before God, until, after their earthly journey, humans finally come to the beatific vision. There, as the Angel of the Agony declares, “they shall ever gaze on thee,” on Christ himself.

    Sir Colin Davis conducts the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, with tenor Ben Heppner, mezzo-soprano Sarah Connolly, and baritone Gerald Finley singing solos.


    Thy judgment now is near, for we are come
    Into the veilèd presence of our God.


    I hear the voices that I left on earth.


    It is the voice of friends around thy bed,
    Who say the "Subvenite" with the priest.
    Hither the echoes come; before the Throne
    Stands the great Angel of the Agony,
    The same who strengthen'd Him, what time He knelt
    Lone in that garden shade, bedew'd with blood.
    That Angel best can plead with Him for all
    Tormented souls, the dying and the dead.

    Angel of the Agony

    Jesu! by that shuddering dread which fell on Thee;
    Jesu! by that cold dismay which sicken'd Thee;
    Jesu! by that pang of heart which thrill'd in Thee;
    Jesu! by that mount of sins which crippled Thee;
    Jesu! by that sense of guilt which stifled Thee;
    Jesu! by that innocence which girdled Thee;
    Jesu! by that sanctity which reign'd in Thee;
    Jesu! by that Godhead which was one with Thee;
    Jesu! spare these souls which are so dear to Thee;
    Souls, who in prison, calm and patient, wait for Thee;

    Hasten, Lord, their hour, and bid them come to Thee,

    To that glorious Home, where they shall ever gaze on Thee.
    Jesu, spare these souls which are so dear to thee.


    I go before my Judge….


    Be merciful, be gracious; spare him, Lord,
    Be merciful, be gracious; Lord, deliver him.


    …. Praise to His Name!
    O happy, suffering soul! for it is safe,
    Consumed, yet quicken'd, by the glance of God.

    Alleluia – Praise to his Name.

    Contributed By Joel Clarkson Joel Clarkson

    Joel Clarkson is a composer of film, concert, and sacred music, and he holds a PhD in theology from the University of St Andrews in Scotland.

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