The Sacrifice of Praise

The above is the title of the hymn beginning ‘For the beauty of the earth’. The text by Folliot S. Pierpoint, and its now probably most commonly associated tune (‘Dix’, originally by Conrad S. Kocher, adapted by Monk and harmonized in the English Hymnal), are strong, and the match between them is a happy one. None of the other tunes to which these words have been mated (‘England’s Lane’, ‘Lucerna Laudoniae’, ‘Jesu, meine Zuversicht’, or even ‘Ratisbon’ – to say nothing of Rutter’s setting, of which nothing good can be said) both has the unassuming dignity of Kocher’s tune and fits the verse structure so well. That structure – four-line stanzas with a two-line refrain – strikes a good balance between the brevity of four-line and the verbosity of eight-line stanzas, and the constant seven-syllable line also lends a certain stateliness when compared to the Short and Common Meters. The many revisions to the original text have produced a very good general hymn of praise, and in one or two cases (‘mind’ for ‘brain’, for example) have arguably improved it.

The result, however, has a rather different point from Pierpoint’s original, which was explicitly a Eucharistic hymn: the ‘sacrifice of praise’ found in the original wording of the refrain is none other than the Eucharistic sacrifice. Furthermore, though six stanzas are plenty to sing on an ordinary occasion, Pierpoint did not stop with the earthly Church ‘on every shore’ or the general category of ‘friends above’, but went on to name more specifically the denizens – Martyrs, Prophets, Confessors, Innocents, Virgins, and the Blessed Virgin herself – of the heaven whose buds we see even now in the gifts and graces listed in the earlier stanzas: the ones in union with whom we, ‘hearts aglow’ as at Emmaus, celebrate the divine liturgy through the one who is both ‘Jesu, victim undefiled’ and ‘Christ our God’. Here is Pierpoint’s original:

The sacrifice of praise.

For the beauty of the earth,
     for the beauty of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
     over and around us lies:

Christ our God, to thee we raise
this our sacrifice of praise.

For the beauty of each hour
     of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
     sun and moon, and stars of light:

For the joy of ear and eye,
     for the heart and brain’s delight,
for the mystic harmony
     linking sense to sound and sight:

For the joy of human love,
     brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
     for all gentle thoughts and mild:

For each perfect gift of thine
     to our race so freely given,
graces human and divine,
     flowers of earth and buds of heaven:

For thy Bride that evermore
     lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
     this pure sacrifice of love:

For the Martyrs’ crown of light,
     for thy Prophets’ eagle eye,
for thy bold Confessors’ might,
     for the lips of infancy:

For thy Virgins’ robes of snow,
     for thy Maiden-mother mild,
for thyself, with hearts aglow,
     Jesu, Victim undefiled:

     Folliot Sandford Pierpoint