O Cross, whose wood is all our race’s boast

O Cross whose woodThe Compline Service for Sunday, March 20 from the Compline Choir at St. Mark’s Cathedral, Seattle, has been for me a wonderful source of meditation since it was made available on the Compline podcast site this week. All the words and music are especially appropriate to Good Friday, but the first selection on the podcast has a special story…

“O Cross, whose wood is all our race’s boast” was a hymn whose text was written by Thomas B. Stratman (1939-2008) and set to music by Peter R. Hallock (1924-2014) in 1989. Jason Anderson, director of the Compline Choir, made a new edition of the hymn, which had only existed in manuscript until last week. Tom Stratman, an ex-Dominican, was a friend of mine with whom I co-directed a Gregorian Chant group in 1979-80; he was very active at St. James Cathedral in Seattle as an instructor of new catechumens, but also composed music and poetry. He died on August 6, 2008, the Feast of the Transfiguration (as celebrated by Roman Catholics).

At St. Clement of Rome Episcopal Church, where Peter Hallock was organist after his forty years as Organist/Choirmaster at St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, I found a manuscript copy of “O Cross…” last fall (first page is in the picture). The original copy, as well as many other hymn arrangements and transcriptions, are now in the archives of the Hallock Institute.

Here are the words to the hymn, which is the first selection on the podcast:

O Cross whose wood is all our race’s boast, / may God forbid we glory save in thee,
for peace and mercy blossomed on your tree, / a new creation for a world once lost.

Upon your wood, vain pride was crucified: / I to the world as it to me there died.
Now streams flow forth abundant from your side / that cleanse the earth and my soul purify.

Most blissful wood, more fruitful in delight / than that first tree of which we ate and died,
your flower is Christ, the food that springs to life / made everlasting, new and glorified.

So with the psalmist let us all proclaim: / God from the wood victorious shall reign;
and let all choirs of heaven and earth acclaim / the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’s name.

If you have more time to listen to the service, note that after the short lesson, the usual response “Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit. For you have redeemed me, O God of truth.” is replaced by a polyphonic setting of these words by John Sheppard, “In manus tuas.” This response was sung in England (Sarum rite) at Compline only during Holy Week.

I wish you a good Holy Week, and a happy Easter 2016!

  1. #1 by Ken Peterson on March 25, 2016 - 2:42 pm

    I have added “the Religious Imagineer” to my blogroll. I recommend it highly.

  2. #2 by jeff reynolds on March 25, 2016 - 5:37 pm

    Nice story, Ken. I’m happy to hear of more PRH material come to the surface. Lent, Passion Week, and the Triduum are my favorite musical times of the liturgical year. I am getting close to having most of the Psalms in plainsong, harmonized Anglican Chant and through-composed chant for a go at the Complete Psalter in four events: One quarter of the Psalms spaced out between October and May with many choirs, small ensembles, cantors, and readers keeping up some contrast. All a cappella.
    regards, as always, jefe

  3. #3 by John Behr on January 4, 2018 - 11:37 pm

    Thanks for posting this. Tom was director of music at Blessed Sacrament for a short time in the mid 1980’s, and I learned a lot of chant from him.

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