12.7
Memorial of St. Ambrose of Milan

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St. Ambrose

Fed up with bizarre mall medleys?

O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie,
Up on the rooftop reindeer paws,
Here comes dear, old Santa Claus,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore him,
O come, let us adore hi-im,
(Santa Claus?  No.) Crhi-ist the Lord.

The memorial of St. Ambrose (December 7) is the feast for everyone who loves hymns and carols,just not sung exclusively by Bing and Elvis, and not mixed in with “chestnuts roasting on an open fire.”

Saint Ambrose of Milan (340-397), bishop, doctor of the church and the priest who baptized Saint Augustine, is the father of Latin hymnody. Augustine knew Ambrose’s hymn, Deus Creator Omnium (Creator of the Earth and Sky.)  He writes in his Confessions how this hymn comforted him on the day of his mother’s funeral. Creator of the Earth and Sky is not an Advent or Christmas hymn, but rather an evening hymn, to be sung at the close of the day. Since Advent comes at the darkest time of the year, at a time when we proclaim, against all evidence to the contrary, that the Light has come and will not be extinguished, this would be a good hymn to sing today.

There are lots of English verses, thanks to Charles Bigg, and the text, thanks to Ambrose’s mastery of meter, can be set to any one of a number of familiar and much-loved tunes.  Here are some of the verses.  (If you want all the verses, look for The English Hymnal, 1906).  Try singing them to the tune of “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”

Creator of the earth and sky,
Ruling the firmament on high,
Clothing the day with robes of light,
Blessing with gracious sleep the night,
Day sinks; we thank thee for thy gift;
Night comes; and once again we lift
Our prayer and vows and hymns, that we
Against all ills may shielded be.
That when black darkness closes day,
And shadows thicken round our way,
Faith may no darkness know, and night
from faith’s clear beam may borrow light
Pray we the Father and the Son,
And Holy Ghost: O Three in One,
Blest Trinity, whom all obey,
Guard thou thy sheep by night and day.
During the Christmas season, sing another of Ambrose’ great hymns, Veni Redemptor Gentium (Come, Savoir of the Gentiles). You can hear it here:

Ambrose was a scholar, a theologian and a musician. He was also a strong and fearless leader of his flock. When Emperor Valentinian’s mother told him to close and abandon two churches, Ambrose led the protest. He and his people occupied the cathedral for a week, refusing to leave until the demand was rescinded. He convinced the general Maximus not to invade Italy and he demanded that the Emperor Theodosius do public penance for allowing soldiers to kill innocent civilians.

St. Ambrose of Milan, pray for us.