Thursday, November 4, 2021

Evelyn Underhill's MISSA CANTATA


Since my teens I have been blessed by the writings of Evelyn Underhill (1875-1942), a widely acclaimed Church of England spiritual director who more than deserves to be rediscovered. An Anthology of the Love of God, published after her death, is a good initiation into her work.  Each chapter begins with a poem, many of which come from Immanence, published by Underhill in 1912. Immanence is available FREE for downloading from the internet. I love this particular poem, a deeply moving burst of praise to the Lord for his sacred presence in the Holy Eucharist:


Once in an Abbey-church, the whiles we prayed 

All silent at the lifting of the Host, 

A little bird through some high window strayed ; 

And to and fro 

Like a wee angel lost 

That on a sudden finds its heaven below, 

It went the morning long. 

And made our Eucharist more glad with song. 

It sang, it sang ! and as the quiet priest 

Far off about the lighted altar moved, 

The awful substance of the mystic feast 

All hushed before, 

It, like a thing that loved 

Yet loved in liberty, would plunge and soar 

Beneath the vault in play 

And thence toss down the oblation of its lay. 

The walls that went our sanctuary around 

Did, as of old, to that sweet summons yield. 

New scents and sounds within our gates were found ; 

The cry of kine. 

The fragrance of the field, 

All woodland whispers, hastened to the shrine : 

The country side was come 

Eager and joyful, to its spirit’s home. 

Far-stretched I saw the cornfield and the plough, 

The scudding cloud, the cleanly-running brook, 

The humble, kindly turf, the tossing bough 

That all their light 

From Love’s own furnace took — 

This altar, where one angel brownly bright 

Proclaimed the sylvan creed. 

And sang the Benedictus of the mead. 

All earth was lifted to communion then. 

All lovely life was there to meet its King ; 

Ah, not the little arid souls of men 

But sun and wind 

And all desirous thing 

The ground of their beseeching here did find ; 

All with one self-same bread. 

And all by one eternal priest, were fed.


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