Something for the weekend. O Sacred Head Surrounded. The lyrics of this hymn derive from the latin poem Salve Mundi Salutare. The authorship is open to doubt although I agree with those who attribute at least part of the poem to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, based upon stylistic similarities with portions of his other writings. The sanctity and eloquence of Saint Bernard alloyed with the musical genius of Johann Sebastian Bach makes a potent combination indeed.
On a personal note this hymn has always moved me as no other does. I had it played at my son’s funeral and when I depart this Vale of Tears I have requested that it be played at mine. It reminds me that God died for me, something I find absolutely stunning. Love and sacrifice begin and end with God, who regards each man as if there were no other.
How shall we explain the world-wide light of faith, swift and flaming in its progress, except by the preaching of Jesus’ name? Is it not by the light of this name that God has called us into his wonderful light, that irradiates our darkness and empowers us to see the light? To such as we Paul says: “You were darkness once, but now you are light in the Lord.” This is the name that Paul was commanded to present before kings and pagans and the people of Israel; a name that illumined his native land as he carried it with him like a torch, preaching on all his journeys that the night is almost over, it will be daylight soon — let us give up all the things we prefer to do under cover of the dark; let us arm ourselves and appear in the light. Let us live decently as people do in the day-time. To every eye he was a lamp on its lamp-stand; to every place he brought the good news of Jesus, and him crucified. What a splendor radiated from that light, dazzling the eyes of the crowd, when Peter uttered the name that strengthened the feet and ankles of the cripple, and gave light to many eyes that were spiritually blind! Did not the words shoot like a flame when he said: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk”? But the name of Jesus is more than light, it is also food. Do you not feel increase of strength as often as you remember it? What other name can so enrich the man who meditates? What can equal its power to refresh the harassed senses, to buttress the virtues, to add vigor to good and upright habits, to foster chaste affections? Every food of the mind is dry if it is not dipped in that oil; it is tasteless if not seasoned by that salt. Write what you will, I shall not relish it unless it tells of Jesus. Talk or argue about what you will, I shall not relish it if you exclude the name of Jesus. Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart.
Saint Bernard of Clairvaux