O lux beatissima – Howard Helvey (b. 1968)

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This Sunday’s communion motet in church, O lux beatissima, is a setting of the fifth and sixth stanzas (out of ten) of the Pentecost sequence Veni Sancte Spiritus, traditionally sung daily at Mass between the Alleluia and the Gospel from Pentecost Sunday until the following Saturday, inclusive. The text of this sequence has been attributed to Stephan Langton (d. 1228), Archbishop of Canterbury. A metrical translation from the Latin can be found in our Common Praise hymnal at 636.

Howard Helvey (b. 1968), who serves as organist and choirmaster of Calvary Episcopal Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, wrote this Sunday’s setting for his parents on the occasion of their fortieth wedding anniversary. Essentially homophonic, its beauty lies in the layering of voices that constantly harmonize and clash, but never seem to fully rest on the tonic until the last chord. Conceived as a textural motet, with no predominant voice, this short piece is stunning in its simplicity.

O light most blessed,
fill the inmost heart
of all thy faithful.

Without your grace,
there is nothing in us,
nothing that is not harmful.

Gerald Harder