The "O Antiphons" provide a wonderful source of meditation to help prepare us for the Nativity. Traditionally chanted before and after the Magnificat in Evening Prayer during the last week of Advent, they help connect Old Testament prophecy to the Messiah born in a manger. Listen first to this wonderful introduction by Ken Myers of Mars Hill Audio:
I bind unto myself today
By Ken Myers (from Cantica Sacra)
Text: St. Patrick (372-466)
Music: Traditional Irish Melody
Tune name: ST. PATRICK, DEIRDRE
In John Julian’s 1907 Dictionary of Hymnology, we read: “St. Patrick’s Irish Hymn is referred to in Tirechan’s Collections (A.D. 690). It was directed to be sung in “all monasteries and churches through the whole of Ireland, . . . which is a proof that it was at that time universally acknowledged to be his composition.” Although there have been numerous translations and paraphrases of the hymn into English, the one we sing was the work of Mrs. Cecil F. Alexander (1818-1895), the wife of a prominent Irish bishop. Mrs. Alexander was the author of nearly 400 of her own hymns, many of which were written for children at a time when hymnals for children were still being published. Seven of her hymns are included in our Hymnal, including “He is risen, he is risen,” “All things bright and beautiful,” and “Once in royal David’s city.”
The original text is found in two eleventh-century manuscripts, along with this preface:
Patrick made this hymn; in the time of Loegaire mac Neill [a fifth-century Irish king], it was made, and the cause of its composition was for the protection of himself and his monks against the deadly enemies that lay in ambush for the clerics. And it is a lorica [a prayer of protection; Latin for “body armor”] of faith for the protection of body and soul against demons and man and vices: when any person shall recite it daily with pious meditation on God, demons shall not bear to face him, it shall be a protection to him against all poison and envy, it shall be a guard to him against sudden death, it shall be a lorica for his soul after his decease.
Patrick sang it when the ambuscades [ambushes] were laid for him by Loegaire [and his Druid accomplices], in order that he should not go to Tara [a hill in County Meath, Ireland, known as the seat of the High Kings of Ireland, the site of coronations, a place of assembly for the enacting and reading of laws, and for religious festivals] to sow the faith, so that on that occasion they [i.e., Patrick and his companions] were seen before those who were lying in ambush as if they were wild deer having behind them a fawn, and “Deer’s Cry” is its name.
“The Deer’s Cry” is still a name given to the text of this hymn. It is also the title of a work based on this text composed by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt in 2007.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in me, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
Christ with me.
Pärt’s The Deer’s Cry is sung in the recording below by The Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers.
Here is the complete text of our hymn:
1. I bind unto myself today
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three.
2. I bind this day to me forever,
by power of faith, Christ’s incarnation,
his baptism in the Jordan river,
his death on cross for my salvation,
his bursting from the spiced tomb,
his riding up the heavenly way,
his coming at the day of doom,
I bind unto myself today.
3. I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven,
the glorious sun’s life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind’s tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea
around the old eternal rocks.
4. I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
God’s eye to watch, God’s might to stay,
God’s ear to hearken to my need,
the wisdom of my God to teach,
God’s hand to guide, God’s shield to ward,
the word of God to give me speech,
God’s heavenly host to be my guard.
5. Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.
Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.
6. I bind unto myself the name,
the strong name of the Trinity
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One and One in Three,
of whom all nature has creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word.
Praise to the Lord of my salvation;
salvation is of Christ the Lord!
The tune ST. PATRICK is from a collection of Irish music edited by the composer Charles Villiers Stanford in 1902. In that publication, the tune bears the caption: “The hymn of St. Bernard, ‘Jesu dulcis memoria’ from Mr. Southwell.” We don’t know who Mr. Southwell was, but Jesu dulcis memoria is the twelfth-century hymn attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux. ST. PATRICK was once the tune used to sing that text, portions of of which appear in our Hymnal as “Jesus, the very thought of thee” (#462) and “Jesus, thou joy of loving hearts” (#485).
The tune DEIRDRE to which verse 6 is sung was adapted for English Hymnal (1906) from “The Lamentation of Deirdre for the Sons of Usneach,” published in 1840 in Ancient Music of Ireland. The editor, Edward Bunting, claimed that this was the oldest known Irish air.
Here is the hymn sung by the choir and congregation at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin. The harmonization is by C. V. Stanford, not the more familiar one by Vaughan Williams used in our Hymnal. Also, verse 6 does not employ the tune DEIRDRE.
Below, the hymn is sung by the Choir of Keble College, Oxford, with the more familiar harmonization and a fine descant on the last verse. Verse 6 uses the tune GARTAN, which Stanford himself preferred.