Father, We Thank Thee, Who Hast Planted” has long been one of my favorite hymns. Its tune, taken from the sixteenth-century Genevan Psalter, is eminently singable. The hymn text—when not corrupted by that politically-correct scoundrel, “alt.”—is even better. For Francis Bland Tucker’s lyrics put twenty-first-century congregations in touch with the second generation of Christians, and perhaps even the first, by combining various phrases from an ancient Christian prayer book and catechism, the Didache.

Scholars continue to debate whether the Didache, more formally known as The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, comes to us from the second or first Christian centuries, but the weight of academic opinion now favors the earlier date. Thus, the Teaching (“Didache” in Greek) links us to what biblical scholar Raymond Brown called “the churches the apostles left behind”: the Christians who were taught by those who were taught by the Lord himself. Singing “Father, We Thank Thee, Who Hast Planted,” we are praying as second-generation Christians, formed by those who had known the Lord Jesus and were witnesses to his resurrection, prayed.

That should be both a consolation and a challenge as the Church prepares to begin a new liturgical year in this season of Catholic grief and anger. Why? Because the primitive Eucharistic Prayer found in the Didache, and the hymn that Fr. Tucker wrote from it, remind us that the Church is always in need of purification: “Watch o’er Thy Church, O Lord, in mercy, / Save it from evil, guard it still. / Perfect it in Thy Love, unite it, / Cleansed and conformed unto Thy will.”

Read more at First Things. 

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