In honor of Good Friday, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” But it’s Easter, you say. I know, but this hymn is too good not to write about it, and we ought to always live in the shadow of the Cross, so it is appropriate any time. The author of the text is St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a Frankish abbot born in 1090 (d. 1153). He was an important leader and reformer of the Church and left many writings. Bernard wrote a series of poems meditating on the various wounds of Christ’s body from his head to his feet. The portion we find here is by far the best known. Christ’s head certainly bore many wounds: the vicious and biting crown of thorns left many marks, the beating would have left many bruises and bloody wounds, not to mention the cruel pulling out of His beard. And this was only the beginning of His agony on our behalf.
The tune was written by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612), and German organist and composer, and was originally intended for a secular love song. Bernard’s words and Hassler’s melody were first paired in 1656. The arrangement most often heard today is by J.S. Bach, who used it five times in his great (and I mean that in the truest sense of the word) St. Matthew Passion.
Here’s the text from the Trinity Hymnal:
O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was thine!
Yet, though despised and gory, I joy to call thee mine.
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve thy place;
Look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe to me thy grace.
What language shall I borrow to thank thee, dearest Friend,
For this, thy dying sorrow, thy pity without end?
O make me thine forever; and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love for thee.
Lutheran Worship includes these verses~~too good to pass up:
All this for my transgression, my wayward soul to win;
This torment of your Passion, to set me free from sin.
I cast myself before you, your wrath my rightful lot;
Have mercy, I implore you, O Lord, condemn me not!
Lord, be my consolation, my constant source of cheer;
Remind me of your Passion, my shield when death is near.
I look in faith, believing that you have died for me;
Your cross and crown receiving, I live eternally.
So now, after the somber, introspective, and penitent season of Lent, we enter into the season of Easter. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Picture from all.posters.com: Christ on the Cross, Diego Valezquez (c. 1630)