Songs of the Season: NUNC DIMITTIS

Presentation at the TempleMany composers have written choral settings of the Nunc Dimittis, and one of the most hauntingly beautiful is by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (listen to it on YouTube). This canticle of the Christmas season was sung by Simeon, as a blessing on the infant Jesus, and it is recorded in Luke 2:29-32. During this season of Advent, as you wait on the Lord and hope in his promises, consider the circumstances that produced this stirring song.

Waiting is never easy, for children and adults alike. Children (and some adults, too) find it difficult to wait for Christmas morning to arrive, while adults (and some children, too) find it difficult to wait in line at the stores or on the roads. No one really likes to wait, which makes the story of Simeon all the more meaningful. When Jesus was eight days old, Joseph and Mary brought him to the temple so purification rites could be performed, according to the Law. And the Holy Spirt caused Simeon to be there at just the right time. Who was Simeon? He was an old man, a patient man who knew what it means to wait on the Lord. God had promised Simeon that he would live to see the Lord in the flesh. So for many years Simeon waited to see Jesus, until finally, at the end of his life, he did. He held Jesus, and he worshiped the Lord. His blessing on the child is an expression of thanksgiving for God’s gift of salvation, offered to all nations of the world. His words were so profound that Mary and Joseph were astounded. Simeon blessed them, too, helping them to understand, at least in some small measure, the gravity of what was taking place. Simeon was a man of patience, yes, but he was also a man of peace. He begins his blessing by saying, essentially, “Now I can die in peace.” What enables someone to face death so quietly, with such serenity? Faith in the Child. To all who patiently wait for his coming, to all who put their trust in him, the Lord offers blessing beyond measure. Truly, this is good news! (adapted from Behold He Comes: Advent Reflections)

Choral Settings of the Nunc Dimittis

Nunc Dimittis, A. Pärt | Difficult (SATB, a cappella)

Nunc Dimittis, H. Helvey | Moderate (SATB, organ) ~ listen to a recording here

Nunc Dimittis, F. Mendelssohn | Moderate (SATB, a cappella)

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, R. Vaughan Williams | Easy (SATB, organ/piano)

Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, T. Shaw | Easy (SA/TB, soloists, piano)

© 2015 Timothy Shaw. All rights reserved.