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In the Christian church, March 6th begins Lent, the period of forty days (plus Sundays) before Easter.  It is, along with Advent, one of the two penitential seasons in the church calendar, and common practices include giving up something that you enjoy as a symbolic sacrifice, study, reflection, and prayer.  Some Christians, particularly Catholics, do not eat meat during Lent since it is said that Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert.


One of the most beautiful prayers of the season comes at the end of Lent, during Holy Week, the final week of Lent.  On the evening Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday, Christians mark the occasion of the Last Supper, where Jesus first gave communion to his disciples, and also displayed his humility by washing their feet.  In some churches, it is still traditional for a minster or priest to wash the feet of some of the congregation.  Originally, this prayer “Ubi caritas et amor” was sung during the foot washing, though in modern practice it is usually sung at the offertory.


The melody is a Gregorian chant, composed at an unknown date but probably no later than the tenth century, making it at least a thousand years old.  Some scholars argue that the hymn was written earlier than the first formal Mass, making it closer to two thousand years old.  In any case, it is a very early Christian hymn.  Textually, the Latin was first written down in the tenth or eleventh century with its origins possibly from John 13:34 where Jesus, speaking at the Last Supper, says to his disciples: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  The word caritas is usually translated to “charity,” but it appears in 1 Corinthians 13:13 in the trio of “fides, spes, caritas” which is “faith, hope, and charity” in some versions (including King James, one of the earliest modern English translations) but is given as “faith, hope, and love” in many others.  In any case, my opinion (as neither clergy nor biblical scholar) is that caritas is one of those words that has more of a feeling than a definition, and that caring for one another is the general sentiment, as “caring” and caritas have the same linguistic root.


Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.                                Where charity and love are, there is God.

Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor.                     We have gathered as one in Christ’s love.

Exsultemus, et in ipso jucundemur.                            Let us exult and rejoice in it.

Timeamus, et amemus Deum vivum.                          Let us fear and love the living God.

Et ex corde diligamus nos sincero.                              And let us love each other with a sincere heart.


Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.                                Where charity and love are, there is God.

Simul ergo cum in unum congregamur:                      At the same time, we are therefore gathered as one:

Ne nos mente dividamur, caveamus.                           Let us beware, lest we be divided in mind.

Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.                           Let evil impulse and dispute cease.

Et in medio nostri sit Christus Deus.                          And may Christ, our God, be in our midst.


Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.                                Where charity and love are, there is God.

Simul quoque cum beatis videamus,                           At the same time, with the saints, may we see

Glorianter vultum tuum, Christe Deus:                      Thy face in glory, Christ our God:

Gaudium quod est immensum, atque probum,          The joy that is immense and good, also honest,

Saecula per infinita saeculorum.                                 Unto the ages, now and forever.

Amen.                                                                         Amen.

The text has been set by a number of composers, though few have used the original chant melody.  Maurice Duruflé, a 20th century French composer and organist at St-Étienne-du-Mont in Paris from 1929 until his death in 1986 wrote a set of Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens (Four motets on Gregorian themes) in 1960.  The first of these in a setting of part of the Ubi caritas text with the Gregorian chant in the alto line, and it is absolutely gorgeous.  Other modern settings by Ola Gjeilo (a Norwegian composer living in the United States) and Paul Mealor (a Welsh composer) have become increasingly popular, the latter having been performed at the royal wedding of Price William and Catherine Middleton, which brought the composer to international prominence.




Chant version of Ubi caritas et amor sung by the Monks of Solesmes:


Modern chant version (with handbells) of Ubi caritas et amor sung by The Cathedral Singers, arranged and conducted by Richard Proulx:


Maurice Duruflé’s Ubi caritas et amor sung by the Cambridge Singers conducted by John Rutter:


— Thomas B. Dawkins, music director