1 O perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
lowly we kneel in prayer before thy throne,
that theirs may be the love which knows no ending,
whom thou in sacred vow dost join in one.
2 O perfect Life, be thou their full assurance
of tender charity and steadfast faith,
of patient hope and quiet, brave endurance,
with childlike trust that fears no pain or death.
3 Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow;
grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife;
grant them the vision of the glorious morrow
that will reveal eternal love and life.
Psalter Hymnal, 1987
|First Line:||O perfect Love, all human thought transcending|
|Author:||Dorothy F. Gurney (1883)|
|Notes:||Spanish translation: "Perfecto amor del cielo descendiendo" by Mercedes Pereda de Bernal|
|Liturgical Use:||Prayer Songs|
st. 1 = Matt. 19:4-6, Eph.3:19, 1 Cor. 13:7, 13
One Sunday evening in 1884 at Pull Wyke, Cumberland, England, Dorothy Francis Blomfield (later Gurney; b. London, England, 1858; d. Kensington, London, 1932) wrote this text for her sister's wedding. The hymn tune STRENGTH AND STAY by John B. Dykes (PHH 147) was her sister's favorite, but that hymn's text (by Ellerton and Hort) included the line "the brightness of a holy death-bed," which made it inappropriate for a wedding. So her sister challenged her to write a new text to fit that tune.
At a later time Gurney said:
After about 15 minutes I came back with the hymn, "O Perfect Love," and there and then we all sang it to the tune of "O Strength and Stay." . . . The writing of it was no effort whatever after the initial idea came to me of the two-fold aspect of a perfect union, love and life, and I have always felt that God helped me to write it.
The text was published in the 1889 Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern with a reference to Ruth 1:17. Because of its use at the wedding of Princess Louise and the Duke of Fife that same year, it gained much popularity. Thereafter its place in many hymnals and at many weddings was assured.
"O Perfect Love" is a prayer that Christ's love and life may infuse a wedding couple's new life together. The text, however, would be stronger if it contained a direct address to God or Christ in more customary biblical terms. In 1897, several years after her sister's wedding, Dorothy Blomfield also married. She and her husband, Gerald Gurney, were both children of Anglican clergymen. Initially an actor, Gerald was later ordained in the Church of England. But in 1919 Gerald and Dorothy joined the Roman Catholic community at Farnborough Abbey. Dorothy Gurney wrote several volumes of verse, including A Little Book of Quiet, which contained the once well-known poem "God's Garden."
Weddings (sparingly); renewal of wedding vows in family services with a marriage renewal emphasis.
--Psalter Hymnal Handbook
In 1883, Dorothy Blomfield Gurney's sister was engaged to be married. Her favorite hymn tune was John B. Dyke's STRENGTH AND STAY, but its text, St. Ambrose's “O Strength and Stay,” was a funeral hymn and therefore unsuitable for a wedding. One Sunday evening, she asked Blomfield to write a new text for the tune. Blomfield took a hymnbook into another room and wrote this hymn in about fifteen minutes. She wrote three stanzas on the theme of “the two-fold aspect of a perfect union, love and life” (Psalter Hymnal Handbook, p. 756), which were published in the Supplement to Hymns Ancient and Modern in 1889 with a reference to Ruth 1:17. A fourth doxological stanza is sometimes added, which is the third stanza of St. Ambrose's hymn, translated by John Ellerton.
Though this hymn was first sung to John B. Dyke's tune STRENGTH AND STAY, it became popular after John Barnby wrote an anthem setting for the text for the wedding of the Duke of Fife and the Princess of Wales in 1889. He reduced the anthem to a hymn tune, which was published with the text in The Hymnal Companion in 1890. It is the tune to which this text is sung almost exclusively. It is named O PERFECT LOVE after the text; alternate names for the tune are FIFE and SANDRINGHAM.
This hymn is suitable for weddings or the renewal of vows, or services where family and marriage are a theme. The tune is popular among arrangers of organ wedding music, as seen in the arrangements in “The Organist's Library, Vol. 51” and the set of five “Variations on O PERFECT LOVE.”
Tiffany Shomsky, Hymnary.org