O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded


O sacred head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down
Now scornfully surrounded, with thorns Thine only crown
How pale Thou art with anguish, with sore abuse and scorn
How does that visage languish, which once was bright as morn

What Thou, my Lord, has suffered was all for sinners gain
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain
Lo, here I fall my Savior, this I deserve Thy place
Look on me with Thy favor, assist me with Thy grace

What language shall I borrow to thank Thee dearest friend
For this, Thy dying sorrow thy pity without end
Oh make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be
Lord, let me never, never out live my love to Thee
Lord, let me never, never out live my love to Thee

REFLECTIONS

Originally from a Latin poem “Salve mundi salutare” and attributed to  Arnulf von Loewen  [1146–1240], “O Sacred Head” is one of seven sections to be used for meditation during Holy Week. Each section focuses on one aspect of Christ’s dying body. Paul Gerhardt translated the seventh section “Salve caput cruentaturn”, which addresses Christ’s head, into German  in 1656. The hymn was first translated into English in 1752 by John Gambold [1711-1771], an Anglican vicar.  His translation begins, “O Head so full of bruises.” In 1830 a new translation of the hymn was made by an American Presbyterian minister James W. Alexander [ 1804-1859]. Alexander’s translation, beginning “O sacred head, now wounded,”

As it were, I love this hymn for its ancient history as well as the language, which is deeply devotional in nature. The text makes a very personal application of Christ’s atoning death  and confesses our gratitude and commitment to Christ. Wonderfully theological and precise, I love the line “Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain”. There is a weight and gravitas that is self evident and which self-exists as part of the lyrical makeup, and while this song and songs of similar caliber have all but vanished from the modern evangelical praise and worship landscape, I look forward to the day when they are brought back.

In the case of this particular version of the hymn, it was sung by Serri Youngward on her Sons and Daughters CD, which can be found here