Today, I thought I’d share one of my all-time favorite pieces of sacred music: a setting of In manus tuas by English composer John Sheppard (ca. 1515—1558). For what it’s worth, I actually consider this one of the most beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard.
Sheppard lived and wrote his music right in the middle of the religious revolution in England, as the Church lurched from erstwhile “Defender of the Faith” Henry VIII to the radically Protestant regime of Edward VI, and back to the restoration of Catholicism under Mary Tudor. Sheppard was heavily involved in writing music for the restored Catholic liturgy during Queen Mary’s brief reign. He died in December of 1558, only about a month after Mary herself passed.
In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum.
Redemisti me Domine, Deus Veritatis.
In manus tuas contains the Latin text from Psalm 31: “Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, Lord, God of truth.” Our Lord repeated these words from the cross just before he died. This text is used liturgically as the responsory for the reading at Compline (Night Prayer).