O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

Full Text

1 O sacred head, now wounded,
with grief and shame weighed down,
now scornfully surrounded
with thorns, your only crown.
O sacred head, what glory
and blessing you have known!
Yet, though despised and gory,
I claim you as my own.

2 My Lord, what you did suffer
was all for sinner's gain;
mine, mine was the transgression,
but yours the deadly pain.
So here I kneel, my Savior,
for I deserve your place;
look on me with thy favor
and save me by your grace.

3 What language shall I borrow
to thank you, dearest Friend,
for this, your dying sorrow,
your pity without end?
Lord, make me yours forever,
a loyal servant true,
and let me never, never
outlive my love to you.

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Scripture References

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Deeply devotional, the text makes a very personal application of Christ's atoning death (st. 1-2) and confesses our gratitude and commitment to Christ (st. 3).

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

This song reflects the narrative of the suffering and death of Christ on Calvary, events whose significance and purpose is deepened by the confessions of the church. Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Days 15-16, Questions and Answers 37-44 explain the significance of each step of his suffering. Question and Answer 40 testifies that Christ had to suffer death “because God’s justice and truth require it; nothing else could pay for our sins except the death of the son of God.”

The Belgic Confession, Article 20 professes that “God made known his justice toward his Son…poured out his goodness and mercy on us…giving to us his Son to die, by a most perfect love, and raising him to life for our justification, in order that by him we might have immortality and eternal life.”
Consider also the testimony of Belgic Confession, Article 21: “He endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins.”


O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

Call to Worship

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Surely he has borne our infirmities
and carried our diseases;
yet we account him stricken,
struck down by God and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the punishment that made us whole,
and by his bruises we are healed.
—from Isaiah 53:1, 4-5, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Today we remember Jesus was crucified.
He was pierced for our transgressions.
He suffered and died for our iniquities.
We remember the sacrifice of our Lord with gratitude
because his death gives us life and brings redemption to the world.
Let us worship our Savior.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Words of Praise

King of glory,
we adore you, our Savior and Lord.
You suffered on the cross
and gave your life as a ransom for many.
We bless and thank you for the outpouring of your love
and offer our worship today out of unspeakable gratitude. Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two


In Christ all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell,
and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
whether on earth or in heaven,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.
And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds,
he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death,
so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him.
Brothers and sisters: through the cross of Christ
we are forgiven and reconciled to God. Praise be to God!
—based on Colossians 1:19-22, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the cross,
so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness;
by his wounds you have been healed.
—from 1 Peter 2:24, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

Tune Information

C Major
Meter D


Musical Suggestion

The next chorale is a Lenten one, taken from Bach’s Cantata 161, “Herzlich tut mich verlangen,” and found in most hymnals by the title “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Here too the closing movement of the cantata is a chorale with an instrumental descant.
Bach asks for a flute to play the flowing melody, mostly in 16th notes, above the chorale. The tempo should not be fast for this best known of Lenten hymns, with its deeply felt sorrow and grief at the suffering of Jesus. The text for the stanza with Bach’s descant, however, deals with the transformation of earthly life into eternal life, when the righteous shall shine like the sun (“leuchten als die Sonne”). The theme is one of comfort rather than despair and sorrow, but it is a comfort based on the memory of the price paid for it—Jesus’ suffering and death. The radiant sound of the flute obbligato poignantly expresses the longing and hope for the reality of eternal life.
Since there is no modulation needed to a different key, there are several ways this could be sung. Here are some ideas:
  1. Stanza 1: congregation (unison), choir (SATB), organ. Decide whether the tempo should be the same as for the cantata setting to come, or whether the tempo will slow down for the cantata setting.
  2. Stanza 2: congregation and choir, a cappella
  3. Stanza 3: using the Cantata 161 setting, with choir (SATB), flute descant, organ. Take care to set an appropriate tempo for this movement if different from the first two stanzas.
(from Reformed Worship, Issue 84)
— Jan Overduin

O Sacred Head, Now Wounded

Hymn Story/Background

Originally from a Latin poem beginning "Salve mundi salutare" and attributed to either Bernard of Clairvaux (twelfth century) or Arnulf von Loewen (1200-1251), "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 ("O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden"). His ten-stanza translation was published in Johann Crüger's Praxis Pietatis Melica (1656).
The English translation is mainly the work of James W. Alexander. It was published in Joshua Leavitt's The Christian Lyre (1830) and revised by Henry W. Baker for Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861).
"O Sacred Head" has enjoyed great popularity since 1656; the hymn appears in all modern hymnals, in many languages and translations, and with various numbers of stanzas. Deeply devotional, the text makes a very personal application of Christ's atoning death (st. 1-2) and confesses our gratitude and commitment to Christ (st. 3).
The tune HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN has been associated with Gerhardt's text since they were first published together in 1656. The tune's first association with a sacred text was its attachment in 1613 to Christoph Knoll's funeral text "Herzlich tut mich verlangen" (hence the tune name). It was originally a court song by the great Renaissance composer Hans Leo Hassler, published in his Lustgarten neuer teutscher Gesäng (1601).
HERZLICH TUT MICH VERLANGEN (also known as ACH HERR, MICH ARMEN SUNDER, and PASSION CHORALE) is a bar form tune (AAB) with a glorious melody whose beauty has done much to fit the private devotional text onto the lips of congregations. Sing stanzas 1 and 3 in unison and stanza 2 in harmony (possibly unaccompanied with a confident congregation or choir). Keep a subdued registration on the organ and always accompany at a sustained pace.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

Paul Gerhardt (b. GraEenhainichen, Saxony, Germany, 1607; d. Lubben, Germany, 1676), famous author of Lutheran evangelical hymns, studied theology and hymnody at the University of Wittenberg and then was a tutor in Berlin, where he became friends with Johann Crüger. He served the Lutheran parish of Mittenwalde near Berlin (1651-1657) and the great St. Nicholas' Church in Berlin (1657-1666). Friederich William, the Calvinist elector, had issued an edict that forbade the various Protestant groups to fight each other. Although Gerhardt did not want strife between the churches, he refused to comply with the edict because he thought it opposed the Lutheran "Formula of Concord," which con­demned some Calvinist doctrines. Consequently, he was released from his position in Berlin in 1666. With the support of friends he became archdeacon at Lubben in 1669 and remained there until his death. Gerhardt experienced much suffering in his life­ he and his parishioners lived in the era of the Thirty Years' War, and his family experi­enced incredible tragedy: four of his five children died young, and his wife died after a prolonged illness. In the history of hymnody Gerhardt is considered a transitional figure-he wrote at a time when hymns were changing from a more objective, confes­sional, and corporate focus to a pietistic, devotional, and personal one. Like other German hymns, Gerhardt's were lengthy and intended for use throughout a service, a group of stanzas at a time. More than 130 of his hymns were published in various editions of Cruger's Praxis Pietatis Melica, the Crüger-Runge Gesangbuch (1653), and Ebeling's Das andere Dutzeud geistliche Andachtslieder Herrn Paul Gerhardts (1666-1667). John Wesley and Catherine Winkworth both made famous English translations of Gerhardt's texts.
— Bert Polman

James W. Alexander (b. Hopewell, Louisa County, VA, 1804; d. Sweetsprings, VA, 1859) was often overshadowed by his father, the renowned Archibald Alexander, first professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. But James Alexander was also a fine preacher, teacher, and writer. He studied at New Jersey College (now Princeton University) and Princeton Seminary. Ordained in the Presbyterian Church, he alternated his career between teaching and pastoring; for two years (1849-1851) he was professor of ecclesiastical history and church government at Princeton Seminary. Alexander translated a number of hymns from Greek, Latin, and German but is mainly known today for his translation of "O Sacred Head."
— Bert Polman

Johann Sebastian Bach (b. Eisenach, Germany, 1685; d. Leipzig, Germany, 1750) came from a family of musicians. He learned to play violin, organ, and harpsichord from his father and his older brother, Johann Christoph. Bach's early career developed in Arnstadt and Muhlhausen, particularly at the court of Duke Wilhelm Ernst in Weimar. During this period he composed cantatas and most of his large organ works. In 1717 Bach became director of music for Prince Leopold in Anhalt-Cathen, for whom he composed much of his instrumental music-orchestral suites and concertos as well as The Well-Tempered Clavier. In 1723 he was appointed cantor of the Thomas Schule at Leipzig and director at St. Thomas and St. Nicholas churches and at the University of Leipzig. During that time he wrote his large choral works, 165 cantatas, and more compositions for organ and harpsichord. Although Bach's contribution to church music was immense and his stature as the finest composer of the Baroque era unparal­leled, he composed no hymn tunes for congregational use. He did, however, harmo­nize many German chorales, which he used extensively in his cantatas, oratorios, and organ works. These harmonizations were published posthumously by his son Carl Phillip Emmanuel as 371 Vierstimmige Choralgesiinge.
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Hans Leo Hassler (b. Nuremberg, Germany, 1564; d. Frankfurt, Germany, 1612) came from a family of famous musicians. He received his early education from his father in Nuremberg, then studied in Venice with Andrea Gabrieli and became friends with Giovanni Gabrieli. In Venice he learned the polychoral style, for which the Gabrielis were justly famous, and brought this practice back with him to Germany. Hassler served as organist and composer for Octavian Fugger, the princely art patron of Augsburg (1585-1601), as director of town music and organist in the Frauenkirche in Nuremberg (1601-1608), and finally as court musician for the Elector of Saxony in Dresden (1608-1612). A Lutheran, Hassler composed for both the Roman Catholic liturgy and for Lutheran churches. Among his many works are two volumes of motets (1591, 1601), a famous collection of court songs, Lustgarten neuer Deutscher Gesang (1601), chorale motets, Psalmen und christliche Gesänge (1607), and a volume of simpler hymn settings, Kirchengesänge, Psalmen und geistliche Lieder (1608).
— Bert Polman

Song Notes

This hymn text is often attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, a French abbot and founder of the Cistercian Order in the early twelfth century. In certain medieval orders, monks would spend hours meditating upon the crucifix. They would mentally divide the body of Christ into parts and meditate on each part respectively. Bernard (some think it was medieval poet Arnulf of Louvain) wrote a poem of fifty lines for each part of Christ’s body - his feet, hands, side, breast, heart, and head, and called it, “A rhythmic prayer to any one of the members of Christ suffering and hanging on the Cross.” Bernard’s prayer to Christ’s head was the text hymnist Paul Gerhardt translated into German in the seventeenth century, and from which we have the English translation, “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” Just as Bernard would meditate on the crucifix, so too does this text call us to remember the wounded and broken body of Christ as he suffered for us. It is not an activity we can ever particularly enjoy doing, but in the midst of reflecting on this in sorrow, we find buried, beneath our grief and shame, a pearl of joy; we can call this Savior, “though despised and gory,” our own. He suffered because of his love for us; we remember because of our love for him.
— Laura de Jong
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