27 May 2011

DISIMPROVING HYMNS

The text of the hymns in the post-conciliar breviary is a great deal better than in the 1962 breviary; the texts have been restored to what they were before Urban VIII classicised them in the 1620s (thus bringing them into line with the Sarum and Benedictine usages of the Roman Rite). They are, many of them, in their original forms. But the coetus which redacted them in 1968 did make some alterations of its own, which seem generally to have an unfortunately flattening effect. Take, for example, Chorus novae Ierusalem, by S Fulbert of Chartres (d1029), now, happily, an optional hymn for OF Lauds on Paschal ferias. The author called upon the choir of new Jerusalem to utter 'novam meli dulcedinem' ('a new sweetness of melos'), where melos is a Greek word meaning melody or lyric song. The coetus replaced the Greek with a drabber Latin word 'cantus' (which after more reflection became 'hymni') on the grounds that 'meli non facile intelligatur'. But surely S Fulbert had, in half his ear, the Latin word 'mel', 'honey'. Interestingly, the Carmelite breviary followed some manuscripts in reading 'nova mellis dulcedine', 'with new sweetness of honey'. The revised text loses this half-echo, this subliminal suggestion.

More disastrously, the coetus proposed to omit, in the Fifth Century Ascension hymn Aeterne rex, altissime, the glorious words 'culpat caro, purgat caro, regnat Deus Dei caro' ('flesh sins [in Adam], flesh cleanses [in Christ], God [the Son] rules [so what rules is] the flesh of God'. English Hymnal - i.e. the superb Anglican hymnographer J M Neale - renders it (141) 'That flesh hath purged what flesh had stained, and God, the flesh of God, hath reigned'). The coetus found these words 'vel obscuros vel nimio lusu verborum expressos': 'too much playing around with words'. Fortunately, somebody stood up against this philistinism. and the lines survived; unfortunately, in a bowdlerised form: '...regnat caro Verbum Dei' ('flesh reigns, [which is] the Word of God'). This still slightly shies away from the divinely glorious boldness of saying (crisply and epigrammatically) that the God who reigns above the highest heavens is nothing other than the Flesh which the Incarnate Second Person assumed of that Palestinian Girl.

5 comments:

bgeorge77 said...

Fr Hunwicke, do you know what happened to the Te Lucis hymn for compline? In the LoTH it is very different than it is in my Monastic Diurnal. Do you know its history post-VatII?

Joshua said...

The old middle stanza was removed because the revisers found it a bit too embarrassing (as it prays "ne polluantur corpora" in the context of nightly fears and phantasies), and was replaced with two stanzas from another ancient Compline hymn.

In other words, the pious ears of the revisers were offended by the straight-talking language, and despaired of transmuting it into an acceptable euphemism. They bowdlerized it.

One would have thought, in our over-sexed age, that the old prayer was all too appropriate...

Maureen Lash said...

You still need to explain how a prosthetic vowel improves the scansion of the second line of Ad coenam Agni.

Sir Watkin said...

You still need to explain how a prosthetic vowel improves the scansion of the second line of Ad coenam Agni.

Please see the comment I've just posted on the original thread.

Albertus said...

My dear Father, here i can write once again what i have written here and elsewhere many times: that very many of the Bugninian changes and omissions to the Roman Rite of Mass, Divine Office, Sacraments and Sacramentals betray a willful Arian corruption of our age-old Liturgy. The change from ''regnat Deus Dei Caro'' to '...regnat caro Verbum Dei' ('flesh reigns, [which is] the Word of God') is just one more sad example of the Arianism which characterises the neo-Roman Rite.