20 April 2010

Ovid a a liturgist?

I have remarked before how suspicious-making it is that none of the old Roman collects for the Sundays after Easter survived Bugnini. This is, surely, a dead give-away of an anti-traditional mindset. Another such give-away is the fact that the OF collect for last Sunday is a modern composition (albeit one which darns together two or three phrases from old books). Nor is Bugnini liturgy the only guilty party; Dr Cranmer wrote a new collect for this Sunday and week of Eastertide; and the (2000) compilers of Common Worshgip in turn evicted his composition in favour of yet another novelty. Whatever is wrong with the old collect for this week?

The Bugnini reformers did in fact keep this collect and assign it to one of the 'green' Sundays. But in doing so they changed it; out went the refence to 'perpetual death' - and since that had to disappear, the parallel reference to 'perpetual joy' had to be changed to 'holy joy'. Wettish.

Here is the preconciliar text: Deus qui in Filii tui humilitate iacentem mundum erexisti: fidelibus tuis perpetuam concede laetitiam; ut quos perpetuae mortis eripuisti casibus, gaudiis facias perfrui sempiternis. God, who in the lowliness of thy Son didst make upright a prostrate world: grant to thy faithful people perpetual joy; that to those whom thou hast snatched from the chances of perpetual death, thou mightest give the fruition of everlasting joys.

I simply love the word-games in the opening phrases. Humilitas comes from humus, the ground, and so it has an etymological sense of flat-upon-the-ground (similarly the Greek tapeinos). So we are offered the elegant paradox that the lowliness of Christ raised upright, erect, a world which was prostrate or, literally, lying. As a frivolous Classicist, I am reminded of the similar word-play at VIII 526 of Ovid's Metamorphoses, where all Calydon is grieving at the death of Meleager: Alta iacet Calydon, lofty Calydon lies prostrate, where, as Adrian Hollis points out, the 'sportiveness' of this combination of the literal and metaphorical is enhanced by the fact that 'lofty' is a traditional epithet (aipeinei Kaludoni Iliad XIII 217). Hollis rightly describes the humour as 'whimsical, almost Callimachean' (it was Callimachus, greatest of all the Greek poets, who elevated verbal fun to be the highest art form).

And then there are the antitheses and assonances. They raise my spirit in the same sort of way as do the brilliant fireworks-displays of the Akathist hymn. Why do killjoys, gloomy Bugninis, want to rob my religion of its fun?

But, underneath the fun, there is saving and glorious truth that the Lord, falling under his Cross to the grime and filth of the ground, is what raises up the fallen world and conveys to us an endlessness of joy. Christian euchology renders soteriological the Callimachean humour. Divinisation, indeed.

5 comments:

Michael McDonough said...

"The Bugnini reformers did in fact keep this collect and assign it to one of the 'green' Sundays. But in doing so they changed it; out went the reference to 'perpetual death' - and since that had to disappear, the parallel reference to 'perpetual joy' had to be changed to 'holy joy'. Wettish."

I'm not sure what you mean by "wettish" (sentimental?), but let's take it as pejorative. Agreed. Do we not see here another manifestation of that Sixties humanistic optimism, already noted regarding Gaudium et spes, which redirects hope from the realm of Eternal Life, and displaces it toward our human efforts in this life? (Cf. BXVI, Spe salvi.)

So, who are the winners, then? One is tempted to answer, "those with the most toys".

"Now thank we all our God, for those with the most toys!
Who wondrous things hath done, for all those other boys."

Pastor in Valle said...

I'm so pleased that this collect has struck someone else. It has been one of my favourites for about a quarter of a century, since I heard it sung (in its revised form, I suppose) while on retreat at Ampleforth Abbey as a seminarian.

Fr Michael said...

An apposite comment Fr John. The Christian religion is so subtle and full of wit and wisdom. Thank you for bringing out the beauty of this collect with your estimable scholarship.
Here in Devon the Daffodils are well out at last and quite soon everything will be blooming. We missed you at S. Boniface last week when we discussed Anglicanorum Coetibus.

Pedes Christi said...

I must say I rather enjoy this collect, and have been reflecting on how well it goes with the Gospel and antiphons for this week.
I have thought of a term for what Bugnini and company did to the liturgy in taking all of the fiun (and joy) out of it: from the Archbishop's first name: "Hannibalized". Could we say that these venerable collects (along with much else of beauty in the Rite) have been Hannibalized? Sounds apt to me.

Joshua said...

For most of the week this Collect has been my friend when reading the Hours. Thanks for blogging on it!