Thursday 31 December 2015

Concerns about the Holy Father's sermon

I am by nature, upbringing and temperament quite a deferential sort of chap, and being traditionally inclined, my natural inclination is deference to those in Holy Orders of whatever degree - and proportional to the degree of orders.  Thus a priest trumps a deacon, a bishop trumps a priest and the Holy Father is (below God) the Ace of Trumps, as I think I may have mentioned before

However, that parenthesis (below God) is of course in brackets not because it is unimportant, but because it should go without saying.

Al of which makes it particularly painful when the reigning pontiff says something I find hard to reconcile with Catholic thinking.

I mentioned the other day (here, in fact) that I had some concerns about what the Holy Father had said in his sermon about the Holy Family. But I wanted to pause, think and pray before blogging about it. However, the passage of time has not eased my concerns: if anything, the reverse.

First, here is what he said (for the full homily, see here, for the Italian original, here):
At the end of that pilgrimage, Jesus returned to Nazareth and was obedient to his parents (cf. Lk 2:51). This image also contains a beautiful teaching about our families. A pilgrimage does not end when we arrive at our destination, but when we return home and resume our everyday lives, putting into practice the spiritual fruits of our experience. We know what Jesus did on that occasion. Instead of returning home with his family, he stayed in Jerusalem, in the Temple, causing great distress to Mary and Joseph who were unable to find him. For this little “escapade”, Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents. The Gospel doesn’t say this, but I believe that we can presume it. Mary’s question, moreover, contains a certain reproach, revealing the concern and anguish which she and Joseph felt. Returning home, Jesus surely remained close to them, as a sign of his complete affection and obedience. Moments like these become part of the pilgrimage of each family; the Lord transforms the moments into opportunities to grow, to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.

What initially troubled me was the phrase 'Jesus probably had to beg forgiveness of his parents.'

On further reflection, I am also troubled by 'escapade', and also by 'the Lord transforms [moments like these] into opportunities to grow,' etc.

Clearly, the teaching the Holy Father wishes to draw from the incident is a good teaching: that families need to grow in their ability 'to ask for and to receive forgiveness, to show love and obedience.'

However, that does not justify doing such violence to Catholic teaching (or at the very least, to Catholic sensibilities.)

For the first question that arises is: why did Our Lord, God incarnate, have to ask forgiveness? It is a difficult question to answer. Clearly, he cannot have done anything wrong.  Likewise, he cannot have done anything that would accidentally have caused distress to his Mother and his foster Father: all is done in love and knowledge.

Some have hypothesised that he had to apologise out of filial obedience (cf fourth commandment), as an apology was demanded of him by his Mother or by St Joseph. But that is wrenching the text apart too much. The moment for that (if there were such a moment) was the encounter described, when Our Lady asked her question. But we get no hint of an apology here, despite her expression of her own and St Joseph's anxiety. Are we really to think that, after this conversation, these two great saints were to return later to their hurt feelings and demand an apology from their Divine Son?  I find that hard to imagine.

Moreover, even if one or other of them had demanded an apology, would Our Lord have been bound to apologise? I think not: he would have fulfilled his filial obligations, I suspect, by correcting their error. One of the character-notes of Our Lord throughout the Gospels is that He is unapologetic. Consider the conversation at Cana; that with the Syro-Phoenician woman, his comments on Herod, the incident with the money-changers, his trials by the High Priests and by Pilate...  And considering who He is, that could scarcely be otherwise (indeed, on reflection, that is one of the reasons why the 'great moral teacher, but only human' view of Our Lord is so implausible - for a mere man, He would have been insufferable!)

So why, according to the Holy Father, can we presume that Our Lord had to apologise?  I can't see it. My concern is that it lays the seeds in peoples' imagination for a less-than-Divine Christ.

That concern is what sits behind the word 'escapade.' Can we really think of any action of Our Lord's in such terms? Can we even imagine that Our Lady or St Joseph would have done so?   I find that hard to imagine, too, and for all the same reasons.

And that other phrase:  'the Lord transforms [moments like these] into opportunities to grow.' Surely that is true in our fallen families; surely it cannot apply to the Holy Family - for what is being transformed? The phrase implies something wrong, some failing, some lack of charity: can any of these apply to the Sinless Son and his relationship with the Sinless Mother?

Maybe I am missing something. The Holy Father, of course, is probably wiser and more steeped in Scripture, Tradition, and the Faith than I am. But if that is the case, I would be grateful if someone could explain to me how to read this part of this sermon in a way that does not diminish the Son, nor His Mother.

UPDATE: see also And another thing...

Wednesday 30 December 2015

The 1960 Westminster Hymnal

Ttony (of The Muniment Room) has kindly sent me the preface for the 1960 Westminster Hymnal, by +David Mathew, Bishop to the Forces.  As he says: 'it makes sense to keep discussion of modern hymnology in one place.'

He also adds some reflections of his own on it, which I include after the Preface, and also the Contents page, for purposes of comparison.

(In case you have been too indolent over Christmas to follow the story so far, the previous posts here, about PRAISE THE LORD, 1966,  and here about the original preface to the Westminster Hymnal, 1912, are relevant).





The revised Westminster Hymnal is intended to contain a representative selection of the body of Catholic hymn-writing in English. In the view of the Committee appointed after the Low Week meeting of the Hierarchy in 1936 the norm of a Catholic hymn is the ancient Office hymn of the Church. This view has guided the Committee in their choice. The late Sir Richard Terry was in process of forming a collection of melodies in preparation for the book. This collection has been completed and edited by the Rev. W. S. Bainbridge, and it is hoped that both words and music will help to raise the standard of Catholic vernacular hymns.

Care has been taken in regard to the translations from the Latin.  Many of these versions have been amended or replaced and the Committee considered that there was no objection in principle to the occasional use of a non-Catholic translation when this possessed outstanding merit. The encouragement which the Holy See has given to the development of the liturgical spirit among the laity was borne in mind in the choice of hymns. At the same time it is hoped that this new edition will be considered to include a truly representative selection of popular Catholic hymnology.

Among the hymns chosen a few are of Mediaeval English provenance, like the Veni Sancte Spiritus ascribed to Cardinal Langton and the Ave vivens hostia of Archbishop Peckham. It is fitting to begin with the acknowledgement of this debt to the See of Canterbury in the Catholic ages. William Dunbar's Christmas hymn represents the last years of the unbroken Catholic life, and among the Elizabethan writers who are included stand two martyred Beati, the Earl of Arundel and Robert Southwell. Verstegan represents the exiles of the end of the Elizabethan time and Sir John Beaumont stands here for the later Jacobean Catholic world. Crucial in the development of the English Catholic literary tradition is Jerusalem, my happy home, attributed to Laurence Anderton, alias BrereIy. In this hymn there breathes the tough, quick gaiety of the driven generations and their assurance of spiritual victory.

A very different spirit enters with the work of the Caroline converts Richard Crashaw and John Austin. They form a preparation for those hymns over which there hangs the name and touch of Dryden. The closing years of the seventeenth century are marked by Blount's translation of the Vexilla Regis.

The hymns included from the Primer of 1706 reflect, very soberly the integrity of the old Catholic spirit, so determined and yet terrestrially so unhopeful. In this connection it, is worth noting that the translation of O filii et filiae, which was first published in the evening office of 1748, does not in any way suggest the mood of Bishop Challoner. It is too faithful to the letter of the Latin original. The last hymn from the generations which grew up before Emancipation is that for the Vespers of the feast of St Michael and All Angels, which mirrors the confident, staunch faith of Provost Husenbeth.

It is always surprising to recollect that the first of modern English Catholic hymns, Hail, Queen of Heaven, the Ocean star, should have been composed so long ago by Dr Lingard. Coming next to this work in time is Cardinal Wiseman’s paean Full in the panting heart of Rome, with which he ushered in the rather different hymns of the convert Tractarian clergy. Among these Cardinal Newman and Canon Oakeley were the senior. It is curious that Faber, Caswall, Aubrey de Vere and Campbell should all have been born in the same year.  Bishop Chadwick, who represented the old Catholic writing, and Fr. Aylward, the Dominican translator of the Lauda Sion, were a few months older. Exigencies of space have forbidden the present compilers to make a wider selection from Fr. Faber and Fr. Caswall, who have left upon so much of Catholic hymn-writing the imprint of their thought and metaphor. Under another aspect the translation of Dem Herzen Jesu Singe, by Fr Albany Christie S.J., was very typical of the taste of just this period.

With Gerard Manley Hopkins' translation of the Adoro te and that solitary hymn of Digby Mackwork Dolben we reach an approach which is very much more modern.  But all the warmth of one school of one school of Tractarian converts comes through in Lady Catherine Petre's simple verses. The hymns of the next period are familiar to every Catholic childhood, Daily daily, sing to Mary, and Fr. Vaughan's God of mercy and compassion, and Fr. Stanfield’s Sweet Sacrament divine. Those who join the Church in later life find this range of hymns quite strange to them.  At the same time, the feeling and manner of J. M. Neale's Jerusalem the golden, With milk and honey blest, which is included in this edition, is at least equally alien to those who have been reared in the atmosphere of the homely Catholic services of the last fifty years, with their loud and draughty singing.

It is, perhaps, invidious to refer to living authors, but no student of this book can fail to realize the great debt that it owes to Monsignor Knox. From among the work of Catholic writers who have died within this century there are hymns by Francis Thompson, Gilbert Chesterton, Lionel Johnson and Canon Gray, and by the authors who wrote under the pen name of Michael Field. A hymn with an
Interesting background is that translated by Catherine Winkworth from the original of Johann Schleffer, Angelus Silesius. It is our hope that the supplement of Latin hymns will be welcomed. The constant and so varied translations from Latin liturgical sources throw a light upon the backbone of our Catholic tradition.  A clear and consistent unity marks the whole body of catholic hymnology. Native and redolent of the soil, yet so influenced in their style by changing taste, there was one factor constant in these writers. Serene or didactic, unflinching or flamboyant, they were all faithful to the See of Rome.



Ttony comments as follows: 

Two things stand out (to me at least): the structural unity with the 1912 edition (contents attached) and the continuing expectation that hymns are not part of Mass.

The preface is remarkable in the way it explains the chronology of the hymns, adding an extra dimension to the understanding of anybody who reads it. The compare and contrast between Jerusalem the Golden and Sweet Sacrament divine is really interesting as well: we think of a difference between Anglicanism and Catholicism that Catholics don't sing, but still, in 1960, Catholics did sing, but sang different hymns. The key is in the expression "the atmosphere of the homely Catholic services of the last fifty years, with their loud and draughty singing": whatever "draughty" means in this context, I know what "loud" means.  (And I can't believe that the Bishop meant Mass when he talks about "homely Catholic services": he means Parish Benedictions, Novenas, Holy Hours, Mens' Confraternity, Children of Mary etc.)

NB that Mgr Knox was brought in to improve the translations from the Latin: not to cast them out because they were of dubious merit.

The Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple

The Holy Father has said that we are right to use our imaginations on the mysteries of Our Lord's life; and certainly that is consistent with the meditative traditions of the Church.

I have some concerns about the particular way in which he did that recently, on the subject of the Finding of the Child Jesus in the Temple, to which I may return in a later post.

But it reminded me that I have an unfinished book on the back-burner: one in which a modern teenager has a series of visions, under the tutelage of St Michael, of the joyful mysteries of the rosary. 

Here is an extract from chapter ten. To understand it, you need to realise that St Joseph is beside him, as his teacher, watching the mystery unfold, which (of course) also included St Joseph as a protagonist (in the context of the preceding chapters, that is much clearer).

The book (if I ever finish it) is intended for children approaching confirmation age: I would value any feedback.


And that evening St Michael did come.  He hardly said a thing, except that it was time for the final mystery, and that I needed to meet St Joseph to understand it.

“It would be wrong to say that this part of the story belongs to me,” Joseph tells me.  “But still, it is my role to tell you.  And in a way that sums up the strangeness of my life: I have a leading role in a story where I am the least important.

“You can’t imagine, and I can’t really explain, what it is to be husband to Mary and foster father to the child Jesus.  I knew that I wasn’t up to the job once I had learned the secret of her pregnancy, and it was only when the angel told me not to be afraid that I dared to marry her.  And all those years, I had to lead the family, to rule and govern and guide and teach, when my wife was so far above me in holiness, and the boy was the Son of the Lord.  Of course, I didn’t fully know what that meant...”

“And then, I lost him!  Can you imagine it?  My over-riding responsibility - and my joy - was to be trusted to look after them, and I lost him.  Come with me, and I’ll show you how it was.” 

It’s hot and it’s tiring.  We are walking away from Jerusalem in a large group.  Joseph is carrying bags both for his family and for others: he is a strong man.  Mary is listening: another young woman is pouring her heart out to her.  All around us, the crowd is constantly breaking into smaller groups and reforming.  Children are running ahead and trailing behind.  Teenagers are walking in small huddles, some earnest and some exuberant.  Overall there is a carnival atmosphere, tinged with tiredness. I long to be able to tell Mary and Joseph that Jesus isn’t with us: I can’t bear the thought of their distress when they realise.  And I know that there is nothing I can do, that it will be terrible for them, and also that it will all come right in the end.

And the Joseph beside me, as invisible as I know myself to be, understands: “Yes, you are right.  And one of the many things I learned as I looked back on this time was that one of the reasons for our losing him was that I still had lessons to learn.  You see everything he does, he does for everyone...” And he falls silent, leaving me wondering what lessons he still had to learn, but afraid to ask.  It would seem like prying into a private place.

Looking back towards Jerusalem, I can see an almost continuous stream of people leaving the city after the great feast.  A long line of pilgrims, snaking down the hill.  And suddenly it takes me back to Walsingham - I too have been a pilgrim.  I too know what it is to be part of a family so large that it is easy to lose touch with my immediate family.  The continuity of that idea of pilgrimage struck me for the first time: at Walsingham we had been doing what the Holy Family had done two thousand years before - and according to St Joseph, one of the reasons Christ had gone on that pilgrimage was specifically for me: ‘everything he does, he does for everyone...’

I am jolted from my day-dreaming by a sudden change in the tempo of the walk.  We are stopping for the night.  Everyone is moving into new clusters to settle down.  Rough circles are formed, bread and wine are produced from bags. Children are called to eat with their families. Mary is still listening to her young friend. It occurs to me how little I have ever heard her say - and how much I want to hear her talk again. Joseph finds the people whose bags he has been carrying. A lad of about twelve passes, looking for his family. Joseph greets him:

“Benjamin, I think your people are up ahead. I was speaking with your father earlier.”

“Thank you,” mumbles Benjamin and makes to move on, not sure what to say.

“Benjamin, was Jesus walking with you?  I’ve not seen him for hours.”

“No, he’s not been with us. We were surprised, but guessed he was with you. He’s probably carrying for someone further back.” And he’s off. I know exactly how he feels: I’m never comfortable talking with grown ups I don’t know too well.

Joseph glances at his wife, who looks up immediately. Her friend senses that, and pauses in her talk.

“Sorry, Ruth,” says Joseph.  “Mary, is Jesus ahead of us?”

She looks at his face with an openness of soul - that’s the only way I can describe it - that feels shocking. The mixture of tenderness and strength, of vulnerability and courage... but I would need to be an artist to convey her expression. And she shakes her head gently. I experience a huge disappointment, and it takes me a moment to realise why: I had been so hoping that she would speak.

“Then he must be further back.  I’ll go and find him.”  Mary smiles, gives the faintest of nods, and turns her attention back to Ruth.

So Joseph starts to re-trace his steps. And I follow, with another Joseph beside me (I still can’t convey quite how strange that was....)  Every now and then, Joseph stops, waits for someone to break off their conversation and give him their attention, and then asks after the boy. And every time the reply is the same: “No, he has not been walking with us.” Many of them know Joseph and Jesus, and some of these add, “And we haven’t seen him today.”

The further back he goes, the faster Joseph is walking. He is still unfailingly courteous to everyone, but his voice is getting crisper - he is speaking more quickly and with a higher pitch. Part of me wonders how high his voice will go: it started very low, the voice of a strong man, but is now more in the tenor range.

And then he pauses. And Joseph beside me says; “A tough decision - to go and fetch Mary - and worry her about the boy, when he might be with the next group - or to go on, leaving her further behind, knowing that the longer I leave it to fetch her, the less time we will have together to look.”

But the hesitation is brief. He turns around and makes his way back up the road. As he approaches, Mary lifts her face and sees that he is alone. She is on her feet almost at once, saying goodbye to Ruth. Joseph picks up their bags, and they are off again. Although this is all done very calmly and quietly, a few friends notice and realise the implications: Joseph has been asking after Jesus, and now he and Mary, without the boy, are heading back the way they have come. They call out words of encouragement: “He won’t be far...  He’s a good boy, Joseph...  He can look after himself - he’s a tough lad...”  Joseph acknowledges their kindness and concern with a nod as he passes, but neither he nor Mary pauses.

We are almost running now, and I am surprised at how quickly Mary can go, after the long day’s march. They reach the place where Joseph had turned round, and they slow down. It is starting to get dark, and a number of families are lighting fires by the roadside. These beacons tell us that we are nearly at the back of the marching line. And still nobody has seen the boy Jesus all day. By now we have passed many of his friends, the boys of a similar age, and all echo what Benjamin had said.

Now we are past the last of the travellers, and heading along the empty road back towards the town. The darkness is closing in. I realise that Mary and Joseph have not said a word to each other since realising the boy is lost.  

“No”, says Joseph beside me, “she said very little. And never a word of blame. But I could feel her distress, and it redoubled my own. But listen.”

And then I hear that Mary and Joseph were talking - or rather praying. Mary starts:  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want;  even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me.”

After a pause, Joseph says: “How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me for ever?  How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? But I have trusted in thy steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.”  At the last words, his voice almost cracks, and I see Mary reach out and touch his hand gently, but their pace never falters.

There is a house set back from the road a little way out of the city. There are lights and the sound of music and conversation. They glance at each other and then approach the door. At Joseph’s call it is opened at once.  

“Shalom - may peace be upon you!” a tall cheerful man with dark hair and a long dark beard greets them.

“And upon you and your household,” replies Joseph. “And I am sorry to trouble you at this late hour, but we are looking for a boy...”

“You have lost your son!  That is terrible,  how old is he - a little one?” He turns without waiting for an answer: “Rebecca, have you seen a boy? These people have lost their little boy. About six.” He turns back: “Am I right?” but still doesn’t wait for a reply. “He ran off with some friends on the way back from the pilgrimage - they were playing a game - he was hiding - but he hasn’t turned up!” Again he turns back to Joseph: “You must be distracted with worry - a child that young and the night already dark! But trust in the Lord, for He is truly to be trusted.” At last he pauses for breath.

“Actually, Jesus is twelve. But we are certainly worried.”

“Rebecca, he’s twelve not six.” then he drops his voice to what he imagines to be a whisper, but which is all too clear: “You see how distressed they are - they can’t even remember the boy’s age!”

Then back to Joseph and Mary: “Come in, come in.  We will certainly help.”

“Thank you, you are very kind.  But we must go back to Jerusalem to find Jesus.”

“But the gates are closed. The road is dark. You will not find him tonight. Be sure that he is safe - you have friends in Jerusalem - he will be staying with them. Perhaps when he realised he was lost he ran back to their house. That is certainly the case. And we have dinner ready - we can assuredly feed you and give you a bed.”

“And that was another difficult decision,” says the Joseph beside me. “He was right: the gates were shut, Jesus was not on the road. Mary was tired - as was I. There was nothing more we could do that night but pray - and accept the blessing of the man’s hospitality - which at least meant we would be near the gates when they opened in the morning.”

Mary and Joseph go in, and the door is closed. We do not follow. “No,” said Joseph beside me. “We passed a terrible night there. You must appreciate, this was wholly new. Never before had Jesus disappeared. We did not know what to make of it. Had he met with an accident? Had he been the victim of a crime? Or was he absent of his own will? That last was hard to contemplate: never before had he shown what seemed to be such disrespect for his mother and me. Yet how could he have had an accident or fallen victim to others if he had stayed with the pilgrimage. Someone would have noticed. I did not sleep that night.

“But I must tell you,” he adds with a chuckle, “that as we left, our bearded host called after us: “And when you find this tearaway, give him a beating. As the psalm says: ‘Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. If you beat him with the rod you will save his life from Sheol!’

“So I replied: ‘Thank you once more, we will remember what you have said.’ 

“And you need not witness the whole of the next day, when we went from house to house of everyone we knew in Jerusalem, and everyone who any of them knew. And we went to the temple - to pray. We did not see him there. A friend let us stay that night, and before she went to the bed they had made for her to sleep, Mary said something to me, so quietly and gently that I did not really hear it. It sounded like: ‘Tomorrow, Abraham.’ And she turned over and went to sleep.

“You must not think her callous: she had suffered all day, hoping every moment to find the boy. Yet she has the strongest trust in God, and she went to sleep knowing that she had done all she could, and trusting the rest to the Lord.

“I however, could not sleep. I do not have faith like hers. And I paced the room, wondering whether she had really said ‘Tomorrow Abraham,’ and if so why. And I thought of Abraham, the father of our people, and was pleased. She still trusted me to be father. And then I thought how Abraham was asked to give up his son. And I was scared. Finally, I made the link with ‘tomorrow.’ Isaac was lost to Abraham, (that is sentenced to die) for three days. It was on the third day that the angel told Abraham not to strike him - and tomorrow would be the third day since Jesus’ disappearance. So I was comforted at last, and finally got some sleep in a chair by the window. I never asked Mary if she had really said that... by the end of the next day it didn’t seem to matter - and we had plenty more to think about.”

And suddenly it is morning. Once more we are making our way into the Temple precincts.  As we pass through the gate, Joseph starts towards the court of Women, but Mary pauses, and, ever sensitive to her, Joseph stops too. Then she turns to our right, and we go towards the arches inside the wall at the southern end of the temple. There is a rabbi standing, teaching, there are men and boys sat around, and as we approach a large, strong lad gets up and comes towards Mary. I do not realise at first - I think it is a friend. He looks far too big for twelve. But he embraces his mother, and Joseph, and I... I just turn aside; I can’t watch. Though nothing is said, my eyes are streaming with tears.

At last Mary speaks: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.”

Joseph beside me comments: “I should have spoken. It was my role as father in the family to ask that question - to discipline the boy. But I could not; and as I hesitated, Mary spoke,  And she was right to do so. I recognised immediately that this was something different, something between him and her particularly. And even in that moment I was delighted at her courtesy - putting me before herself (which is not done in our language) and using the title ‘father’ of me at the time I felt I least deserved it. But then Jesus...”

And then Jesus speaks, in a firm and unapologetic voice: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?” 

At that moment, the rabbi and several of his followers join us. Joseph and Mary greet the rabbi with respect, but his eyes are shining: “Your son!” he says. “Never before have I had such questions; never before have I heard such answers to my questions. Give thanks to the Lord for this great gift he has entrusted to you.” And as the rabbi finishes, others join in; “Are you not from Nazareth?  Who is the teacher there that has taught such wisdom to this boy? You must be very proud of him!”

Joseph beside me says: “You must not misunderstand our astonishment.” For indeed, Mary and the Joseph in front of me look amazed. “We knew his wisdom, of course. We had got used to the speed with which he learned the Law and the Prophets. But never before had he displayed it to others in that way. And we did not understand why he had done so then. But there was more. My pride in Mary’s use of the word ‘father’ was quickly put in its place. For Jesus had called the Lord his Father; something never before done. I had grown used to thinking of him as the Son of the Lord - yet still this shocked me... Suddenly it felt as though everything had changed - but then we went back to Nazareth, Jesus was once more the most loving and dutiful son. He learned my trade and was there at my deathbed...”

As the Joseph beside me talks, the rabbi and his followers go back to their makeshift school, the Holy Family turns towards the sanctuary of the temple. Jesus is in the middle, one arm around his mother, the other around Joseph, and they walk in silence together, giving thanks to the Lord.

Monday 28 December 2015

Aunty Pippa's Christmas Carols

I am sometimes overwhelmed by my own inattentiveness. I must have looked at the authors' index in the University Carol Book (ed Erik Routley, see posts passim) many times, but only the other day did I notice that as well as my Mother's carols (see here and here), there were two by her sister.

That sister is my late aunt Pippa, pictured here (attentive readers will remember that I have referred to this picture in a previous post...)

So here they are.

The Sun in the Morning (Sung to a Sussex folk tune)

O I sing of a simple stable in an inn-yard so small
Where the oxen and the asses they are watching by a stall,
Where lies the maiden Mary by a manger of hay
And the sun in the morning shall rise on Christmas day.

And I sing of some shepherd watching o’er their sheep by night
When there came an angel to tell them all clothèd in light.
Glad tidings of great joy did he unto them say
And the sun in the morning shall rise on Christmas day.

And I sing of God’s love to his own created earth,
As for us poor men of sin was his own Son given birth,
Let us all sing and rejoice in his love and be gay,
For the sun in the morning shall rise on Christmas day.

Shepherds Are Singing (sung to the tune Hirtenlied)

Shepherds are singing, laughing and dancing round.
Sheep bells are ringing, flowers cover the ground.
Birds sing and twitter gaily round the little hill,
Yet the snows glitter, winter wraps all the land still.

‘Tell me your story, wondrous things that have been. 
All the land hoary here, tho’ the spring is green.’ 
Bitter the night was as we watched our sleeping sheep,
Sudden the light was, banishing darkness deep.

‘Standing before us, saw we an angel bright, 
Shining and glorious filled with heavenly light.
God in his pity for the sin-enslavèd earth
Hath in yon city come to redeem by his birth.

More and more straightway angels in countless throng,
From heaven’s gateway sang their glorious song. 
With fear unladen ran we leaving our sheep, 
There lay the maiden, there the babe asleep.

‘Naught brought we for him, nothing but loving heart,
There to adore him, then in great glee to depart. 
God in a stable! God and man in flesh made one!
So were we able new times to see begun.

Singing his glory, laughing homeward we came. 
This is our story, Praise to Jesus’ name.
So we are singing, dancing on this little hill,
And our hearts ringing with glad tidings still.


I conclude that she was not such a gifted lyricist as her big sister (but I may be biased).

And let not the idea of nepotism even cross your mind!

Remember her in your prayers. Requiescat in pace.

Getting Nerdy About Hymnals...

Yesterday I posted the  Foreword and Preface of PRAISE THE LORD (sic).  Already two of my best-informed readers have commented, and I think there is more to say about Catholic hymn-singing.

To continue the exploration, and by way of comparison, here is a link to a .pdf of the Westminster Hymnal, which includes a Preface (1912) by John Cuthbert, +Newport, and a Musical Editor's Preface by Sir Richard Runciman Terry, the leading hymnologist of his day, and the composer of many popular hymn tunes. 

A few things immediately strike one. The first is that +Cuthbert sees hymns as adding to the 'devotion and decorum of extra-liturgical worship and popular services.' Presumably that means pilgrimages and processions, school assemblies and parish jamborees and so forth.

A second thing is that Terry uses the start of his preface to lament and correct many popular mistakes made in singing the hymns. That suggests that Catholic hymn-singing was rather more widespread than I had thought. Popular errors in the oral tradition cannot arise unless people are singing!

A third thing that struck me was the ordering of the book - which was 'prescribed by the bishops' Committee.'  It is interesting to contrast the approach taken in 1912 with that in 1966, to the arrangement of hymns.

Here is the Westminster Hymnal (1912):

And here is PRAISE THE LORD (1966)

The change is clear: the second hymnal is designed for use in the liturgy, and gone are huge numbers of hymns for popular devotion.

I was also interested in Terry's view on the pitching of hymns compared with Trotman's. Terry writes: 'Experience has shown that the difficult tunes for a congregation are those in which the melody lies at a high pitch throughout, and not those which contain an occasional high note. Ewing's well-known tune to 'Jerusalem the golden' is a case in point. It takes the congregation to F sharp (top treble line), yet it is invariably sung with lusty vigour, and remains one of the most popular tunes in English speaking countries. The keys chosen for the tunes of this book have been those which secured the requisite brightness, while placing the tune as a whole within the range of the average singer, to whom it should not cause strain or fatigue.'

Trotman, on the other hand, writes: 'A hymnal is intended primarily for congregational use and experience shows that the keys originally chosen for many hymns are uncomfortably high for the average congregational voice, especially men. For this reason many hymns have been transposed down so that except in unavoidable cases, no tune goes above D. Sometimes this results in slightly muddy harmonies, but this is outweighed by the comfort which the average singer gains by a pitch well within his capability.'

I think Terry is right, on two counts. One is that the occasional high note is not a barrier to most congregations; the second is I think bright harmonies are preferable to muddy ones. Trotman seems to me, here, to be exemplifying that exultation of participation (in a particular sense) over quality that I frequently lament.

There is, of course, much more one could say: I await the wise and perceptive contributions of my readers with interest - and will doubtless return to this subject shortly.

Sunday 27 December 2015


I had occasion to get out one of my old hymn books recently (I say mine, but actually, my brother stole it from Ealing Abbey many years ago, so its precise legal status is somewhat ambiguous). (I say stole, but it was his, as a member of the Ealing Abbey choir; I imagine he should have surrendered it on leaving; but even that isn't clear cut. He sort of left when he went to University, but then sang at Ealing in the vacations. I'm not sure when he finally left) (Anyway, all that is quite beside the point).

(Enough parentheses - Ed.)

It is a copy of Praise The Lord (Full Music Edition) edited by Wilfrid Trotman, and given the imprimatur in January 1966. And that is not beside the point: it was published just after the close of the Second Vatican Council, and before the New Rite of Mass was introduced.

Which makes the Foreword by Cardinal Heenan, and the Preface (unsigned, but almost certainly by the editor) particularly interesting to those of use who are trying to understood how the change in the liturgy was brought about, and the thinking (and the sequence of thinking) that accompanied it.

So without further ado (all capitalisation and italics are in the original):


Some people are happiest at Mass kneeling quietly as they unite their thoughts with the priest and the rest of the congregation in offering the holy Sacrifice to Almighty God. They have every right to make up their own prayers or say the rosary. The ultimate object of the liturgy is the union of our souls with God.

But if everybody chose to follow Mass in this way the liturgy would become impossible. It is true that if there is a priest at the altar, the holy Sacrifice would be offered but the priest is at the altar to intercede for the people. The Church has always required the priest to have at least an altar server to represent the people. The ideal for which the Church is always striving is the active sharing by priest and people in the words and actions of the Mass.

That is why I welcome the hymn book PRAISE THE LORD. When religious exercises are varied they keep their freshness. There are many ways of assisting at Mass and all should be given their turn. I think that children and young people will delight in the hymns and psalms that are set out here. For older people the Mass could never be boring. But even half an hour is a  long time for a child to keep still. I am sure that this book will help many to grow in love of the Mass.

March, 1965.                 + JOHN CARD. HEENAN



PRAISE THE LORD has been compiled and published in order to make available a worthy collection of hymns and psalms, suited to the requirements of a renewed liturgy, and especially for use during Mass. It is the first book to be issued in the English speaking countries that draws heavily on the hymn treasures of other denominations, and it is hoped that in a small way it may contribute to the cause of Christian Unity.

The method of selection has been straightforward: anything that was of doubtful merit has been omitted. Inevitably this has resulted in the exclusion of many 'old favourites', but it is difficult to make a case for retaining hymns that, although suited to the emotional needs of an earlier age, no longer meet the artistic requirements of the Church, and appear excessively sentimental.

A hymnal is intended primarily for congregational use and experience shows that the keys originally chosen for many hymns are uncomfortably high for the average congregational voice, especially men. For this reason many hymns have been transposed down so that except in unavoidable cases, no tune goes above D. Sometimes this results in slightly muddy harmonies, but this is outweighed by the comfort which the average singer gains by a pitch well within his capability.

PRAISE THE LORD is being published at a time when understanding of the liturgy is constantly increasing. In time parish priests and musicians will find they need hymns and psalms for occasions that are not catered for in this book. The editor will be very grateful to receive suggestions for improvements in future editions, especially from those who are actively engaged in the formation of parish worship.


There is much of interest and note here, including the Cardinal's comments when placed alongside some of his others (eg to Waugh, and his famous intervention at the Council), and Trotman's many assumptions.  I will be interested in readers' comments, and may post further on this as time allows.

Thursday 24 December 2015

Murder in the Cathedral: St Thomas' Christmas Sermon

I quoted T S Eliot's Journey of the Magi recently, and that put me in mind of the sermon preached by St Thomas Becket in his play, Murder in the Cathedral.

The Archbishop preaches in the Cathedral on Christmas morning, 1170.


"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate on the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men"; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overcome by mourning or mourning will be cast out by joy; so that it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word "peace." Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples: "My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you." Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbours, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember that He said also, "Not as the world giveth, give I unto you." So then, He gave to his disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord's Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of his first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world's is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man's will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ's birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time. 

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.


This sermon comes as an interlude between Part One and Part Two, just after the scene with the Tempters; which contains one of the most resonant couplets in the whole piece: 

The last temptation is the greatest treason: 
To do the right deed for the wrong reason.


On which note, a Blessed Christmas to all my readers.

A 21st Century Carol

Here is a carol I wrote last year. It can be sung to any suitable long metre (8888) tune.

Our mighty Father's timeless Word,

Creator of the earth and skies,
Of man and mountain, beast and bird:
Our God within a manger lies.

To undo evil wrought by hate
In paradise, by Satan's lies,
When Adam of the apple ate:
Our God within a manger lies.

He left his high celestial throne
Remaining hidden from the wise
And calls the shepherd-folk his own:
Our God within a manger lies.

The mighty One whose power made
All things, now powerless He cries,
He's hungry, cold, and e'en afraid: 
Our God within a manger lies.

The stars He set to rule the night
Are dimmed by Mary's tender eyes
Alight with love as in her sight
Her God within the manger lies.

To Father, Son and Holy Ghost 
The Angels sing in their surprise,
And we rejoice with Heaven's host:
Our God within a manger lies.


Another Carol by my Mother

Here is another of my mother's carols.  This was also written at the request of the hymnologist Erik Routley for the University Carol Book (1961) of which he was the editor. It is sung to an Irish Carol tune, whose name I don't recall (and I can't remember what other words I have sung to it, though I know that I have. It begins Doh Doh Mi Doh Mi So with syncopation on the mi-so [ie the mi is half a beat] Do any of my learned readers know the name of the tune?)

1. Come, ye thankful people, and welcome Christ to earth
With songs of joy and gladness at this amazing birth.
For now within the manger the new-born Baby lies;
For him the angels' music is ringing through the skies,
They hail with adoration the one eternal Word
That has to earth descended to be by all men heard.
They hail with adoration the one eternal Word
That has to earth descended to be by all men heard.

2. A maiden and a baby, a stable cold and bare,
Yet never was there palace that could with this compare,
For here the Queen of angels her son and God adores
While he his heavenly Father for all mankind implores.
He comes from highest heaven to end our woe and strife,
That we may live for ever with his celestial life.
He comes from highest heaven to end our woe and strife,
That we may live for ever with his celestial life.

3. "Holy, Holy, Holy" the glorious angels cry,
And "Holy, Holy, Holy" let Christians now reply.
Gold and myrrh and incense are gifts from Eastern kings,
But prayer and adoration the poorest of us brings,
As singing with the angels "Nowell, nowell, nowell",
We worship the manger our Lord, Emmanuel.
As singing with the angels "Nowell, nowell, nowell",
We worship the manger our Lord, Emmanuel.

All of which reminds me... My father met Erik for the first time at breakfast at Magdalen College. Erik was studying theology (he went on to be a United Reformed minister) and was being ragged by some juvenile undergraduates. He was getting heated, and one of his tormentors jibed: 'I thought you Christians were meant to suffer fools gladly.' Erik replied: 'Fools, yes. Congenital bloody idiots, no!' My father instantly recognised him as a soul-mate, and they were firm friends until my father's death in 1978. Erik married my father's sister, Margaret, who was a fine violinist.

All four of them (my father, mother, and Uncle Erik and Aunt Margaret) are now dead; so please say a prayer for them.

Requiescant in pace.

My Mother's Carol

It is eighteen years since my mother died. Needless to say, I still miss her, and particularly at Christmas. The way we celebrate Christmas (and Advent, too) is very much according to her design.

Here is a verse she wrote as a Christmas carol.  It is sung to the tune of Let all mortal flesh keep silence, but without the repeat of the first line of melody.  That apparently is how it was originally written (a Picardy carol tune) and the hymnologist Erik Routley commissioned my mother to write a lyric that honoured that. (In the book, Routley notes: The association of this tune with a solemn eucharistic hymn in English hymn books should not prejudice its interpretation here: it is a French peasant carol and should be sung simply and more or less in speech rhythm).  

For myself, I find it almost impossible to sing the tune without the repeated first line.

Anyway, here is my mother's lyric: 

God in highest heaven seeing 
All man's bitter grief and shame
Laid aside his power, his majesty, his bliss, 
To the rescue swiftly came.

God the Son, the Word eternal
Made himself a man on earth,
Entering a world that he himself had made
Through the lowly gate of birth.

There the baby lay in a manger
For his mother had no bed
Thirty years went by, and still the Son of God
Had no place to lay his head.

Yet he did not rest till, testing
Every depth of utter loss,
He, the Lord, was hanging, nailed through hands and feet
Stripped and dead upon a cross.

Jesus, Master, King of glory, 
Teach us loving you alone,
With a joyous will to follow you in peace
By the road that you have shown.


Requiescat in pace