Sunday 24 December 2017

Medieval Christmas Poetry (ii)

My favourite medieval poem for Christmas is this Hymn to the Virgin. The trick of inserting rhyming Latin into rhyming English, whilst making the meaning quite clear, really appeals to me.

This is from about 1300.

Of on that is so fayr and bright
Velut maris stella
Brighter than the day is light
Parens et puella
Ic crie to the, thou see to me,
Levedy, preye thi Sone for me,
Tam pia,
That ic mote come to thee,

Al this world was for-lore,

Eva peccatrice
Tyl our Lord was y-bore
De te genetrice
With ave it went away
Thuster nyth and comes the day
The well springeth ut of the

Levedy, flour of alle thing

Rosa sine spina
Thu bere Jhesu, hevene king,
Gratia divina
Of alle thu ber'st the pris,
Levedy, quene of paradys
Mayde milde, moder es

Well he knows he is your Son,
Ventre quem portasti
Your prayers to him he will not shun,
Parvem quem lactasti.
So kindly and so good he is
That he has brought us all to bliss
And shut for ever the foul abyss

What do you mean, it is not obvious?  OK, here are some clues:

on - one; levedy - lady; thuster - dark; pris - prize.

Velut maris stella - like the star of the sea

Parens et puella - mother and maiden
Eva peccatrice - by Eve's sin

Ventre quem portasti - whom you bore in your womb
Parvem quem lactasti - the little one whom you suckled

Ask in the comms box if anything else needs elucidating (and correct all my errors…)

For historic reasons (see last December's posts) the last verse is translated by Brian Stone, unlike the others, (I've forgotten my source for them).

This has been set to music often, with varying success… A quick visit to Youtube will give several examples.

Here is Benjamin Britten's:

Medieval Christmas Poetry (1)

I have decided to re-post some of the Christmas poetry I have posted in the past. I have recently simply re-tweeted links, but realise that many readers come here because they see my latest post displayed in the sidebar of another blog, and so tweeting would not reach them.  I also considered a simple post with lots of links to the poems, but I know how I would react to that - click on one or two at the most.  

So, without further ado, still less apology, here we go again: some Medieval Christmas Poetry.

This first poem is from the early thirteenth century; you may recognise some of the lines, as they are quoted in another, much more famous poem quoted below, which has been set as a Christmas Carol.

Bringing us bliss now, the birds are all singing;
Branches sprout leaves and the grasses are springing.
Of one that is matchless my utterance sings
Chosen as mother by the King of Kings.

Taintless she is, and unspotted by sin,
Descended from Jesse, of kingly kin.
The Lord of mankind from her womb was born,
To save us from sin, who would else be forlorn.

'Hail Mary, full of grace! And may Our Lord
Be with you!' was the Angel Gabriel's word.
The fruit of your womb I declare shall be blest.
You shall carry a child beneath your breast.'

This greeting and word which the angel had brought,
Mary considered and pondered in thought.
She said to the angel, 'How could such thing be?
Of knowledge of man my body is free.'

She was virgin with child and virgin before,
And still virgin yet when her Baby she bore.
Never was maiden a mother but she;
Well might she the bearer of God's Son be!

Blest be the Child, and the Mother, too, blest,
And where her Son suckled, blest the sweet breast!
Praised be the time such child was born,
Who saved us from sin, who would else be forlorn!

[Trans: Brian Stone]

This second verse is from a minstrel manuscript from the early fifteenth century, and clearly draws on the earlier one.  Dew is a long standing literary figure for virginity: here the conception of the Son is seen as enhancing, rather than ending Our Lady's virginity.

I sing of a maiden
That is matchless,
King of all kings
To her son she chose.

He came as still
Where his mother was
As dew in April
That falls on the grass.

He came as still
To his mother's bower
As dew in April
That falls on the flower.

He came as still
Where his mother lay
As dew in April
That falls on the spray.

Mother and maiden
There was never none but she;
Well may such a lady
God's mother be.

(For those who like such things, here is the original:

I syng of a mayden
þat is makeles,
kyng of alle kynges
to here sone che ches.

He came also stylle
þer his moder was
as dew in aprylle,
þat fallyt on þe gras.

He cam also stylle
to his moderes bowr
as dew in aprille,
þat fallyt on þe flour.

He cam also stylle
þer his moder lay
as dew in Aprille,
þat fallyt on þe spray.;

Moder & mayden
was neuer non but che –
wel may swych a lady
Godes moder be.)

Saturday 23 December 2017

The Great Antiphons: O Emmanuel

Today is the seventh and final Great O AntiphonO Emmanuel.  As always, this is the antiphon sung just before the Magnificat at Vespers. It is the last, because tomorrow's Vespers, on Christmas Eve, is the First Vespers of Christmas.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster,
exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum:
veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.

O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver,
the hope of the nations and their Saviour:
Come and save us, O Lord our God.

Here is the final part of Pärt's Sieben Magnificat Antiphonen.

O Immanuel, unser König und Lehrer, 
du Hoffnung und Heiland der Völker: 
o komm, eile und schaffe uns Hilfe, 
du unser Herr und unser Gott.

O Emmanuel, our king and counselor, 
Thou hope and saviour of the nations: 
O come, make haste to help us, 
Thou our Lord and our God, our God.

Friday 22 December 2017

The Great Antiphons: O Rex Gentium

Today's Great Antiphon is O Rex Gentium.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum,
lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum:
veni, et salva hominem,
quem de limo formasti.

O King of the nations, and their desire,
the cornerstone making both one:
Come and save the human race,
which you fashioned from clay.

And here is Arvo Pärt's setting:

O König aller Völker, ihre Erwartung und Sehnsucht,
Schlußstein, der den Bau zusammenhält,
o komm und errette den Menschen,
den du aus Erde gebildet!

O king of all nations, their expectation and desire,
Keystone, which holds all things together:
O come and save mankind,
whom thou hast formed from clay! 

Thursday 21 December 2017

The Great Antiphons: O Oriens

Today's Great Antiphon is O Oriens.

O Oriens,
splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Morning Star,
splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness:
Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

Here is Arvo Pärt's setting:

O Morgenstern, Glanz des unversehrten Lichtes:
Der Gerechtigkeit strahlende Sonne:
o komm und erleuchte, die da sitzen in Finsternis,
und im Schatten des Todes.
O morning star, incandescence of pure light, 
radiant sun of righteousness; 
O come and enlighten those who sit there in darkness 
and in the shadow of death.

Wednesday 20 December 2017

Our God Within a Manger Lies

I wrote this carol a few of years ago.   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.

The Great Antiphons: O Clavis David

Today's Great Antiphon is O Clavis David - O Key of David.

As ever, this is sung at Vespers, just before the Magnificat.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;
qui aperis, et nemo claudit;
claudis, et nemo aperit:
veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris,
sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.

O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel;
you open and no one can shut;
you shut and no one can open:
Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house,
those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

And here, once again, is Arvo Pärt's setting.

O Schlüssel Davids, Zepter des Hauses Israel,
du öffnest, und niemand kann schließen,
du schließt, und keine Macht vermag zu öffnen:
o komm und öffne den Kerker der Finsternis und die Fessel des Todes.

O David's key, sceptre of the house of Israel,
That which thou openest, none can secure,
That which thou securest, no power may open;
O come and unlock the prison of darkness and the fetters of death.

Tuesday 19 December 2017

My Mother's Carols

It is twenty 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 are some verses she wrote as Christmas carols.  The first 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.


Here is another of my mother's carols.  This was also written at the request of Erik Routley for the University Carol Book. 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 in the manger our Lord, Emmanuel.
As singing with the angels "Nowell, nowell, nowell",
We worship in the manger our Lord, Emmanuel.

UPDATE (2018) A mere year later it occurred to me that including a picture of the tune would be more helpful than trying to describe it...

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.

The Great Antiphons: O Radix Jesse

Today's in the series of Great Antiphons is O Radix Jesse.

As usual, here is the chant, as sung at Vespers before the Magnificat:

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum,
super quem continebunt reges os suum,
quem Gentes deprecabuntur:
veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples;
before you kings will shut their mouths,
to you the nations will make their prayer:
Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

And here is Arvo Pärt's setting:

O Sproß aus Isais Wurzel, gesetzt zum Zeichen für die Völker,
vor dir verstummen die Herrscher der Erde,
dich flehen an die Völker:
o komm und errette uns, erhebe dich, säume nicht länger.

O Scion of Isaiah's Line, predestined to be a sign for the nations,
the rulers of the earth fall silent before thee,
the nations cry unto thee:
O come and save us, bestir thyself, delay no longer.

Monday 18 December 2017

The Great Antiphons: O Adonai

Today's antiphon is O Adonai. Here is the traditional Gregorian Chant version, as sung at Vespers. (For an introduction to the Great Antiphons, see my previous post, here)

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel,
qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti,
et ei in Sina legem dedisti:
veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.

And here is Arvo Pärt's version (in German):

O Adonai, der Herr und Führer des Hauses Israel,
im flammenden Dornbusch bist du dem Mose erschienen
und hast ihm auf dem Berg das Gesetz gegeben:
O komm und befreie uns mit deinem starken Arm.

Adonai, the Lord and leader of the house of Israel,
In the burning bush hast thou appeared unto Moses
And given him the law upon the mountain:
O come and deliver us with thy powerful arm.

Sunday 17 December 2017

The Great Antiphons: O Sapientia

As part of our Advent ritual, we always sing O Come, O Come Emmanuel around our Advent wreath.

The hymn is of course a metrical adaptation of (five of) the Great Antiphons; the antiphons for Vespers for the week preceding Christmas, sung just before the Magnificat.

The Great Antiphons start today.

I was going to blog about both the Great Antiphons and the hymn, but find that the Wikipedia entries on both cover all that I was going to say, and indeed more than I knew.

The entry on the Great O Antiphons is here; there is only one thing I would argue with, and that is the suggestion that the reverse acrostic, Ero Cras, is a coincidence. There is no place for coincidence in my theology...

The entry on O Come, O Come Emmanuel is here. I was fascinated to read Neale's original version; I had only known the Ancient and Modern version.

Here is the chant version of O Sapientia, the first of the Great Antiphons, sung at Vespers today.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti,
attingens a fine usque ad finem,
fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia:
veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other,
mightily and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence.

Here is Arvo Pärt's setting (in German)

O Weisheit
O Weisheit, hervorgegangen aus dem Munde des Höchsten, die Welt umspannst du von einem Ende zu andern, in Kraft und Milde ordnest du alles: O komm und offenbare uns den Weg der Weisheit und der Einsicht, O Weisheit.

O Wisdom
O Wisdom, proceeding from the mouth of the Most High, Thou encirclest the world from one end to the other, Thou orderest all things with might and mercy: O come to us and reveal the way of wisdom and of understanding O Wisdom.

Sunday 3 December 2017

First Sunday in Advent

Today is the first Sunday of Advent.

Whilst the experts on the Pray,Tell blog are quick to proclaim that Advent is not a time of penance, I demur.  

I understand the concern with my position: that Advent should not be seen as the same as Lent.  I agree: the two are different, but there are similarities. Both Advent and Lent are characterised by a more solemn tone in the liturgy: violet or purple vestments are worn, and the Gloria is omitted; and both have a respite Sunday (with rose vestments): Gaudete in Advent and Laetare in Lent. 

Advent, of course, is a time of joyous preparation for the coming of Our Lord (memories of his first coming, and looking forward to his second, of course). But both of these considerations naturally lead us to listen to the words of St John the Baptist: Repent!

We think it important to keep our Advent Celebrations quite distinct from our Christmas Celebrations - though they are related, they are two different seasons of the Church's cycle, with different themes and moods.

So as ever, we will celebrate Advent by saying our prayers around the Advent Wreath, singing O Come O Come Emmanuel and having a reading as we add another character to our Jesse Tree. We will also say the wonderful collect from the traditional Roman rite of the Mass:

Arise in thy strength we beseech thee O Lord and come; from the dangers which threaten us because of our sins, be thy presence our sure defence, be thy deliverance our safety for ever more. 

For those who love Latin, or those who fondly remember my introduction to Liturgical Latin, here is the collect in Latin. too:

Excita, quǽsumus, Dómine, poténtiam tuam, et veni: ut ab imminéntibus peccatórum nostrórum perículis, te mereámur protegénte éripi, te liberánte salvári.

(This, of course, changes with the four Sundays of Advent).

The Marian Antiphon changes today from the Salve Regina to the Alma Redemptoris Mater, which we will sing until the Feast of the Purification (February 2nd).

Alma Redemptoris Mater

Alma redemptoris mater, 
quae pervia caeli porta manes,
et stella maris succurre cadenti
surgere qui curat populo.  
Tu quae genuisti, 
natura mirante, 
tuum sanctum Genitorem.  
Virgo prius, ac posterius, 
Gabrielis ab ore, 
summens illud ave, 
peccatorum miserere.

Mother of the Redeemer, who art ever of heaven
The open gate, and the star of the sea, aid a fallen people, 
Which is trying to rise again; thou who didst give birth, 
While Nature marveled how, to thy Holy Creator, 
Virgin both before and after, from Gabriel's mouth 
Accepting the All hail, be merciful towards sinners.

(Translated by Blessed John Henry Newman)

So today, we have been out in the frost, collecting holly for the wreath, up in the attic looking for the advent calendars, Jesse Tree book etc, and I will be singing the Alma Redemptoris throughout the day. Later, we will be singing the Mass of the First Sunday of Advent: Ad te levavi animam meam.

Anna's Jesse Tree blog, means that Ant and her family, in the North East, and Bernie, down south in Manchester, and Charlie and Dominique, at their respective universities, can be with us spiritually at the end of each day as we recall Salvation History.  

Pray for us all.

Wednesday 1 November 2017

All Saints' Day

Today is one of the great Feasts of the Church's year: the feast of All Saints.

We honour all those who have achieved their heavenly goal, known and particularly unknown; and we ask for their intercession as we, the Church militant, struggle on.

Here is Victoria's wonderful setting of O Quam Gloriosum Est:

O quam gloriosum est regnum,
in quo cum Christo gaudent omnes Sancti!
Amicti stolis albis,
sequuntur Agnum, quocumque ierit.

Oh, how glorious is the kingdom
in which all the saints rejoice with Christ!
Clad in robes of white,
they follow the Lamb wherever he may go.

Sunday 15 October 2017

More good news from Lancaster

Our venerable bishop, +Campbell, has published a blog post in support of the pro-Life movement.  In it he writes, inter alia:
As we approach the 50th anniversary of the (1967) Abortion Act in Britain, we recall we’re citizens of heaven first and we have pro-life obligations to the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the elderly and the refugee.  But abortion is foundational. There’s no way around it. It’s the cornerstone issue for any society because it deals with the most basic human right of all – the right to life.
He also takes a passing swipe at the Tablet, which has further degraded itself (who knew that was possible?) by publishing an attack on Catholic teaching on abortion.  +Campbell writes:
Some Catholics – including some periodicals and newspapers who claim to use that name – seem simply embarrassed by the abortion issue.
The Tablet's editorial is behind a paywall - and even if it were not I would hesitate to link to it - why encourage them?  However, I have read it, and it is described in brief here, which also contains an excellent response from another of our good bishops, +Davies.

+Davies also attacked the Tablet:

'Sadly there are journals which use the name "Catholic" but are not reliable guides to the faith and teaching of the Catholic Church.'
Damian Thompson, Editor-in-Chief of the Catholic Herald, asks (on Twitter) what the Tablet would have to do to get banned from Westminster Cathedral. However, I also note that so far it is Christian Today, and not the Catholic Herald, that carries +Davies' criticisms.

Nonetheless, the question is a good one: when will Westminster Cathedral set the lead and stop selling the Tablet?  And if it continues to sell it, why does it do so?

I haven't been to check, but I would be astonished to find that it is still being sold in either Lancaster or Shrewsbury Cathedrals, after the comments from the respective bishops - and I hope that all the churches in their dioceses (and, indeed, in others) follow suit. When good bishops lead, it behoves us all to follow.