OME PEOPLE don’t like certain words. Each one of us has particular sensibilities, and that’s one reason hymn lyrics often change through the years. Some people believe they are singing “original” lyrics from certain hymnals, but they simply are not. For example: Hark! The Herald Angels Sing was originally Hark How All The Welkin Rings…but nobody sings that. In the famous hymn, SOUL OF MY SAVIOUR, a line is often altered: “Wash me, ye waters gushing from His Side.” People in countries like Australia detest the word “gushing”—which they believe sounds ugly—so they change it to “flowing.” This has nothing to do with Theology. In my opinion, certain words sound dingy, horse-and-buggy, and stale: “gloomy” and “bosom” and “strain” (meaning hymn) would be a few examples. Other words don’t belong in a hymnal because they’re ugly: “stomach” and “belly” are two examples. Some people are bothered by fake rhymes. I also worry about words like “wan” because people might mispronounce it. I think we should avoid using an excessive amount of words familiar only to the erudite, such as “surcease.”
Needless to say, many Catholics who suffer with heretical hymns would give anything to get rid of evil lyrics, even if that meant using flawed, predictable, or archaic language. The National Association of Pastoral Musicians—which is supposedly a Roman Catholic organization—has created “liturgical” materials which honor Buddha and Darwin.
By the way, not all Mediaeval poetry was excellent. Father Fortescue says: “Many hymns of the Middle Ages are frigid compositions containing futile tricks, puns, misinterpreted quotations of Scripture, and twisted concepts, whose only point is their twist.”
What do you think of this translation? It’s for Terribilis Est Locus Iste, a famous Introit:
I understand what it means, and it worked 215 years ago…but I don’t think it works these days.
On the other hand, maybe that Introit—“This place is awful!”—would have been be appropriate for the 18 February 2021 dedication of this brand new Roman Catholic Chapel of San Juan García College in Spain:
We emailed them to make sure this is a Catholic Chapel. Sadly, it is.
The Father Lasance hand-missal sometimes translates prayers in an interesting way. Father Lasance uses the word “winking,” which we have discussed. And check this out:
We heap Thine altars
with gifts, O Lord,
The publisher of a major Catholic hymnal once told me she will never allow the word “womb” in any hymn lyrics. I personally have no problem with that word, but perhaps for her it was a medical term? I wonder what she would think of what Father Francis X. Lasance (d. 1946) did for 24 June, The Feast of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist: “Before I formed thee in the bowels of thy mother…”
I would invite you to peruse an article of mine which explores this topic:
* Should Hymn Lyrics Be Inordinately Archaic?
—An article by Jeff Ostrowski, posted 11 November 2020.