OU CAN SEE in the FSSP Ordo that a plenary indulgence (under the usual conditions) can be gained by singing or reciting the “Véni Creátor Spíritus” publicly on Pentecost Sunday. But did you realize there are two different versions of this famous hymn? The ancient version is sometimes called the “primitve” or “Pre-Urbanite” version. The other version was created in 1631AD (when Pope Urban VIII modified almost every single hymn in the Breviary). The Pope Urban versions are sometimes called “corrupted” or “Urbanite.” We have spoken about these hymn reforms before—for example, in this 2020 article. Father Fortescue put it bluntly: “In the seventeenth century came the crushing blow which destroyed the beauty of all breviary hymns.” (We will have more to say about Pope Urban below.)
The Corrupted Version: The so-called “corrupt” version came into existence in 1631AD, created by Pope Urban VIII and four Jesuit Latin scholars. You can find it in such books as: Liber Usualis (Desclée, 1961); Liber Antiphonarius (Vatican Press, 1912); Chant Service Book (Achille P. Bragers, 1941); Mass and Vespers (Solesmes Abbey, 1957); and Paroissien Romain (Dom Mocquereau, 1903). I have added an English translation by Father Adrian Fortescue:
* PDF Download • “Urbanite Version” (singer)
—Found in the 1961 Liber usualis, the 1949 Antiphonale, and so on.
* PDF Download • “Urbanite Version” (organ accompaniment)
—This matches the version created in 1631AD under Pope Urban VIII.
The Ancient Version: Even though Pope Urban VIII modified all the Breviary hymns in 1631AD, most priests who sang the Divine Office still kept the ancient version. Priests who sang the Divine Office would include Benedictines, Carthusians, and Canons at cathedrals. The ancient version can be found in books such as: Antiphonale Monasticum (Desclée, 1934); Saint Jean de Brébeuf Hymnal (Sophia Institute Press, 2018); Liber Hymnarius (Solesmes Abbey, 2019); The Mundelein Psalter (Illinois Liturgical Institute, 2007); and Hymni De Tempore Et De Sanctis (Solesmes Abbey, 1885). Here it is, with an English translation from page 499 of the Brébeuf hymnal:
* PDF Download • “Ancient Version” (singer)
—Found in the 1934 Antiphonale Monasticum, the 2019 Liber Hymnarius, and so on.
—Also contained inside “Cantus Varii Ad Benedictionem SS. Sacramenti” (Desclée, 1928).
* PDF Download • “Ancient Version” (organ accompaniment)
——This matches the ancient version, also called “primitive” or “Pre-Urbanite.”
On 21 May 2015, I created a YouTube and an Mp3 file for the “Urbanite” version, to help amateur choirs. The “Urbanite” version has also been harmonized by the Lemmensinstituut in Belgium, and you can download that as a single-page PDF.
Singing In English: When it comes to “Véni Creátor Spíritus,” you will find many versions printed in the Brébeuf hymnal, including “Come, Holy Ghost” (which is basically a paraphrase translation). The Brébeuf hymnal includes historical versions (from 17th-century Roman Catholic hymnals) as well as translations by Fr. Edward Caswall, Oratorian (d. 1878), a Catholic convert named Robert Campbell of Skerrington (d. 1868), Monsignor Ronald Knox (d. 1957), and Fr. John Fitzpatrick, Oblate of Mary (d. 1929). Here’s a live recording from last Sunday with my treble choir singing an English version—specifically, #502 from the Brébeuf hymnal.
A Popular Tune: In the past, we have spoken about mixing certain tunes with certain texts. Some texts are “neutral”—which basically means they can be used during any season. Other tunes feel “wrong” when used during certain seasons. For example, a melody which is strongly associated with Christmas should never be used during Lent. A melody which is strongly associated with Advent should never be used during Eastertide. I freely admit this is quite a subjective subject and requires a “liturgical sensibility.” In my recent article about Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, I mentioned a pairing in the Saint Mark Catholic Hymnal which I judged contemptible. Readers know that I am slowly assembling “seasonal” Benediction tunes for use at our parish—an idea I shamelessly stole from Achille P. Bragers. You can download the “O Salutaris” for Pentecost, and I think you’ll recognize the melody:
* PDF Download • “O Salutaris Hostia” (Pentecost)
—“O Saving Victim Opening Wide” Accompaniment with PENTECOST melody.
He Disagrees With Jeff: I personally feel that the “Véni Creátor Spíritus” melody should only be used during the season of Pentecost. I admit I don’t have an “objective” reason for saying this—I just believe the tune is strongly associated with Pentecost. The editor of an 1876 Hymnal clearly disagrees with me! Look at the way he pairs the Pentecost melody to numerous hymns: Hymns for Christmas, Hymns for Easter, Hymns for the Transfiguration, Hymns for the Sacred Heart, and so on:
* PDF Download • Many Different Texts
—This document shows tons of pairings with the “Véni Creátor Spíritus” melody.
Urbanite Vs. Ancient: Earlier, I mentioned that Pope Urban VIII, assisted by four Jesuit priests, modified most of the Breviary hymns. Father Fortescue wrote quite a nice summary: “In a fatal moment, Pope Urban VIII saw that the hymns do not all conform to the rules of classical prosody. Attempts to reform them had been made before, but so far they had been spared. But Urban VIII was destined to succeed in destroying them. He appointed four Jesuits to reform the hymns, so that they should no longer offend Renaissance ears. The four Jesuits were Famiano Strada, Tarquinio Galluzzi, Mathias Sarbiewski, Girolamo Petrucci. These four, in that faithful obedience to the Holy See which is the glory of their Society, with a patient care that one cannot help admiring, set to work to destroy every hymn in the office. They had no concept of the fact that many of these hymns were written in metre by accent; their lack of understanding those venerable types of Christian poetry is astounding. They could conceive no ideal but that of a school grammar of Augustan Latin. Wherever a line was not as Horace would have written it, it had to go. The period was hopelessly bad for any poetry; these pious Jesuits were true children of their time. So they embarked on that fatal reform whose effect was the ruin of our hymns. They slashed and tinkered, they re-wrote lines and altered words, they changed the sense and finally produced the poor imitations that we still have, in the place of the hymns our fathers sang for over a thousand years. Indeed their confidence in themselves is amazing. They were not ashamed to lay their hands on Sedulius, on Prudentius, on St. Ambrose himself.”
100% of the Hymns? Did Pope Urban VIII destroy 100% of the hymns? No, there were a few he didn’t touch. For instance, he left the hymns of Saint Thomas Aquinas alone. He also did not modify “Ave Maris Stella.” Unfortuntely, most of the hymns were severely damaged. Sometimes, Pope Urban left only a few words of the ancient version. If you are interested in this subject, obtain the Pew Edition of the Brébeuf hymnal. The book is completely dedicated to Saint Jean de Brébeuf, whose companion (Father Isaac Jogues) had a remarkable involvement with Pope Urban VIII. Dr. Aaron James, who earned a double doctorate, had this to say about the Brébeuf hymnal when he reviewed it for the Antiphon Journal:
Dr. Aaron James is correct when he says the Brébeuf team released information which was not previously known—and it was quite exciting!
Really? A New Discovery? The Brébeuf editors were certainly not the first people to discover the inconvenience of the Urbanite reform. Indeed, several pages of the Brébeuf hymnal reproduce terrific examples (such as this one from 1847) showing books through the centuries that printed both versions. Here is something I invite you to read:
The Different Books: Which books contain which version? Well, the Antiphonale Monasticum (Solesmes Abbey, 1934) contains the ancient version—but be careful, because it adds extra notes to the Véni Creátor Spíritus melody. That really confuses people! After Vatican II, the Liturgy of the Hours attempted to restore the ancient hymns and eliminate the versions corrupted by Pope Urban VIII. Generally speaking, they did restore the ancient versions—although sometimes they delete verses or use unfamiliar variants. The PREFACE of the Summit Choirbook (published in 1983 by the Dominican Nuns of the Monastery of Our Lady of the Rosary, with assistance from Erik Routley) seems not to realize that Vatican II restored the Pre-Urbanite hymns, meaning their statement doesn’t make any sense. Perhaps one of our readers can explain what they were trying to say?
A Vexing Puzzle: Twenty-five years after the Second Vatican Council, the Collegeville Hymnal was published. (Dan Craig has reviewed that hymnal, including pictures and the hymn index.) They were supposed to use the ancient text, which—as we have already mentioned—was restored after Vatican II. However, they used the Urbanite text, which you can clearly see. Moreover, they claim the English translation is by Father Caswall, but they mutilated it beyond recognition. I think they were trying to get rid of any instance of “Thee, Thou, Thine”—but the result is quite inelegant. Also, they call the Holy Ghost “highly blest,” which strikes me as theologically incorrect. The Holy Ghost is the source of all blessings. In terms of the notes, they messed up all the neumes (which they would probably claim was done to make it fit English better). On the next page, they include an English version—but they way they fit the English words to the melody is a travesty:
What Are These Differences? Sometimes, the changes done by Pope Urban VIII were quite severe. For example, in Cónditor Alme Síderum (an Advent Hymn), Pope Urban VIII only left one line unaltered—and just twelve words of the original were kept! But when it comes to Veni Creátor Spíritus, the changes only had an impact on four stanzas. The easiest way to see the differences it by turning to page 512 in the Brébeuf hymnal, because both versions are placed side-by-side, making comparison a breeze:
Conclusion: Do these hymn text divergences matter? Yes, because we must have our choir members “singing from the same page.” Did Pope Urban VIII cause problems which still haunt us today? He certainly did. Are these problems insurmountable? They are not insurmountable, but there’s no question they can be annoying sometimes. One possible advantage to the “Pre-Urbanite” version is its lack of elisions, which singers appreciate. Indeed, singers have always struggled with “hypermetric syllables,” and often had to write out the notes in the margin—as shown in this example from the 13th century.