ARRATIVES. True or false, right or wrong, transparent or subtle—Americans love narratives. And once a narrative gets rolling, it’s difficult to reverse. A good example is the WATERGATE affair in the 1970s. The narrative goes something like this: “Watergate proved that even the president must obey the laws of the land.” And yet the true story is quite different. For instance, the “narrative” tells us that Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein “proved that the American justice system must prevail against those who break the law.” And yet, their source (whom, incidentally, they betrayed) flagrantly broke numerous federal laws by leaking secret information. But Woodward and Bernstein are fine with those laws being broken! Indeed, Woodward recently published a book using thousands of secret documents removed illegally from the White House by Alexander Butterfield (assistant to President Nixon’s chief of staff). So it would seem “some laws are more equal than others.” But nobody wants to hear this, because it goes against the narrative.
Another False Narrative • A very common narrative deals with hymnody. It is said: “Protestants have all the good hymns, and Catholics have none.” My friends, this is false. The legendary Father Fortescue (d. 1923) explains the true state of things:
“There is not and there is never likely to be any religious poetry in the world worthy to be compared with the hymns of the Latin office. […] Our old Latin hymns are immeasurably more beautiful than any others ever composed. Other religious bodies take all their best hymns in translations from us. It would be a disgrace if we Catholics were the only people who did not appreciate what is our property.”
The Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal—which contains about 800 hymns—provides marvelous translations for the ancient Catholic hymns by priests and bishops such as Fitzpatrick, Knox, Popplewell, Caswall, Saint Thomas More, Saint Philip Howard, Saint Robert Southwell, Husenbeth, Bagshawe, and many others. Below, I provide several live recordings of Brébeuf hymns our volunteer choir has sung recently.
Brébeuf Hymn #532
Vexilla Regis Prodeunt
(“The King’s bright banner gleams above”)
For Lent + Passiontide:
Father Adrian Fortescue (d. 1923) calls Vexilla Regis Prodeunt “perhaps the greatest of all hymns.” It was written by the legendary Venantius Fortunatus, Bishop of Poitiers (who died circa 600AD). Bishop Fortunatus wrote many famous hymns: Pange Lingua Gloriosi, Salve Festa Dies, Quem Terra Pontus Sidera, and so forth. Traditionally, it was sung at Vespers in Passion-tide and at the procession with the SANCTISSIMUM on Good Friday morning. The translation comes from page 191 of Vespers Book for the Use of the Laity (1841), by Rev. Frederick C. Husenbeth, a Catholic priest, who also edited The Roman Missal for the Use of the Laity (1848). The melody is attributed to Frederick A. G. Ouseley (d. 1889), a professor of music at Oxford. The first few notes of the melody sound similar to “God Save the King.”
Brébeuf Hymn #688
“O Come And Mourn With Me Awhile”
(Father Frederick William Faber)
For Lent + Passiontide:
Father Frederick William Faber (d. 1863) was a Roman Catholic priest known for his preaching, publications, and hymn texts. A disciple of Cardinal Newman, he founded the London Oratory. The Brébeuf Hymnal took the melody from page 53 of the New Westminster Hymnal (1939), which was primarily the work of Monsignor Ronald Knox (d. 1957) and Dom Gregory Murray (d. 1992). The text was included in the Catholic Hymn Book (London Oratory, 1998) on page 105.
Brébeuf Hymn #54
Ad Preces Nostras Deitatis (“God, of thy pity, unto us thy children”)
For the holy season of Lent:
Alan Gordon McDougall (d. 1965) wrote: “This hymn has now been superseded by O Sol Salútis Íntimis. It’s loss is much to be regretted, as it is one of the most beautiful examples of mediaeval hymnody.” Some sources list it as “Aures ad nostras deitatis preces” while others call it “Ad preces nostras deitatis aures.” The source of the text is page 19 of Pange Lingua: Breviary Hymns of Old Uses (1916). It is also found on page 45 of the New Westminster Hymnal (1939). The melody was included on page 416 in the London Oratory’s Catholic Hymn Book (1998). It can also be found on page 221 of the Worship II Hymnal (GIA, 1975). The melody seems to have originated in a VESPERALE (Poitiers, 1746). Organists who desire harmonies for the “final verses” should consult #106 of Richard Lloyd’s collection (1993) #106 or #168 of Noel Rawsthorne’s collection (2011). The text can also be found on page 225 pf the LIBER HYMNARIUS (Solesmes, 1983). Many great composers have set this text, such as Father Guillaume Du Fay (d. 1474) and Father Tomás Luis de Victoria (d. 1611). Pages 50-51 in the Brébeuf Catholic Hymnal contain the only known literal translation to English.
Brébeuf Hymn #484
“Stabat Mater” from a 1687AD Catholic Hymnal:
This breathtaking translation of the STABAT MATER was allowed to be printed in London since it appeared during the reign of James II of England, a Catholic. He had converted from Anglicanism secretly in 1667, and refused to take a mandatory oath (1673 “Test Act”) denouncing the doctrine of Transubstantiation, instead choosing to relinquish the post of Lord High Admiral. A devout man, he once said: “If occasion were, I hope God would give me his grace to suffer death for the true Catholic religion as well as banishment.” His brother, who reigned as King of England until 1685, became a Catholic on his deathbed. Monsignor Hugh T. Henry has pointed out that some hymnals corrupted the hymn’s true title, which the Brébeuf Hymnal correctly prints as: “Under the world-redeeming Rood.” These other hymnals erroneously printed the words as: “Under the world’s redeeming wood.” In an attempt to guess who created this elegant translation of the Stabat Mater, Monsignor Henry wrote: “It is not improbable that Dryden was its author, for his conversion to Catholicity took place in 1686—one year before the translation appeared—and he is known to have translated some of the old Latin hymns of the Divine Office. Certainly the unction, the poetic diction, the powerful rhythms, the close antitheses, of this exquisite poem are worthy of his pen.” The melody in the Brébeuf Hymnal is based on “O Mensch, sieh wie hie auf Erdreich.” The source of the text is: “The Office of the B. V. Mary in English, to which is added the Vespers in Latin and English, as it is sung in the Catholic Church upon all Sundays and principal Holy-days throughout the whole Year” (London: Printed by Henry Hills, Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty for his Household and Chappel; And are to be sold at his Printing-house on the Ditch-side in Black-Fryers, 1687) p. 393.
Why Only Hymns? • I often share various hymns that we have sung; but perhaps I should do a better job of sharing the other music we do each Sunday. In an effort to atone for my shortcomings, here are a few excerpts from last Sunday’s Mass:
* Mp3 Excerpt • MEDIEVAL AGNUS DEI
—During Lent we have been singing a medieval version based on Agnus XV.
* Mp3 Excerpt • “JUSTORUM ANIMAE”
—This comes from “Matri Divinæ Gratiæ,” a collection by composer Kevin Allen.
* Mp3 Excerpt • KYRIE ELEYSON
—The piece is by Lassus, based on the Ave Maris Stella.
* Descant Hymn • (since “Lætare Sunday” has organ)
—You can learn more about this hymn if you click here.
* Introit • “Plainsong accompanied by organ”
—The girl who cantors has been with us less than a year!.
* Mp3 Excerpt • Credo Mixture
—We sing the Creed with (unaccompanied) plainsong + polyphony.