31 January 2010

Dom Lentini; Heloise; and multiple castration

When Hannibal Bugnini was revising the the worship of the Western Church, the Breviary hymns were handed over to a learned Benedictine, Dom Anselmo Lentini, who was himself no snitch at writing Latin verse. Not a few of the better new compositions in the Liturgia Horaum are from his pen. And the occasional new composition, added to the existing treasury, would be in accordance with the principle of Organic Development. Moreover, since the Council mandated that older hymns be rescued from the earlier history of Latin hymnody and brought back into use to supplement what had come through the bottleneck of the late medieval Roman Rite, it is proper that a judicious number of such hymns should have appeared in the post-conciliar volumes. Whether that revision should have been quite as radical as it turned out to be is, of course, a matter of judgement.

For example, one might wonder if the elimination of the ancient 'common' Office Hymns for our Lady went a bit too far. Pius XII began the game by equipping his new Marian feasts with 'proper' hymns, so that they would not need to use the 'commons' - although even he made a principle of leaving Ave Maris Stella as the Vespers hymn. But Lentini adopted the practice of searching out and reintroducing (or newly composing) hymns for every Marian festival.

But the idea was not a new one in the late twentieth century. Centuries before, that lubricious if erudite bluestocking, Abelard's Heloise (well, are you in any real doubt which of them it was that did the seducing ... and which paid for it?) had indulged herself one of her tantrums in the Monastery of the Paraclete about the quality of the hymnody in the Divine Office. Texts were dodgy, missing syllables messed up the chant, questions of authorship, texts not suiting the times of day they were sung ... you name it. And she wanted Abelard to write a completely new set. (Was this her revenge after the poor chap - we blokes are a tactless lot - had just told her that he had never really loved her but had merely been Impelled By Lust? We May Never Know.)

Abelard did write some new hymns for her, from which Dom Lentini borrowed some verses. But, to conclude today's post, a little about the hymn Lentini rescued for the Feast of the Lord's Presentation: Legis sacratae. This is a cento of a Carolingian hymn dubiously attributed to Paulinus, Patriarch of Aquileia (d 882); but doctored (and I advisedly use the word which we employ after we have cruelly sent our new cat - or our niece's lover - to the Vet). You see, (Pseudo) Paulinus was clearly a chap who had read and enjoyed some of the naughtier verses of Catullus. But Lentini was made of sterner stuff. So out came all the Neoteric diminutives; out came the line which used a word that Catullus had used about a tart (lacteola). And the vulgar word "basia" just had to be replaced by "oscula". [Basia is pretty well never used in Bible or Liturgy and it tastes - 'sapit' - of Profanity: that is how Dom Anselmo primly puts it.]

So the pretty assonances of "basia sub labiis" disappear.

I wonder what Abelard, complete or incomplete, would have made of that.

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