27 August 2010


SC, in Article 93, mandated that "the hymns, as far as seems expedient, are to be restored to their original (pristinam) form, those things being removed or changed which have a flavour of mythology or offend Christian piety. Also, as may be opportune, other hymns should be received which are found in the treasury of hymns".

The first part of this reform was long overdue. Urban VIII had ordered the correction or even total rewriting of the Breviary hymns so as to make them fit the canons of Augustan, classical, Latin poetry. The restoration of the original texts was one of the unambiguously good results of a conciliar mandate. It has the result that, as far as English translations are concerned, those done by Tractarian Anglican Catholics, who were rendering the texts found in the Sarum and other medieval breviaries, are much closer to the texts now restored in the LH than are the translations done by nineteenth century Roman Catholics such as Fr Caswall - who felt obliged to translate the Barberini texts.

In 1968, Dom Anselmo Lentini published an interim set of "Hymni instaurandi Breviarii Romani". One can quibble about details; I think he rather overdid the Reception of Other Hymns, providing whole sets of alternative cycles (recovered, indeed, from traditional sources) to sit beside the old hymns. But I think a fair general verdict would be that he did as he had been told. For a couple of decades, as I said the Prayer Book Divine Office, I used the hymns in this interim collection, and was generally satisfied with it. In particular, it is attractive not to have to read at Mattins a hymn which is a duplication of one appointed elsewhere in the same festal office.

However, the increasing radicalisation of the 'reform' process had shown itself by the time LH was published in 1971. Most notably, a new composition had been provided for the Lauds of each apostle. I wonder if I am the only one to find that the hymns in the Commons, particularly for Pastors, are not of sufficient merit to stand their constant repetition.

But, generally, Lentini* provided the most scholarly and traditional element in the new Office Books, and one that should influence any new edition of the old Breviary.


*Rubricarius, in his comment below, is quite right. He usually is. Sometimes to aid singability, texts were changed by the Lentini coetus. The worst example is Ad coenam agni providi, which in the original is extraordinarily jerky. Lentini smoothed it out line by line. A shame; I think the original rhythmic effects are intentional and poetic. A lesser example is in Venatius Fortunatus. "ferre pretium saeculi" is a syllable too many; it is revised to "ferre saecli pretium". But we should remember that Latin was still a vernacular for VF and he undoubtedly pronounced "pretium" as "pretsum". [Elsewhere, "oculi" is deemed to have an excessive syllable; but it was probably pronounced "ocyi"; compare modern Italian.]

My point was to "pass" a general verdict, and I think it would be unfair to pass a negative one. But of course, we none of us would have done this revision in exactly the same way.


The answer to Albertus' query is that Dom Lentini's chums, like Albertus, felt that ne polluantur corpora "excultis nostris moribus non opportuna est, unde expunctam velimus". In its place they brought in two stanzas from a sixth century hymn in the Regula Caesarii Christe, precamur, adnue. Lentini kept the opening stanza from Te lucis because, being an Eyetie, he deemed it "ab ipso Alagherio quodammodo consecratam". Personally, I'm not too certain about our age being ethically so much more sophisticated than earlier Christian centuries. My instinct would have been to offer both hymns in their uncorrupted integrity as options. But you don't need to explain to me the problems about "option" liturgy.


Rubricarius said...

But have not some of the Lentini hymns been criticised for not being a return per se to the pre-Urban VIII originals, but have had some 'work' carried out on them?

Anonymous said...

Commentary, mostly negative, on the revision by Consilium of the hymns which it was supposed to restore, can be found in many authors. The latest critique i have just read in the excellent book by Laszlo Dobszay ''The restoration and organic development of the roman rite'', pages 118-121.
''Sacrosanctum Concilium made provision for the restitution of the old texts. The Consilium, however, decided to 'correct' the authentic texts all over again. ... I dealt with [the details of] all these questions in the first chapter of my 'Bugnini liturgy'''
Sad, as this was an opportunity missed. I use the authentic latin hymns, which i have bought as a separate booklet, in the recitation of the divine office, and keep to the original pre-PiusX psalm system. The propers i take from the BR 1960 edition.

Anonymous said...

I have a question for either F. Hunwicke or Rubricarius or anyone else who might know: Regarding the hymn for Completorium ''Te lucis ante terminium''. This hymn, as were nearly all the others, was rewritten ''by'' Urbanus VIII; only its second stanza with the words 'ne polluantur corpora' was left intact. I see that the Novus Ordo breviary 'Liturgia Horrorum' has restored the original first and alst stanzas of this hymn (a very good thing), but has left out the second stanza completely and subsituted it with new verses. I consider this to be the only felicitous ''correction'' of a hymn in the Novus Ordo breviary, and wished that this hymn only had be so 'corrected' in 1960, as the original second stanza was embarassing, could not be prayed by women or children, adn was based on grossly false concepts of human biology. What i cannot find anywhere, is the source for the new second stanza of this Completorium hymn as found in the Novus Ordo breviary. Is it from an ancient codex? a variant reading? Are the words interpolated from another hymn? or were they created ex nihilo by the Consilium? Thank you.

Anonymous said...

"Tread under foot our ghostly foe/ that no pollution we may know."
I have often heard these words sung at Compline by elderly and young ladies, none of whom exhibited any embarassment. I think they must have taken the words in a spiritual rather than biological sense, as should Albertus.

Denys said...

I have always taken the post-Conciliar changes to Te lucis as an example of prudishness in the Roman Church under Paul VI- akin to changing Ubi caritas et amor to Ubi caritas est vera. Does the latter have any precedent in tradition?

Anonymous said...

The problem with the second stanza of Te Lucis ante terminum is that the Latin s much more specific than ''no pollution we may know.'' ''Procul recedant somnia,
Et noctium phantasmata; Hostemque nostrum comprime, Ne polluantur corpora'' literally means: may dreams and phantasms of the nights go away; and put down our enemy, so that our bodies would not pollute themselves''. This is a clear reference to the monthly male nocturnal emission, which the medieavels believed to be caused by the Devil, instead of by nature. The phenomenon was considered sinful by many at that time. They did not realise that it was a necessary occurence of human biology, and so prayed for it not to happen!

Denys said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Denys said...

That is indeed true, Albertus, although the concept of 'pollution' can be spiritualised by nuns and others to whom the literal sense does not apply (rather like the method of traditional Biblical exegesis). For St John Cassian these nocturnal pollutions were natural in our present state and not sinful unless accompanied by phantasms provoked by impure thoughts indulged during the day. Cassian is fairly explicit and so the texts in his Conferences and Institutes on this subject were not translated by the Victorians and have only recently been rendered into English. Cassian and Te lucis (presumably first composed for monks) seem to me to be admirably honest and explicit, whereas the liturgical prunings if the late 20th century partake of Victorian prudishness.