22 August 2019


Happy times, when I used to go a couple of Sundays each year to offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for the Latin Mass group in Copenhagen when they did not have a regular priest! Days when my friend Ulf, whose eyes see everything, who understands everything, took me round the palaces and parks, the museums and galleries of that most exquisitely civilised city! And introduced me to its culinary delights ... did you know that it possesses probably one of the half-dozen best Italian restaurants in the world?

Ulf has most kindly sent me a present: Hymnarium Suppletivum: Hymni Sacri recentiores compositi a Ioanne Georgio Bertram (this second edition, 2017, has the ISBN numbers 10:3-86417-088-5 and 13:978-3-86417-088-1). This is a profoundly interesting volume in which every page one turns elicits a "Wow"!

Bertram begins his Praefatio ad secundam editionem by remarking, justly, that Leo XIII was a hymnodus ingeniosus et entheos. He laments that, since that time, the Muses have been silent! He makes an exception for Dom Anselmo Lentini ... who, he says, composed some new hymns for the Benedictine Saints. True: but Dom Anselmo also composed quite a number of other hymns for the Liturgy of the Hours to supply exactly the want which Bertram pinpoints -- the lack of proper hymns for Saints, particularly including the newly canonised.

So, for example, Bertram provides a fine composition for the Visitation of our Lady on July 2. But Lentini had already composed a new hymn for this feast (on its Novus Ordo date), so it is not quite accurate to say that the Muses had been entirely silent. When one compares the two, I think it has to be said that Lentini's has the instinct for sobriety which, as Edmund Bishop pointed out, characterises the Roman Rite. Bertram portrays S John Baptist loudly complaining that he is still confined in the darkness of the womb! (Lentini's work can be found in two volumes, Hymni Instaurandi of 1968 and Te decet of 1984.)

Bertram's compositions seem to me often to breathe the exuberant spirit of the Middle Ages (and I do not say this in a sneering or pejorative spirit). He is not scared of starting a hymn with Westphalicum illud praecipuum genus ... . Medieval in spirit is his detailed refutation, in a hymn he composes in honour of Pius XII, of the accusations concerning papal policy towards the persecution of the Jewish people. He even works in an account of how Rome's Chief Rabbi received in Baptism the name Eugenio! His admiration for Cardinal Midszenty elicits a hymn in honour of that great pontiff; and a hymn starting Habsburgensibus goes on to apostrophise Sic te, Carole, sic te Zita ...

I am not sure that this collection is, so to speak, oven-ready to be added to the (pre-Conciliar) Breviarium Romanum. But it will undoubtedly be a stimulating volume for the clerus Latinus to keep close at hand, perhaps on the prayer-desk or beside the bed.

Thank you, Ulf, for this gift and for the friendship of the years!


Royce said...

What good news to hear that the people attached to the Extraordinary Form in Copenhagen now have a more regular provision of pastoral care! I too used to visit them from time to time and greatly enjoyed being shown around the city by Ulf and the other fine people there. Thank you for reminding me of these most edifying memories.

Father Royce Gregerson

Marc said...

The website Das Hymnarium includes several of Bertrams's hymns in its collection.