5 August 2021


Around 700ish someone wrote a hymn about our Lady, Quem terra, pontus, aethera. It was subsequently divided into two and and thus provided a couple of Office Hymns for the Common of the BVM. The second half began "O gloriosa Femina". This was subsequently altered to "O gloriosa Domina", ["woman" changed to "Lady"] for reasons which are fairly obvious. Urban VIII's revisers changed it to "virginum" ["of virgins"]. They will have disliked "Domina" because the first syllable of that word is short, while this is a metrical hymn in which the first syllable of the word at that place in the line has to be long - as the first syllable of "femina" is (pronounced more like Fame than as in the English Feminine.)

Don't forget that the first hints of corruption of the Roman Rite began, not with Paul VI, not with Pius XII, not even with Pius X, but when, in the 1620s, Papa Barberini aka Urban VIII mucked up the ancient Office Hymns because he wanted them to sound more like Horace. This was the first, deplorable, example of the Roman Catholic Church adopting the deplorable "we've-now-got-printing-so-we-can-now-impose-our-latest-revolutionary-fad-almost-overnight-on-the-Universal-Church" syndrome which ultimately led to Bugnini and is the deplorable godfather of PF's deplorable conclusion to Traditionis custodes: the (impractical) demand that the deplorable little document should come into force immediately. Jawohl, mein Fuehrer!

Protestants like Cranmer, of course, had seen the possibilities of this technology for imposing liturgical devastation even earlier, in 1548 ... although the order in 1549 "that this realm shall have but one Use" did but echo the order of a Henrician Convocation in 1542 that the entire Province of Canterbury should use the Sarum Breviary. (The printers, naturally, loved this vastly, and embellished a new edition of the Sarum Breviary with heavy hints that you would need to buy it in order to comply with the Royal Supremacy.)

"Back to Pius V" should be our Traditionalist instinct. That is why, if you want to use English translations of the original texts of the Office Hymns as given in Sarum and Pius V (and the Liturgy of the Hours), you need to use Anglican translations - done from Sarum by people like J M Neale and to be found, in large part, in the admirable English Hymnal - rather than RC translations by scholars like E Caswall.

Vatican II very rightly ordered that the text of the Hymns should generally revert to the original texts still for the most part found in S Pius V's original Breviary (not to mention in Sarum and the other medieval local dialects of the Roman Rite). Dom Anselmo Lentini's Coetus proposed, when dealing with the hymn we are considering today, restoring the original reading Femina [woman] on the grounds that " it seems to us very beautiful, since thus the glory of the humble creature raised to so great a dignity shines more brightly; moreover, Domina [Lady] spoils the metre ...". I think Dom Anselmo is hinting that Gloriosa Femina  is an oxymoron! But at some point somebody decided that Domina ... even if unmetrical ... even if unoriginal ... had better go back into the text. I wonder who ... and do you agree with them?

Incidentally, in the first part of the original hymn - what we know as Quem terra, pontus, aethera - Urban VIII changed aethera to sidera because he didn't share the Carolingian fashion that found a delicious exoticism in words borrowed from Greek.

And that hymn originally had a third stanza long since omitted, which Lentini wanted to reintroduce, but ... apparently ... here again he was vetoed by somebody. It went (I translate unmetrically):
"Therefore the ages wonder,/That an Angel brings the Seed [Lentini wanted to emend this line to "That the Spirit overshadows her"]/ That the Virgin conceives by ear/ And, believing in her heart, gives birth." This, of course, gives a picture which relates to much medieval iconography of the Annunciation, where a piercing ray goes from the Father or the Spirit to our Lady's ear.

There is material for speculation in that stanza!


Grant Milburn said...

This was enlightening. I have of late been praying the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, using the divinumofficium.com website. The site offers eight versions of the “traditional” breviary: I have been using “1960 rubrics.”

I knew that Urban VIII had modified the hymns, but it was only after reading this post that I put the before and after versions of the Laudes hymn in the Little Office side by side in one Word document so that I could compare them for myself:

O gloriósa Dómina,
Excélsa super sídera:
Qui te creávit, próvide
Lactásti sacro úbere.

O gloriósa vírginum,
Sublímis inter sídera,
Qui te creávit, párvulum
Lacténte nutris úbere.

Quod Heva tristis ábstulit,
Tu reddis almo gérmine:
Intrent ut astra flébiles,
Cæli fenéstra facta es.

Quod Heva tristis ábstulit,
Tu reddis almo gérmine:
Intrent ut astra flébiles,
Cæli reclúdis cárdines.

Tu Regis alti jánua,
Et porta lucis fúlgida:
Vitam datam per Vírginem,
Gentes redémptæ, pláudite.

Tu Regis alti iánua
Et aula lucis fúlgida:
Vitam datam per Vírginem,
Gentes redémptæ, pláudite.

Glória tibi Dómine,
Qui natus es de Vírgine,
Cum Patre et Sancto Spíritu,
In sempitérna sǽcula.

Iesu tibi sit glória,
Qui natus es de Vírgine,
Cum Patre, et almo Spíritu,
In sempitérna sǽcula.

At least in this case I can go back to Pius V simply by clicking on “Tridentine 1570” when I choose which version to pray. No episcopal or papal permission required!

Dale Crakes said...

What edition of the English Hymnal do you recommend for Neale translations Fr?

Scribe said...

Dear Mr Crakes, May I recommend the 1906 version of The English Hymnal, in the 26th impression (reset) of 1953? This contains all Neale's translations. It also contains E.B. Pusey's beautiful hymn 'Ave Maria, blessed maid' (No,216), which seems to have been omitted from later versions of the Hymnal. (I wonder why?)

frjustin said...

Dear Scribe: The English Hymnal of 1933 has "Ave Maria! Blessed Maid" at No.216, and it is there ascribed to Keble.

The English Hymnal includes many, but not all, of J.M. Neale's translations from the 1856 edition of his Hymnal Noted, expanded edition (1854). Neale translated the Transfiguration hymn “Cælestis formam gloriæ”, but listed it there (erroneously) as a translation of "O Nata Lux de Lumine". His translation was not included in the English Hymnal because it had been altered by the compilers of the original edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern (1861) to the widely popular "O wondrous type! O vision fair!"

Here is Neale's unaltered translation of Caelestis formam gloriae":

A type of those bright rays on high
For which the Church hopes longingly,
Christ on the holy mountain shows
Where brighter than the Sun He glows:

Tale for all ages to declare:
For with the three disciples there,
Where Moses and Elias meet,
The Lord holds converse, high and sweet.

The chosen witnesses stand nigh,
Of Grace, The Law, and Prophecy:
And from the cloud the Holy One
Bears record to the Only Son.

With face more bright than noontide ray,
Christ deigns to manifest today
What Glory shall be theirs above,
Who joy in God with perfect love.

And faithful hearts are rais’d on high
By this great vision’s mystery;
For which, in yearly course, we raise
The voice of pray’r and hymn of praise.

Thou, Father,— Thou, Eternal Son,
Thou, Holy Spirit, Three in One,
To this same Glory bring us nigh,
That we may see Thee eye to eye. Amen.

Scribe said...

Dear frjustin, Thank you for pointing out my error in ascribing 'Ave Maria! blessed maid!' to Pusey instead of Keble. I had the English Hymnal open at 216 when I was posting my comment, but for some unknown reason read 'Keble' as 'Pusey'. Old age, perhaps.

Little Black Sambo said...

You rightly say that Anglican translations should be used in Ordinariate liturgy. It is a pity the Authorized Version is not used for the lessons; the incomparable book that together with the BCP has influenced our language, spoken and written, for centuries.