1 May 2022

The happy birds ... Mary's Month of May

The happy birds Te Deum sing,/'Tis Mary's month of May;/Her smile turns winter into spring,/And darkness into day;/And there's a fragrance in the air./The bells their music make,/And O the world is bright and fair,/ And all for Mary's sake. 

Number 936 in the English Catholic Hymn Book! The hymn was written by Father Alfred Gurney, 1843-1898, Vicar of S Barnabas Pimlico. Anglican Patrimony!

Those were the days!

I am, of course, using today to urge readers both laic and cleric to realise in the worship of their churches the exuberant joy of pre-Conciliar Catholicism ... especially during Mary Month. The thought of the processions, the flowers, the Crowning of the statue of our dear Mother ... What a loss it has been; of a culture well worth the effort of restoration. Especially in days such as these.

And those Victorian hymns carry a lot with them. A later stanza of Fr Gurney's hymn goes:

How many are the thoughts that throng/On faithful souls today;!/All year we sing our Lady's song,/'Tis still the song of May:/Magnificat! O may we feel/ That rapture more and more;/And chiefly, Lord, what time we kneel/Thine altar throne before.

Thine altar throne!! When did you last hear that wonderful phrase, either in a homily or in the music of of a 'main-stream' Catholic church? The centre of our Faith! Here is another piece of Anglican Patrimony, a stanza from a hymn in use a century and a half ago in (what is now) our great Ordinariate Basilica of S Agatha in Landport  

Thou, God and Man, art in our midst,/The Altar is Thy throne;/We bow before Thy Mercy Seat,/And Thee, our Maker, own./My soul, fall prostrate to adore,/In lowliest worship bent;/Each day I live I love Thee more,/Sweet Sacrament! Sweet Sacrament! 

Who, even in these dark days of lofty oppression and pontifical disapproval, could try to exclude such devotion? Great Heavens, these hymns are even in the vernacular! And, lest anybody damn them with the faint praise of being 'rather Father Faberish', here is a stanza of a hymn by a rather different Victorian cleric (Westminster Hymnal 118):

They tell us of that Paradise/Of everlasting rest,/And that high Tree, all flowers and fruit,/The sweetest, yet the best./O Mary, pure and beautiful,/Thou art the Queen of May:/Our garlands wear about thy hair,/And they will ne'er decay. 

And that is by the greatest, most precise, theologian of the 19th century, S John Henry Newman. How characteristic, his deft insertion of patristic themes into popular devotion.

Hymns! Flowers! Processions! Homilies! Love! You know it makes sense!

The Mary Month of May!  


PM said...

And then there is Rosa Mystica by one of the great poets of the time, Hopkins. 'In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine, find me a place by Thee, Mother of Mine.' Has anyone set it to music?

Albertus said...

I remember very well beautiful May devotions of old, which were well- attended and beloved by all. The sung litany of Loreto, procession, crowning, Benediction. In the 1970s we were told that all the old devotions now must melt away like snowflakes in the new Sunshine of the "postconciliar liturgy". Odd, how that went. For the as the snowflakes of our devotions melted away, so too did the liturgical Sun stop shining. All that's left to say now is "Adveniant tempora meliora".

Abigail said...

Thank you Father! The Crowning of Our Lady was always a high spot of the year and I still crown my statue and post the pic on Facebook; and how I miss the Victorian hymns, well, many of them!!

Josephus Muris Saliensis said...

What a joy that little book is. My edition, 1955 - when even in the Church of England people thought that progress was gentle, Catholic and sure. How wrong they all were.

Everything about it is gracious, the diligent retranslation of the Office Hymns, its truly religious anonymity, down to the numbering starting at 801, so it could be happily used as a supplement to the EH, or other books. Perhaps the Ordinariate should republish it?

Thank you for reminding me. I am old enough to have sung Hymn 936! But there are other joys - 913, "Ave Maria O Maiden O Mother,"; 934, "Shall we not love the Mother dear,"

Ah, such happy days, with countless children holding the streamers from the banners in the processions.

PM said...

Then we have 'Rosa Mystica' by the great Catholic poet of the era, Hopkins:

'In the gardens of God, in the daylight divine
Find me a place by thee, mother of mine.'

I'm not sure if it would work as a hymn, though the metre and syntax are simpler than in Hopkins' later works, but Britten and others have produced choral settings.

coradcorloquitur said...

Yes, Father, processions, hymns, May crownings---all paraliturgical devotions that speak of Holy Church as a family, warm and joyful and kind. The Protestants miss out on a lot, don't they, and the Modernists even more as all of this was theirs, their glorious heritage, before their aridity killed the joy of being a Catholic. What a miserable bargain they have made! On a somewhat related note, would you please pray for the soul of a dear, long-time friend---David Duclos---who died suddenly on Good Friday. He knew well and relished the joys of authentic Catholicism, for which he fought valiantly throughout his all-too-short life. He was also a regular reader and admirer of this blog.

Bill Murphy said...

Here are the lyrics and a most enjoyable performance of "The Happy Birds" from Leeds.


Shaun Davies said...

Do you know the authorship of many of the English Catholic Hymnbook hymns ? I have never discovered who they were. Fr Gurney seems to be very early for a hymn that is redolent of Anglo-Catholic Baroquerie of the 1920s/1930s. We used the ECHB in a prep school where I once taught and we sang The Happy Birds every year.