Saturday, February 11, 2012

Alleluia! Sing to Jesus

This evening I again attended the vigil Mass at the local Novus Ordo parish and made notes regarding the hymns.

We started with "There's a Wideness in God's Mercy" by Catholic convert from Anglicanism, Frederick William Faber (1814-1863) set, to the 18th century Dutch hymn tune In Babilone. The music is beautiful and the words moving.

The offertory hymn, "All My Days," was written by Dan Schutte and is based on the Psalm Domine, Dominus noster (Ps. 8). With the first line of the first verse a "red flag" went up. Schuette's text was "You have made me a little less than a god," which he must have intended as some sort of paraphrase of verses four and five:
"4 What is man, that thou art mindful of him? * and the son of man, that thou visitest him?
5 Thou madest him lower than the angels, * to crown him with glory and worship."
or in the Vulgate:
"5 quid est homo quod memor es eius aut filius hominis quoniam visitas eum
6 minuisti eum paulo minus ab angelis gloria et honore coronasti eum"
Schutte's text employs the word "god" where "angels" is more conventional, and although it is true that the Hebrew text has "elohim" (i.e., "gods") it is equally true that "elohim" can mean "angels" and was so translated into the Greek of the Septuagint; "angels" is also the word the Vulgate picked up, as have most English translations.

More troublesome is Schutte putting the Psalm into the first person. Christian tradition, following the Epistle to the Hebrews chapter 2 verses 5 through 9, usually interprets the "Son of man" in Psalm 8 as the Christ --
"2:5 For unto the angels hath he not put in subjection the world to come, whereof we speak. 2:6 But one in a certain place testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man, that thou visitest him? 2:7 Thou madest him a little lower than the angels; thou crownedst him with glory and honour, and didst set him over the works of thy hands: 2:8 Thou hast put all things in subjection under his feet. For in that he put all in subjection under him, he left nothing that is not put under him. But now we see not yet all things put under him. 2:9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man."

The post-communion hymn, "Seed, Scattered and Sown, was written by Dan Feiten and is based on the Didcahe 9, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, and Mark 4:3-6. Published in the 1980s, I found it one of the most theologically sound and musically pleasant of "contemporary" hymns.

St. Joseph's Parish saved the best for last at this Mass. "Alleluia! Sing to Jesus," by William Chatterton Dix (1837–1898), insurance executive and part-time hymn-writer, is one of the greatest of 19th century English praises to our Lord. It was set to that grand old Welsh hymn tune -- a tune to which many hymns have been set -- Hyfrydol by Rowland Huw Prichard (1811-1887). It is one of my favorites. When, last year I started learning to play the piano, I picked it out as the first "real music" (as opposed to exercise) that I had my instructress show me how to play. Co-incidentally, I passed the time walking to Mass today by humming Hyfrydol, little thinking that I'd be singing it at the end of Mass.

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