Sunday, February 19, 2012

Nun Dunket Alle Gott

This morning I again attended Mass at the local Novus Ordo parish and made notes regarding the hymns, which were considerably improved over the past couple of weeks.

At the processional we sang Be Thou My Vision, a traditional Irish hymn, translated by Eleanor H. Hull and versified by Mary Elizabeth Byrne. It was set to the moving tune Slane, to which the hymn Lord of All Hopefulness has also been set.

The offertory hymn, the so-called "Prayer of St. Francis," set to music by Sebastian Temple, is an example of how "contemporary" hymnody, even when it is good -- and "Prayer of St. Francis" is very good, being both theologically sound and musically pleasing -- nevertheless fails as a congregational hymn. "Prayer of St. Francis" sung by a choir at communion could serve very well to assist in putting the communicants in the proper mood to receive their Lord, but it is not something that a congregation of non-trained singers can pull off.

The post-communion and recessional hymns offer an interesting contrast.

"Taste and See," by James E. Moore, Jr. is based on the Psalm Benedicam Dominum (Ps. 34; 35 in the vulgate). The refrain, "Taste and See the goodness of the Lord. Taste and see the goodness of the Lord," (yes, it repeats) sung, as it is, four times, certainly brings home the message of the first half of the eighth verse of the Psalm. The three hymn verses consist of 88 words chopped into eight sentences. Now, it is true that Hebrew poetry employs short (by English standards) sentences, so I suppose one could argue that Moore is being faithful to the original. However, even a translation, let alone a paraphrase, ought to follow at least some English language conventions. "Taste and See," aside from the eminently forgettable melody, fails stylistically as English poetry.

Now compare that to the magnificent Lutheran hymn we ended with. Now Thank We All Our God, words by Martin Rinkart (1586–1649); music by Johann Crüger (1598-1662), in the familiar translation by Catherine Winkworth (1827-1878) arranges 126 words into three well-crafted sentences.
1. Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

2. O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

3. All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

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