“The Church's great liturgical tradition teaches us that fruitful participation in the liturgy requires that one be personally conformed to the mystery being celebrated… Otherwise, however carefully planned and executed our liturgies may be, they would risk falling into a certain ritualism. Hence the need to provide an education in eucharistic faith capable of enabling the faithful to live personally what they celebrate.” (Pope Benedict XVI, SACRAMENTUM CARITATIS, 64)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tale of Two Hymns

As one who has no schooling in music, formal or informal, I’d like to take my hand at music critic and historian, setting my mystagogical gaze at two hymns of the season. The two hymns honored for this treatment: Angelus ad Virginem and Adeste Fidelis.

Hymn: Angelus ad Virginem


The word that comes to my mystagogue mind is “sweet”. Most encounters with God’s angels are anything but sweet. When Abraham met some angles, they went on to raze Sodom. Jacob fought one all night long, and almost won, until the angel decided to up the ante and made him gimpy the rest of his life. Balaam would have been annihilated were it not for his talking ass. Zachariah was made dumb for nine months. And Peter was hardly treated as if he were the Vicar of Christ. Thus was the way man and angle would mingle.

This meeting between Gabriel and Mary was different. The angel’s gentleness and deference to his queen stands in stark comparison to other angelic meetings, and the hymn poetically delivers this message: This is no ordinary request, and she is no ordinary woman.

The origin of the hymn is not precisely known, but it’s latest composition must have been the mid-14th century when it was published in Ireland. The melodic organ accompaniment featured in the video followed several centuries later, and the cheery notes reflect it’s proper place in the liturgy on Gaudete Sunday.


Gabriel, from heaven's king
Sent to the maiden sweet,
Brought to her blissful tiding
And fair 'gan her to greet.
'Hail be thou, full of grace aright!
For so God's Son, the heaven's light,
Loves man, that He a man will be and take
Flesh of thee, maiden bright,
Mankind free for to make
Of sin and devil's might.'

Gently to him gave answer
The gentle maiden then:
'And in what wise should I bear
Child, that know not man?'
The angel said: 'O dread thee nought.
'Tis through the Holy Ghost that wrought
Shall be this thing whereof tidings I bring:
Lost mankind shall be bought
By thy sweet childbearing,
And back from sorrow brought.'

When the maiden understood
And the angel's words had heard,
Mildly, of her own mild mood,
The angel she answered:
'Our Lord His handmaiden, I wis,
I am, that here above us is:
And touching me fulfilled be thy saw;
That I, since His will is,
Be, out of nature's law
A maid with mother's bliss.'

The angel went away thereon
And parted from her sight
And straightway she conceived a Son
Through th' Holy Ghost His might.
In her was Christ contained anon,
True God, true man, in flesh and bone;
Born of her too When time was due; who then
Redeemed us for His own,
And bought us out of pain,
And died for us t'atone.

Filled full of charity,
Thou matchless maiden-mother,
Pray for us to him that He
For thy love above other,
Away our sin and guilt should take,
And clean of every stain us make
And heaven's bliss, when our time is to die,
Would give us for thy sake;
With grace to serve him by
Till He us to him take. Amen.


Hymn: Adeste Fidelis


This hymn was composed by John Francis Wade, and Catholic Englishman who spent much of his life in the 18th century in exile from his homeland. His place of exile was town of Douay in Brittany, which was a center of exile for English Catholics. The plight of English Catholics was foremost in his life, as he, in 1745, fought on the side of Prince Charles Edward Stuart in his failed attempt to claim his rightful thrown.

Despite the Jacobean origin of this masterpiece, bygones are bygone in modern times, and Wade’s hymn is universally sung by Anglicans and Catholics alike as the most popular way to greet the Christmas celebration. The text praises the mystery of the Incarnation, and beckons all of mankind to adore the divine Christ Child. But it mixes very interestingly with a melody of defiance, influenced by nationalism and the counter-reformation. The video offered, a choice sure to please Andy’s personal taste, highlights this defiant strain, welded perfectly to the news of glad tidings (see if you can spot Mr. and Mrs. Andy).




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