Friday, January 14, 2011

Tibi Laus Est Mirabilis

If you like Latin hymnody -- and who doesn't? -- Father Anonymous has a treat for you.

In the course of assembling our Latin/English prayerbook (coming this summer!), we stumbled across a little gem called Pange Lingua: Breviary Hymns of Old Uses, edited and translated by Alan G. McDougall. It was published in 1916, and old copies are hard to come by, but it is easily downloaded from the Internet or purchased print-on-demand from Lulu.

The short book collects almost thirty hymns, providing them both in their original Latin and in graceful English translations. Now, a collection of Latin hymns is not, by itself, all that remarkable. The hymns of the Daily Office are all easily available in both languages. What makes Pange Lingua interesting is that it collects hymns which do not appear in the modern Office, and which in most cases will be unknown except to specialists. Most are from "other" breviaries -- Mozarabic, Anglo-Saxon, and many others -- and were never accepted into the canon of Roman office hymns.

Here's a nice Gallo-German song for Easter:

Vita sanctorum, decus angelorum,

Vita cunctorum pariter piorum

Christe, qui mortis moriens ministrum


Tu tuo laetos famulos tropaeo

Nunc in his serva placidis diebus

In quibus sacrum celebratur omnem

Pascha per orbem.

McDougall renders it as

Life of thy saints and glory of thine angels,
Christ, who art life of all who strive to love thee,
Who by thy dying on the cross didst vanquish
Death's ministration

Save in these holy days of peace thy servants,
Guard and sustain by pledges of thy triumph,
For now thy Paschal feast throughout the world
Joy they in keeping.

No, we don't like "ministrations" either, nor "joy" as a verb, but we are quite pleased by how well he kept the meter. The thing can be sung to Christe Sanctorum, which is the tune of LBW's Father, We Praise You.

Pange Lingua also includes an elegantly-written essay by the well-known Adrian Fortescue, outlining the development of Latin hymnody. It is a bit out-of-date, and isn't the deepest thing you will ever read, but it is more than good enough to introduce the subject, and perfect to share with an Advanced-Placement parish study group. We are especially pleased by the coals which Fortescue heaps upon the head of Urban VIII's "reform" of hymnody:
Urban appointed four Jesuits to reform the hymns, so that they would no longer offend Renaissance ears .... These four, in that faithful obedience to the Holy See which is the glory of their Society, with a patient care that one cannot help admiring, set to work to destroy every hymn in the office.
Pange Lingua is brief, beautiful and, considering its subject, remarkably accessible. It earns the Egg's Seal of Approval.

No comments: