Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Watered-down Old Hymn for Our Lady's Nativity

No one would begrudge the addition of new, fitting hymns to the Office repertoire.  That said - curmudgeons, silence! - not every addition is absolutely excellent.  Even the real improvements (as opposed to the strange changes) made to the hymns of the Office in its postconciliar root-and-branch reform have some odd aspects: a certain failure of nerve, and in particular a resistance to the lectio difficilior, to hard or harsh or surprising words - which were replaced (by Lentini et al.) with softer, milder, frankly less interesting words: a phrasal dolce far niente!  

Remember, lectio difficilior potior: the more difficult reading is the stronger and more potent.  The same sad watering-down cursed the corpus orationum of the modern Mass and Office.  Anything that might create consternation or concern was stript away, to be replaced with nice nostrums.

So, to the hymn at hand: the modern version of O sancta mundi domina, a hymn for Our Lady's Nativity, which the modern Divine Office appoints for use at Lauds.  Luckily, Dom Guéranger, in his incomparable collection The Liturgical Year, provides the ancient text for this hymn; I annotate the points at which the compilers of the new liturgy made changes that, I argue, dumb down the more interesting aspects of the verbiage of this sacred song:

O sancta mundi domina,
Regina cœli inclyta!
O stella maris, *Maria,*  [1971: fulgida]
Virgo mater *deifica!*  [1971: mirifica]

*Emerge*, dulcis filia,  [1971: Appare]
Nitesce jam virguncula,
Florem latura nobilem,
Christum Deum et hominem.

Natalis tui annua
En colimus solemnia,
Quo stirpe *electissima*  [1971: delectissima]
Mundo fulsisti genita.

Per te sumus, terrigenæ
Simulque jam cœligenæ,
Pacati pace nobili
More *inestimabili.*  [1971: non æstimabili]

*Hinc* Trinitati gloria  [1971: Sit]
*Sit semper ac victoria,*  [1971 omits]
*In unitate solida,* [1971 omits]
Per sæculorum sæcula.  
[1971 adds: Cujus vocaris munere
Mater beata Ecclesiæ.]

(Guéranger's tome supplies the following vernacular version, which I have somewhat emended: "O world's holy Lady, / illustrious Queen of heaven! / O Mary, star of the sea, / Virgin Mother made godlike! / Come forth, sweet daughter; / grow verdant, tender branch; / for thou wilt bear the noble flower, / Christ, both God and man. / Lo! we are celebrating / the annual solemnity of thy birth / whereon, sprung from a most choice root, / thou didst begin to shine upon the earth. / Through thee, we who are earth-born, / yet now heaven-born too, / have been set at peace by a noble pact / in wondrous wise. / Wherefore glory to the Trinity / be ever, and victory, / in solid unity, / through ages of ages.  Amen.")

Some commentary about all these changes:
  1. Replacing Maria with fulgida subtracts the usual play on words, as if it were beneath notice to recall that "Mary" was oft said to mean "star of the sea";
  2. Mirifica is so much weaker than deifica, which latter is by far the more meaningful, especially as it attests to the truth that the Latin West no less than the Greek East believes in the doctrine of divinization by grace;
  3. Apparently Appare ("Appear") is a more agreeable euphemism for Emerge, as applied to Mary's birth;
  4. Delectissima is just nice, while electissima (most choice, chosen, predestinate) is far more significant when applied to Our Lady;
  5. Of course, non æstimabili means much the same as inestimabili!
  6. The doxology has been mucked with - the older focussed on the solid unity of the Trinity, while the newer dumps all that and replaces it with a clumsy reference to Paul VI's declaration of Our Lady as Mother of the Church (topical if not controversial in the late sixties, oh so ho-hum today).
Why couldn't the relevant cœtus have simply let well alone and allowed this elegant hymn to stand as it was?

1 comment:

Figulus said...

One wonders whether the Israeli-Vatican politics of the time led the translators away from "stirps electissima".