My old pastor used to lament both the deeply awful translations of Scripture used at Mass and changes to standard, traditional hymns. As Christmas rolled around each year he would line both up and say, “Imagine singing, ‘Away In A Feedbox'”.
How about “God Rest You Happy Gentlefolk”?
My pastor’s disgust underlined the problem with those who incessantly tinker and update, those who think that liturgical worship should be relentlessly updated to keep up with how people talk (and think). They think people are stupid. And they may be increasingly right, given the disaster that public (at least) education has become. But the real problem is the arrogance of the tinkerers.
At Catholic Thing today, Anthony Esolen has a good piece that addresses this.
The Vandals in the Choir Loft
any readers will recall renovations their churches suffered in the 1970’s, ripping out the Communion rails, tossing statues of saints into the dump, whitewashing walls once decorated with stenciled designs, reducing altars to rubble, or tearing down the buildings whole, to replace them with – things. It’s hard to know what to call them.
In my experience, fewer people are clear about what was done to the music, and almost nobody knows what has been done to the texts of such traditional hymns as remain in Worship, Glory and Praise, Gather, and other instruments of stupidity. If that sounds harsh, I beg the reader to consider how much easier it is to ruin things that people only hear rather than see, or not even hear but retain vaguely in the memory.
I have vowed eternal enmity against the liturgically and poetically stupid. The hymnals I have named give me plenty to work with. Make no mistake. God is not well praised by what is slovenly and stupid; and bad taste often slides over into bad theology. When they mess around with old hymns, the editors do not want so much that we shall feel or think what they like, but that we shall not feel or think what they dislike. They subtract.
Look at one fine Lenten hymn, spoiled by the editors of Worship. Here are the first two stanzas, as they appear in old hymnals:
Forty days and forty nights
Thou wast fasting in the wild;
Forty days and forty nights,
Tempted, and yet undefiled.
Shall we not Thy sorrows share,
And from earthly joys abstain,
Fasting with unceasing prayer,
Glad with Thee to suffer pain?
There’s nothing difficult about those lines. Any child who prays the Hail Mary and the Our Father will have no trouble with thou, thy, and thee.
He goes on to compare those lyrics with the bowdlerized version excreted by the tinkerers who publish hymnals and missalettes. He digs into more than one hymn.
They edit the hymns for content not just for style.
That’s what happened with the prayers for the Novus Ordo.
For the Novus Ordo, older prayers were edited for content. Certain concepts were systematically stripped out, so that nary a mention of themes like propitiation, sin, guilt, judgment and sacrifice remain. The emphasis was shifted to happy thoughts about the life to come, eschatological bliss with only rare traces of eschatological judgment. Only 17% of the orations from the traditional Missale Romanum survived unscathed in the Novus Ordo edition. There were in the older Missale 1182 orations. For the Novus Ordo, 760 were expunged. Of the remaining 422 (36%), half were edited. And there were orations that were revived from ancient sacramentaries or cobbled up from bits and pieces of older prayers. They were edited for content. What you find removed from the old or missing from the new are teachings that any well-trained boy or girl would once have learned from their basic catechism.
Remember: We are our rites.
If we pray a certain way, we come to believe the content of what we pray. If we believe in certain things, our prayers reflect those beliefs. This is a constant interplay. It is at the heart of the phrase from Prosper of Aquitaine, “ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi”… which gives us the catch phrase “Lex orandi lex credendi“… the law of what is to be prayed is the law of what is to be believed”.
Decades of praying prayers whose content was shifted to ignore whole swathes of belief and certain doctrines – and decades of really bad translations – have produced an only vaguely Catholic people with an increasing percentage who don’t know or believe what the Church teaches about faith or morals.
Wrapping up, Esolen gives us this image, sure to stick in your head as you heave that copy of Worship or Gather.
Black mold does not weigh much. But would you want it on your walls?