Hymns of Lent 5

 

christemracing-st-bernard

Christ embracing St Bernard (Francesc Ribalta,1565-1628)

And from Thy cross embrace me with arms outstretched to save

(From the translation by Monsignor R.A. Knox of words attributed to St Bernard)

The Epistle of the Mass of Passion Sunday, 5th Sunday of Lent, in the 1962 rite, this coming Sunday asks us (rhetorically, anyway):

Hebrews 9:14.

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ . . . cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Speaking of Christ’s blood, of which particular hymn does this (more or less) literal translation of the first verse of a Latin medieval devotional poem remind you?

Hail, head covered in blood,
all crowned with thorns,
battered, wounded,
beaten like this with a reed,
with your face smeared with spit.
Hail, you whose sweet face,
changed and disfigured,
has lost its bloom
and turned completely pale,
the face at which the court of heaven trembles.

If you were thinking that the hymn is . . . rather like O sacred head surrounded by crown of piercing thorn (as given in the Baker translation), you would be absolutely correct!

Many think that this is a hymn of Lutheran origin, no doubt because of Bach’s use of it in his St Matthew Passion. When translated into English later it became one of the all-time favourites of English-speaking protestants. Alas, the true origin of the hymn is wholly medieval and Catholic. It is the last of seven Latin poems which are personal devotions focusing on seven parts of the body of Christ nailed to the Cross: His feet, hands and side (the Five Wounds) and His knees, breast, heart and face (not necessarily in that order!).

These seven poems have been variously attributed to St Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot Arnulf of Louvain and St Bonaventure, to name just some. They are collectively known as Salve mundi salutare (Hail, salvation of the world) and it is thought that a different poem was to be contemplated on each of the seven days of Holy Week. This last of the seven hymns is the Salve caput cruentatum (Hail, head covered in blood), which gives us our hymn now for Passion Sunday!

The whole of this  devotional poem with its literal translation can be seen here.

The melody for the hymn is a slightly rhythmically adapted version of a madrigal by Hans Leo Hassler (1564-1612) and its title could be translated as Confused are all my feelings–a tender maid’s the cause. Well, that was unexpected, I’m sure, but it may be heard here. However, when modified it became, with its new words,  a tune loved and treasured by millions, both protestants and (later) Catholics.

Most English-speaking Catholics would be more familiar with Monsignor Ronald Knox’s translation of the Salve caput cruentatum, which he somewhat freely translated directly from the original Latin, of course, to fit into the same Hassler tune as Bach used:

O Sacred head ill-used,
By reed and bramble scarred,
That idle blows have bruised,
And mocking lips have marred.
How dimmed that eye so tender,
How wan those cheeks appear,
How overcast that splendour,
That angel hosts revere!

What marvel if thou languish,
Vigour and virtue fled,
Wasted and spent with anguish,
And pale as are the dead.
O by thy foes’ derision,
That death endured for me,
Grant that thy open vision
A sinner’s eyes may see.

Good Shepherd, spent with loving,
Look on me, who have strayed,
Oft by those lips unmoving
With milk and honey stayed;
Spurn not a sinner’s crying
Nor from the love out cast,
But rest thy head in dying
On these frail arms at last.

In this thy sacred Passion
O that some share had I!
O may thy Cross’s fashion
O’erlook me when I die!
For these dear pains that rack thee
A sinner’s thanks receive;
O, lest in death I lack thee,
A sinner’s care relieve.

Since death must be my ending,
In that dread hour of need,
My friendless cause befriending,
Lord, to my rescue speed;
Thyself, dear Jesus, trace me
That passage to the grave,
And from thy Cross embrace me
With arms outstretched to save.

Alas, there do not seem to be recordings of Monsignor Knox’s version, so we must find a recording of another version and meditate on Monsignor Knox’s words afterwards.

(If you find the words not distinct enough, please see Baker’s version here.)

As mentioned earlier, the original Latin poem was meant as personal devotion in which one imagines oneself as standing right at the foot of the Messiah’s Cross regarding His wounded and battered body at very close range. Why not then use Monsignor Knox’s words in our own devotions over the next week, the first week of Passiontide?

The last verse of Knox’s translation was also often used by none other than Cardinal Hume, who would include it in his prayers. Like St Bernard too. And we can join them.

Since death must be my ending,
In that dread hour of need,
My friendless cause befriending,
Lord, to my rescue speed;
Thyself, dear Jesus, trace me
That passage to the grave,
And from thy Cross embrace me
With arms outstretched to save.

And finally, again from the Epistle of Passion Sunday, this coming Fifth Sunday of Lent, marking the beginning of Passiontide:

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ . . . cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Perhaps we could even imagine ourselves in the place of St Bernard in the Ribalta painting above!

Advertisements

About GC

Poor sinner.
This entry was posted in Catholic Culture, Catholic Music, Catholic Orders and Congregations, Catholic Prayers, Church History, Devotion, Hymns, Latin, Music, Saints, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Hymns of Lent 5

  1. Toadspittle says:

    ..Fantastically homo-erotic picture by Ribalta.
    Very nice – If you like that kind of thing.
    Could lead to “Gay Marriage, ” likely.

    …I’m indifferent, myself, too old to care…. Takes all sorts though, dunnit?

  2. GC says:

    Er . . . thank you, Toad.

    A little pome on St Bernard I found on another website, composed by Mr Matthew Pullar. I think it helps explain the painting, but not quite in the terms you yourself have selected, awfully strange as that may seem, dear Toad.

    De Amore Dei (For Bernard of Clairvaux)

    You want me to tell you why God is to be loved and how much. I answer, the reason for loving God is God Himself; and the measure of love due to Him is immeasurable love.
    (Bernard of Clairvaux, On Loving God)

    The honey-tongued doctor
    With his gentlest words
    And his stern rod of power
    And his harshest decrees

    Takes off now his face,
    Flings it to the winds,
    Not delighting in any
    Of the gifts that he bears

    But casting his gaze
    To the wondrous delight
    Of the God who twice made him
    And carried his debt.

    Listen now; listen – in the
    Claire Vallée he’s singing,
    And off in the distance
    This truth is resounding:

    That Jesus, more beautiful
    Than all the world, is
    The succour of all of our
    Waning hearts’ wanting,

    And this now is what
    We are called to do:
    To love God for His sake
    And ourselves for Him too.

    So Bernard’s voice drops off
    And leaves only this:
    That love in all of its
    Degrees is found here

    In the wide open arms
    And the free-flowing wounds
    Of the beautiful Lord
    Who demands our love
    .

  3. kathleen says:

    Such an evocative melody! And the words strike to the very depths of the heart.

    At the Stations of the Cross that I went to yesterday evening at my parish Church, I found myself, whilst listening and praying the Stations, meditating at the same time on the beautiful insights you drew out here in your article GC. Thank you so much for this – it is truly lovely.

  4. GC says:

    Kathleen, sincere thanks for this. You are so good to take the time to give such encouragement, bless you. Lord knows, I need it.

    You know, in attempting to write such poor articles, one learns a lot about how better to serve our readers in the future, especially if one is no theological expert. Watch out, world! Just wait until next Lent, God willing!

  5. Toadspittle says:

    “I think it helps explain the painting, but not quite in the terms you yourself have selected, awfully strange as that may seem, dear Toad.”

    Well, GC – it seems to me, that God has apparently ordained that each one of us should see every single thing in our own, individual, fashion.
    It makes life very difficult indeed – but – as we already know – “He works in awfully strange ways, do He not?”
    But, if that picture is not homoerotic, Toad is Mel Gibson.
    …Doesn’t matter, however.
    Nothing wrong with a bit of homoeroticism, if that is your bag, as the Surbiton hippies, who all look like Jesus, say.
    To explain a bit: If the guy at the top of the painting came and knocked on your suburban front door – what would your reaction be?

  6. GC says:

    Dear Toad (or is it ‘Dear Mel’ more often than not these days? One so easily loses track of these things), would Toad be currently in good enough standing with Amazon to acquire this, I wonder?

    I am reliably informed that the pages turn themselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s