Wednesday, December 09, 2009


Latin Hymns

Edward Kennard Rand, Founders of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1928; rpt. New York: Dover Press, 1957), pp. 214-215:
To appreciate a Latin hymn with all its flavors, we must take it not merely for itself, but as a part of something larger. First of all, it is wedded to music, which makes its own appeal. Then, it is caught up into the larger atmosphere of some religious office—Vespers or Compline or the supreme sacrifice of the Mass. Finally, this service is celebrated in a church, which, however humble, decently puts the altar in the place of reverence and adorns it with candles, type of a shining faith. We must know the whole to appreciate the part. As we read Veni redemptor gentium, or Gloria, laus et honor, or Pange lingua gloriosi corporis mysterium, we must not translate, or—absit omen—read the pious doggerel of somebody else's translation, but listen to the Latin words, hear the deep voice of the organ, glance upwards, in imagination, at the Gothic vaulting of Amiens or Chartres, see the light sifting in through the flaming windows and the purer flame of the candles shining on the altar where the holy sacrifice is made. And, above all, we must consider these beauties, not as the moving force that brings the worshippers to church,—who then would be idolators indeed,—but as the offering of their richest treasures made thankfully for the revelation of the truth. This is the whole body of the hymn, which loses flesh and blood if you tear it away.

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