We had a beautiful Christmas in Russia, thanks to many people, including our music director and many wonderful helpers in the choir loft, and our many readers, ushers, altar servers and others who each contributed.
I was especially moved at Midnight Mass -- my favorite Mass of the year; so much so, that the sad bowdlerization of the great hymn, "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" did not much dim my joy.
Here is what I'm talking about.
In verse two, we hear:
Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord,
Late in time behold Him come
Offspring of a Virgin's womb:
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel.
Well, that is what you ought to hear -- and sing. But increasingly, the second-last line is changed to:
Pleased as man with US to dwell...
Grr! This is poetry, and that change wrecks it. But that, at least, doesn't render it potentially heretical. That prize goes to the change wrought in verse three. Again, the more traditional version first:
Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace!
Hail the Sun of Righteousness!
Light and life to all He brings,
Risen with healing in His wings;
Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth.
Here's how the last few lines are changed:
born that we no more may die,
born to raise us from the earth,
born to give us second birth.
Before I explain just why these changes -- the last one in particular -- are terrible, can you figure out the reason for them?
No? Try again. Just look at the words that were excised. Can you see a theme?
It's all about feminism; to be precise, a very narrow, humorless, insecure subset of feminism, with -- I have no doubt -- extremely few adherents. But they do get the ear of editors of music, hence these changes.
The second change I highlighted is especially bad, because it turns this great hymn from stoutly orthodox to vaguely Gnostic. That is to say, instead of singing of Christ redeeming and divinizing our humanity ("born to raise the sons of earth"), we sing of Christ coming to deliver us out of our earthiness ("raise us from the earth"). This is Dan Brown stuff. Remember the Da Vinci Code? It walked the same path, feeding the insecure fantasies of the same narrow, humorless crowd with claims of a conspiracy to keep women down by suppressing something he called the "divine feminine" and other claptrap. And in doing so, Mr. Brown drew directly from ancient, discredited Gnostic texts.
The irony of it all? Gnosticism was anything but pro women. In addition to the Gnostics thinking matter and humanity being evils we should escape from, they especially thought femininity was something to abhor. Here's one choice gem from the Gospel of Thomas:
Simon Peter says to them: "Let Mary go out from our midst, for women are not worthy of life!" Jesus says: "See, I will draw her so as to make her male so that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who has become male will enter the Kingdom of heaven."
The dis-incarnated text I quoted from, and which we sang at Midnight Mass came from Oregon Catholic Press, but similar poetry wrecking appears in other widely published hymnals. I was going to say the editors of these hymnals are theological nincompoops, but I don't know that. What I do know is that this is theological nincompoopery, and I am going to do what I can to stop it.
So I intend to contact someone at OCP and register my displeasure. I suspect that won't do much good, but I will try. And then, next year, regardless of what OCP does, we will sing a proper version of "Hark the Herald"; we will provide handouts if necessary.
Perhaps you know of similar mischief? Feel free to share in the comments.