Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Why is Oregon Catholic Press ruining Christmas songs?

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.


Kneeling Catholic said...

You speak to my heart, Father...

I do have a lot of beefs with hymns...

I think our hymnbook does a real number on 'Faith of our Fathers' of all things...

It's very insulting that these 'you-you' people think we don't know what 'thou and thee' mean!

but perhaps even worse, this past Sunday, I nearly blew a gasket to hear the Lectionary's 'what's up, favored one' rendering of St. Luke's Hail Mary.

Is it a sin, Father, to want to collect up every protestantizing, gender-neutral butchering of the Holy Scriptures (and Sacred hymns), pile them up and burn them?

rcg said...

KC is right. Banal, disrepsectful, unCatholic, almost sacrilegious hymns were a problem for me, too. Still are when I have to attend Mass in parishes that still want to be 'with it'.

Anonymous said...

Happily in my traditional Anglican parish we sang "Hark the herald angels.." with Wesley's original and marvellous words. I am sad your hymnal has been tampered with as I too hate it when good poetry is sacrificed on the altar of political correctness.

Kneeling Catholic said...

Father, RCG and Anonymous,

Thanks for allowing me to contribute. If you have a lot of patience (and since Father did solicit examples)...the following is a letter I wrote to our priest back in 2007..I was agitating to replace our Ritualsong (GIA publisher)...the specific examples were originally in table form....that turned to gobbledygook...so I posted it on my blog...http://kneelingcatholic.blogspot.com/2016/12/kc-dedicates-letter-to-fr-martin-foxs.html

Doug said...

I agree Father. However, I find it interesting that this particular example is the proverbial straw that put you over the edge. As Kneeling Catholic pointed out, this trend has infiltrated nearly every hymn in the hymnal, and there seems to be no end in sight.

I listen to Patrick Madrid on Catholic Radio (Immaculate Heart radio from 9:00AM - 12:00PM EST - try the Iheart radio app or Tune In Radio app if you don't get him locally). A while back, he discussed a parish fundraiser - "Block a Hymn" where parishioners could pay a fee to block a hymn from Mass for a year. Maybe we need to implement this plan. Here's a link to the show notes:


Fr Martin Fox said...


Oh, I have been aware of this since at least the seminary; and I've written about it before. What provoked me this time was the jarring presence of quasi-Gnostic sentiments being sung by the choir* at Midnight Mass (and I'm not blaming the choir or the music director, btw).

* But not dressed up like Eskimos.

rcg said...

KC, In some ways our music has undergone a "folking" process where the tune has been appropriated for other lyrics. (I was, frankly, shocked and offended by the explaination you cited for "Lord of the Dance". That was every inch a heresy. I can only imagine the ire of the Quakers and Copland). This happened, I believe, as a result of the over energetic and uncautious ecuministic efforts after Vatican II. I do NOT hereby criticize Vatican II but point out that these changes seem to be a massive and pervassive movement toward what we Catholics think is the mind and view of protestants, other religions, and society in general.

And yet, I adore the melodies and tones we can find in the world. And Just as with all other art, they are not interchagable for expression or setting. I laughed aloud at your music matrix and analysis of Ritualsong because I would have done it almost exactly the same way. My question is this: we do not sing introits for communion, why do we sing revamped Protestant hymns and lyrics in the Mass? There was a theological dust up over "Amazing Grace" a few years back. Why sing it at all in Mass? Yet why not allow it, with whatever changes and corrections are needed, to be sung in the parish hall?

My second point is that we modern Catholics want to have our religion happen in the time allotted: bells at 0800 and out the door NLT 0915. I would love to have coffee afterwards with the sorts that are on these blogs and discuss the same topics and learn from people like you. I would also like to bring my banjo, fiddle, and mandolin and jam some cool tunes that should never be sung in Mass.

Marc said...

Mons Sample, Archbishop of Portland, is, I believe chairman of OCP's board of directors. Given his quite praiseworthy attention to sacred music before coming to Portland, I had high hopes that he would 'reform' OCP. But, as in so much in these latter days, I expect that, while I don't doubt that he does what he can, the strength required to overcome both the inertia that repels positive change and the actual countervailing pressure from the advocates of dreck is just not available. One has to choose one's battles.

Rev. Jeremy Hazuka said...

Thank you for your post! I came across your words as I was looking for reasons why OCP also changed the words of "What Child is This". Instead of the thought-provoking second half of the second verse:

Nails, spear shall pierce Him through,
The cross be borne for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
The Babe, the Son of Mary.

OCP just uses the last part of the first verse as a refrain for all three verses. (It almost like editors at OCP think we can't handle the truth about the Cross that saves us.) It's for this reason (plus others) that I gave up using OCP as a music resource a while ago. Again, thanks for your message!