PBEH Discussion: Ah, Holy Jesus
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    Friends, this is my last such post of the day, and the first that I believe is very likely to raise strong negative feelings. I apologize in advance for doing that, but I feel it is important that the texts of the world's next great hymnal should be carefully considered. But I won't just flood the forum with this sort of thing, unless it seems to others to be beneficial. Just experimenting, at this point. Peace.

    1. Ah, holy Jesus, how hast thou offended,
    that we to judge thee have in hate pretended?
    By foes derided, by thine own rejected,
    O most afflicted!

    2. Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
    Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
    'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
    I crucified thee.

    3. Lo, the Good Shepherd for the sheep is offered;
    the slave hath sinned, and the Son hath suffered.
    For our atonement, while we nothing heeded,
    God interceded.

    4. For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation,
    thy mortal sorrow, and thy life's oblation;
    thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,
    for my salvation.

    5. Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee,
    I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee,
    think on thy pity and thy love unswerving,
    not my deserving.

    To my taste, the text of Ah, Holy Jesus, is spiritually a little "off." Although I understand that sometimes conversion experiences are precipitated by just such sentiments as these, still, they seem too emotionally intense, and perhaps even emotionally manipulative, to be appropriate hymns for the Mass or the Office.

    The text is beautiful, and beautifully translated. My feelings against it are not at all aesthetic.

    Here are some thoughts I've written about this hymn:

    There are excesses of individualistic piety, full of pathos, in some of the German chorales. I believe these to be out of place in Catholic liturgy. It's one thing to say that Jesus would have died on the cross for just me, and quite another to sing that He did, or that it was only my sins that He bore. We can see this sort of heightened individualism coming in the CCM song "On my cross." But I believe it is just as mistaken in the beautifully set, brilliantly translated (by Robert Bridges, no less), "Ah, Holy Jesus."
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    It doesn't actually say that it was only my sins that He bore. That would be an error.

    If this were used only one Lenten Sunday a year, I wouldn't have a problem with its individual focus. Can we add this and keep out "How Great Thou Art"?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I see your point, Kathy. But perhaps it might have a place after Mass, as opposed to replacing a proper?
  • It doesn't actually say that it was only my sins that He bore. That would be an error.
    If this were used only one Lenten Sunday a year, I wouldn't have a problem with its individual focus.

    I can't see the benefit of this very FIRST PERSON emphatic hymntext's inclusion. The text is beautiful, but is it necessary to be included when "O sacred Head..." and "We adore You...Adoremus te..." are much more accessible?
  • So much for me trying HTML :-P
  • Donnaswan
    Posts: 585
    This hymn is not in Ritualsong, which is what I use, and I miss it every year for Good Friday. I can't think of anything more appropriate. It's probably the day that I miss being in an Anglican service the most. It never fails to move me.

  • G
    Posts: 1,397
    There are enough "we"s and "our"s in Ah, Holy Jesusthat I do not find the text problematically individualistic.
    I do find constant use of highly affective, ("affected"?) texts and music a real problem in much current practice, excessive emotionalism, swoony lyrics and swoopy ballads cloying and presumptuous, (you WILL turn to number 608 and sing, and you WILL feel this, NOW)-- but on Good Friday, all of Holy Week, really, it seems appropriate to forget intellectualizing our theology, and instead focus on our relationship with our Savior, and pour out the feelings even the bare facts must elicit.

    Please don't stop, Kathy, this is great stuff.

    And yeah, what Gavin said -- surely this hymnal is envisioned as something for use at Stations/Benediction/Novenas, not just closing hymns at Mass? (and we won't even go into subbing for the Propers)

    Save the Liturgy, Save the World
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    In response to Donna, I was going to say that none of the proper texts come close to the self-condemnation of verse 2. But then I remembered that the Reproaches are accusatory. Still, it is a corporate accusation.

    I guess this hymn could be seen as an individual response to the Reproaches.
  • francis
    Posts: 10,704
    o dear jesus... i simply love that text! i set it to ssaattbb in college... will have to steer you all to that arrangement at some point in time. sorry K. (then again, I AM German ... that would explain it!)
  • francis- I would love to see your arr. I have been trying to call to mind an arr of this wonderful hymn, but can't think of any.

  • What about the hymn, "In The Bleak Mid-Winter?" Some would say that this too is individualistic piety and not appropriate for the Mass. Technically, that might be correct. However, justice without mercy is tyranny and rules and laws without compassion and understanding would again cry out for a saviour. Should we go about changing the poet's original work to be more INCLUSIVE? GOD FORBID! As a published poet and composer, I find great offense at inclusivity; changing texts that once stated "i" to "We."

    Yet, I can not conceive of a Christmas without the hymn, "In The Bleak Mid-Winter," neither, "Silent Night, Holy Night." "Ah! Holy Jesu," was deeply instrumental in my awareness of my sin, my repentance and my redemption. How does that old saying go, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever?" I would suggest that it is NOT this hymn's text that is spiritually a little off, but rather perhaps this ages' thinking and perspectives.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    "In the Bleak Mid-Winter" doesn't seem to center on individualistic piety; the word "I" doesn't even appear until the final verse.

    The Wikipedia article on the poem has some nice observations about the points made in the text; since WP is open-source, I'll quote it here:

    In verse one, Rossetti describes the physical characteristics of the Incarnation.

    In the bleak midwinter
    Frosty wind made moan,
    Earth stood hard as iron,
    Water like a stone;
    Snow had fallen,
    Snow on snow,
    Snow on snow,
    In the bleak midwinter,
    Long ago.

    In verse two, Rossetti contrasts Christ's first and second coming.

    Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
    Nor earth sustain;
    Heaven and earth shall flee away
    When he comes to reign;
    In the bleak midwinter
    A stable place sufficed
    The Lord God incarnate,
    Jesus Christ.

    The third verse dwells on Christ's birth and describes the simple surroundings, in a humble stable and watched by beasts of burden.

    Enough for him, whom Cherubim
    Worship night and day
    A breast full of milk
    And a manger full of hay.
    Enough for him, whom angels
    Fall down before,
    The ox and ass and camel
    which adore.

    Rossetti achieves another contrast in the fourth verse, this time between the incorporeal angels attendant at Christ's birth with Mary's ability to render Jesus physical affection. [...]

    Angels and archangels
    May have gathered there,
    Cherubim and seraphim
    Thronged the air;
    But his mother only,
    In her maiden bliss,
    Worshipped the Beloved
    With a kiss.

    The final verse may be the most well known and loved. [...]

    What can I give him,
    Poor as I am?
    If I were a shepherd
    I would bring a lamb,
    If I were a wise man
    I would do my part,
    Yet what I can I give Him —
    Give my heart.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Kathy's point, so far as I understand and agree with it, seems to be that such an individualistic piety is foreign to the Mass. So far as I know, there's no "I, me, my sin" texts in the Good Friday liturgy. "...Through the Cross, joy has come to the WORLD." "O My PEOPLE..." However, I think all here would agree it would be beautifully appropriate for a stations service, or Tenebrae, or some other non-Mass event.
  • I think it depends on the context. I think it is a more powerful statement when a large group of people pray/sing in 1st person singular than to make sure that all worship is in the plural. Both Creeds actually begin with "I believe". It's only the English translation of them that the plural creeps in. Just because a hymn-text tends towards the singular doesn't make it strictly personal piety. The mere fact that a group of people would sing it together makes its effect plural. I think that's a beauty of corporate worship that is lost when the liturgical police come along and force everything into plural forms.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,500
    The introits of Ordinary time are often 1st person singular. God does save us personally, and our salvation is through the crucifixion.

    But does this mean that I, because of my sins, bear all the responsibility for the crucifixion?

    I'm not a big fan of overstatement, because I think that ultimately it weakens conviction. To say, "I'm the worst sinner in the world," which is not literally but emotionally the effect of this hymn, esp. verse 2, is to say something that is not quite true. I would have a hard time believing in my heart of hearts that the guilt for the crucifixion rests entirely on me.

    If I sing something that I don't really believe, that seems to me to weaken faith rather than strengthening it.
  • But that's the trap of the corporate "we", like in the Creed. There is a "comfort zone" of being in a group of believers - we all believe this, whatever it is, and to whatever degree individually, but it's comfortable to just say "we". Again, it's the context of each situation. As I was typing, I did recall the the Lord's Prayer starts "Our Father". A blanket approach just doesn't cut it.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    Gotta ask St. Paul about that.
    1 Tim 1:15:" "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Of these I am the foremost."

    The Byzantine liturgy alludes to this word in a prayer recited before Holy Communion: "I believe, Lord, and profess that You are in truth the Christ, the Son of the living God, come to the world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest. I believe also that this is really Your Sacred Body and that this is really Your Precious Blood..."
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Chonak caught it before I did. I guess St. Paul was a lousy hymnographer, but what could one expect from the worst sinner in the world? :)

    "Just because a hymn-text tends towards the singular doesn't make it strictly personal piety."
    Razzing aside, the issue isn't that this is a first-person text. The issue is that it's a personal hymn in a liturgy that celebrates Christ's universal atonement. Verse 3 is appropriate to the day, but the others are really centered on Christ's death for the individual. Which is a perfectly valid focus, but it doesn't "jive" with the Good Friday liturgy. It's more appropriate in other devotions.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,176
    Agreed about "Ah, Holy Jesus" not being ideal for Good Friday. Some other time in Lent: maybe even Palm Sunday.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Palm Sunday I can see it working perfectly, EXCEPT I tend to see the liturgical aesthetic as requiring sparseness. In an ideal situation, after the Gospel I would have proper chants only. But the PBEH isn't written for ideal situations, so if I were to use a hymn at offertory on Palm Sunday, that'd be it!
  • Chonak, thanks for the verses to "In the bleak mid0winter.' From my recallection of studying with Dr. Erik Routley, (in his feared but always enlightening hymnology classes at Westminster Choir College), his point would be that the text "In the bleak mid-winter" is perhaps losely "implied" individualistic piety in that it is being told by a singular person which is, as you correctly state, supported by the last verse. I agree that a Tenebrae or Stations would perhaps be a better choice for the hymn, "Ah! Holy Jesus" rather than a Mass just as in some Anglican churches, "In the bleak mid-winter" would perhaps be better at a Christmas Lessons and Carols Service.
  • I use Holst or Darke's setting for preservice music on Christmas Eve with strings.

  • marajoymarajoy
    Posts: 781
    several people mention Ah Holy Jesus as not being perfectly appropriate for the Liturgy on Good Friday, but suggest it might be better for other devotions...It would still stay in the PBEH even if only to be used at other devotions, right? (I'm a huge fan of it staying in, as well as I do think it is fine for Good Friday...)
  • I 'm with Marajoy- I just can't understand why this hymn would not be appropriate for Good Friday. Guess I'm too Anglican.

  • I'm an Anglican, and I do not think this hymn is at all appropriate to the Good Friday Liturgy. The whole tone of this pietistic text is incompatible with it.

    Is there, in fact, a place in the Roman Good Friday Liturgy for a hymn other than Pange lingua gloriosi proelium certaminis, which is part of the rite itself?

    Perhaps a hymn could be sung during the ablutions. In such case Vexilla Regis prodeunt, which used to be sung during the transfer of the sacrament, would be appropriate.
  • OK, I'm throwing in the towel on this one. Obviously, Marajoy and I are not well-versed enough in Theology. My Roman Catholic Choir does sing Vexilla regis on Good Friday. I will sing 'Ah Holy Jesus' at home by myself and ponder on the crucifixion of our Lord.

  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,951
    Well, I might sing "Ah Holy Jesus" if it were in our wretched hymnal. Unfortunately, the publisher didn't include it. However, I do have some organ variations on it that I play each year. So sue me, all you theologians. I am a Catholic church musician so I am rolling in money. LOL.
  • Go Charles! LOL Yeah, unless I illegally copied it from an Anglican Hymnal, I can't sing it at my workplace either.