PBEH Discussion: At the Lamb's High Feast
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,486
    At the National Shrine an April or two ago, the Holy Father and all the American bishops sang the Vespers hymn, At the Lamb's High Feast. This is an admirable choice for several reasons, all important. Only a few relatively inconsequential points argue against it.


    It is a translation of Ad regias agni dapes, an Ambrosian Hymn--that is to say it was either written by St. Ambrose himself, or else good enough and venerable enough to be ascribed to him

    For centuries it has been the traditional Vespers hymn for the Easter season before Ascension.

    Considering the congregation it was exceedingly fitting that the hymn would include the lines "Praise we Him whose love divine/ gives His sacred Blood for wine/ gives His Body for the feast/ Christ the Victim; Christ the Priest." Priests are all called to be good shepherds, laying down their lives for their people. So it is fitting that the bishops (who have the fullness of the priestly sacrament of ordination) would recall the tie between the Eucharist and the offering of their lives.

    The hymn is an excellent translation of an ancient text. Providing excellent translations of ancient texts, I believe, is one of several steps which the bishops might well choose to take in their efforts to provide better liturgical music for their people. So it was fitting that they should enjoy singing together this particularly excellent example.

    The translator, Robert Campbell, was a convert to Roman Catholicism from the Episcopal Church of Scotland.

    The hymn itself, just as it comes to us in English from the page, is rich with sacramental and biblical imagery that is at the same time clearly expressed and intensely poetic. It's simply a worthwhile hymn, one of the very best. Having translated a few hymns into English, I admit that sometimes all that I want is to make a translation. Campbell did not stop there; he made a hymn!


    In the current confusion over Eucharistic theology, it generally seems best to me to avoid any hymn that refers to the Eucharist as "bread" and "wine," because these words can give the impression that the real change of consecration has not occurred. It should be a simple rule to follow: Do not use hymns in the Liturgy that weaken faith! In this case the effect of using these words is mitigated by the obvious sense that these gifts derive from the Crucified, and from "above." It's not just bread, it's "Paschal bread," in parallelism with the "Paschal victim." I've used this hymn in my parish, at Communion, several times during this Easter season. I think its goodness outweighs this misgiving. And yet the misgiving remains...

    The tune was written by one Lutheran, arranged by another. Of course, the arranger was Bach, and it is a wonderful composition. I've ordinarily been singing the alto line for this hymn this Easter, and it's a melody in itself. (That is not something that can usually be said about an alto line!)

    Both for and against:

    This text was among those altered by the Urbanite reforms of 1632. In fact this text was in fact so changed that even its title, formerly Ad cenam Agni providi, was lost. We live in interesting times, liturgically, in which the Holy Father has taken authoritative steps towards the restoration of the sacred in the liturgy. One of his most important moves, the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, authorized wider use of the Mass of 1962, even without the permission of the local bishop. The motu proprio is opposed by many bishops in the US and elsewhere. So the question arises: given the existence of this tension and the generally paracletic tone of the Apostolic Journey, is it a good idea to use a hymn that reminds bishops of a papal decision (the Urbanite reforms of the hymnary) that seems to many modern scholars to have been ill-advised and capricious? Or is this consideration too trivial--and far too obscure--to enter into the conversation?

    In my opinion the bulk of the argument falls in favor of the use of the hymn, because of its excellence in English, its ancient origins, and probably most importantly its use in the immediate centuries of the past as the Vespers hymn for Easter. Singing it is an exercise of--an act of faith in--the diachronic unity of the Church. The Church is one, throughout time, and the bishops of the Churches of the US sang with one voice, with the Pope, a song that has resounded (in some form) through most of the Church's centuries.

    A great hymn selection.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    "Ad regias agni dupes"

    small typo you might want to fix
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,486
  • I personally bewail the absence of capitalization in our modern texts. It used to be that references to the Godhead were always capitalized, even if only a pronoun. A simple solution to the occurrences of the elemental words would be to capitalize them - Bread and Wine. I would love to see this as a rule in this new hymnal engraving project.
  • Brilliant suggestion, Steve, as the word becomes The Word. I've noticed that even the USCCB occasionally forgets pronouns.
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I don't think it's confusing to use the words bread and wine, considering that, well, it is bread and wine at first, it still looks like bread and wine... Yes, Christ is truly present, and this should be emphasized, but it's not some kind of magical, physical transformation; it's a spiritual, metaphysical one. Even though it is Christ's blood we still call it a bloodless sacrifice.
  • like this? (Thanks Jonathan)

    much more to come
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,486
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,101
    Scripture tends to use the words "bread" and "cup" rather than "bread" and "wine".
  • G
    Posts: 1,396
    even the USCCB occasionally forgets pronouns.

    I don't think anyone "forgets," I think it is a conscious decision, at least I'm told it was in England, among the demonstrations that all use the same Lectionary.

    And I think it would be a excellent stipulation in the new hymnal's "style book" that pronouns referring to members of the Trinity, to the Church, etc are to be capitalized.

    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 9,101
    Please note that pronouns don't appear to be capitalized in the current Latin books: e.g., the 2002 Missale Romanum.
  • No. It was an English tradition, from the time of the popular use of proper English, before the advent of American slang being elevated to worship language. Neither did Latin use punctuation - but it would be impossible to figure much of our English texts without them!