Some thoughts on office hymns
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    Now that I've translated over a third of the Liber Hymnarius, I have some thoughts about the hymns that I thought I would share.

    1. Mutual influence. St. Thomas Aquinas famously wrote the office hymns for Corpus Christi. Two of these quote the incipit of older outstanding hymns, Fortunatus' Pange lingua gloriosi, and the Advent hymn Verbum supernum prodiens, of unknown authorship. I take it that in adopting these hymns' first words as his own, St. Thomas was offering a kind of homage to these great hymns of former times, in continuity with the Tradition. St. Thomas spent his schoolboy days with the monks of Monte Cassino, and would have learned the hymns from the Benedictines there.

    2. Eschatology. Many of the hymns have a structure that we might associate with the collects. Verse 1 recalls God's mighty deeds, verse 2 asks for help in acquiring the virtues, and verse 3 casts forward to why the virtues are needed. Often the reason they are needed has to do with the coming judgment of Christ.

    3. Scripture. The hymns at their best quote the Bible in both obvious and subtle ways. One of the reasons I wanted to engage in a large-scale translation project was to dive deeply into the Tradition, and especially to translate the 5th-6th c. daytime hymns. One of the beautiful things I found there is a repeated reference to the actions of the apostles at the Church's beginnings. As St. Peter went to pray at this hour, the hymn sings, so we go to pray now. There are many, many other examples of the use of Scripture in the office hymns.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    For those who are interested in beginning to study the hymns, this website is very helpful.
    https://www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,178
    One of the best books for studying the Office Hymns is Connelly, mainly as he had the privilege to build on the work of others. Which brings me to Britt's masterpiece, the second best book on Hymns.

    Of course all serious researchers of the Hymns should be familiar with this, The Analecta Hymnica The link takes you to a list of the 55 volumes of this work. N.B. The DiVu links are now broken but you can search for the vol. in the https://archive.org/index.php

    These two blogs are of interest,
    https://tosingistopraytwice.wordpress.com
    http://kpshaw.blogspot.com
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,393
    Aquinas Covers Fortunatus.
    Thanked by 2Kathy Jeffrey Quick
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,178
    @Liam perhaps it is best to draw a veil over the history of the metre before Fortunatus...
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,393
    Ah, Roman Squaddies.

    Next lesson: Roman maledictions.
    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    Aquinas Covers Fortunatus


    Aquinas Samples Fortunatus
    Thanked by 1Liam
  • One of the best books for studying the Office Hymns is Connelly, mainly as he had the privilege to build on the work of others.


    And yet nobody seems to know anything about Fr Joseph Connelly; where he worked, when he died, when he was ordained, etc
  • CatherineS
    Posts: 652
    I love the Office hymns and your observations are lovely. Thanks for sharing.
    Thanked by 1Kathy
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,749
    It's pretty clear that Fr Joseph Connelly was on the faculty of St. Mary's Seminary (now St. Mary's College) - Dean and Professor of Plainchant - New Oscott, Birmingham, England. This is reflected in the Imprimatur & Foreward of his "Hymns of the Roman Liturgy" by the Archbishop of Birmingham. He also had an extensive correspondence with the Catholic composer Dorothy Howell.

    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,778
    I managed to gather a few mentions of Fr Joseph Connelly from Google: -
    Fr. Joseph Connelly, Dean of Music and Professor of Plainchant at St. Mary’s Seminary, New Oscott, Birmingham from 1934- 1956.

    ‘Fr. Connelly was an ardent reformer, advocating the “Solesme”. That accounts for the nickname that was given him soon after his arrival, “Spot”, on account of the many spots over the notes in that edition. He retained the nickname all during his time at Oscott.’ Obituary for Rev. Connelly, The 1979 Archdiocese of Birmingham Directory.+

    Sr. Scholastica, of Stanbrook Abbey, and Dr. Judith Champ, of St. Mary’s College, Oscott, furnished me with details on the life Rev. Fr. Joseph Connelly and [Dorothy] Howell’s association with both aforementioned institutions. (from the paper referenced below)

    Dorothy Howell was the sister of Fr Clifford Howell, the picture is from a biographical note about her and her quite numerous liturgical works. https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiC1_C0l6TxAhXxlFwKHUnKD0MQFnoECBwQAA&url=https://etheses.bham.ac.uk/id/eprint/6296/1/Byrne15MA.pdf&usg=AOvVaw1Kw9Hx7AumsXm4TipknVXP
    798 x 776 - 143K
  • tomjaw
    Posts: 2,178
    @a_f_hawkins
    Brilliant, Now we need to find the date of death and will be a worthy addition to our list of deceased Catholic musicians.
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    St. Peter Damian is one of my favorites among the saint-hymnwriters. This morning's first reading got me thinking about this the 3rd verse of this one of his, for the Conversion of St. Paul.

    Let all the Church acclaim St. Paul,
    And sing the glories of his call.
    The Lord made an apostle be
    From one who was his enemy.

    The name of Christ set Paul afire,
    Enkindling him with great desire;
    And higher these same blazes reached
    When of the love of Christ he preached.

    His merits are forever praised,
    For to the heavens he was raised,
    And there, the all-mysterious word,
    That none dare speak, by Paul was heard.

    The Word, like seed sown in a field,
    Producing an abundant yield,
    Fills heav’nly barns whose stores of grain
    Are tilled and grown on earthly plains.

    The shining of the lamplight gleams,
    And drenches earth with heaven’s beams.
    The dark of error’s night is past;
    The reign of truth has come at last.

    To Christ all glory, and all praise
    To Father and the Spirit raise,
    Who for the nations’ saving call
    Gave us the splendor of Saint Paul.

    Translation © 2008 Kathleen Pluth. 



    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=J-pHUiE5PdA
    Thanked by 1CHGiffen
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,749
    Hawkins, the paper you cited ("The Life and Works of Dorothy Howell" by Vincent James Byrne) is exactly the one I consulted for my remarks. That paper is itself is well worth reading, as it sheds much light on Howell and her work.

    Thanked by 1tomjaw
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,412
    I am proofreading Kathy’s translations and I have a few thoughts about Office Hymns.

    0. Kathy is an incredible translator. When this project is finished it will be one of the most important contributions to the English speaking church in recent memory.

    1. The hymns spend way too much time talking about Mary’s corporal virginity. That said, the language and imagery used here is evocative, almost shockingly explicit; and I wonder what effect general familiarity with these texts would have on modern sexual ethics. It’s easy to say that the focus on virginity and purity is regressive and anti feminist, and I think there is something to that claim. But also I wonder if people (both men and women) would have more respect and awe for women’s bodies if they had grown up hearing/singing texts that talk about it the way these hymns do.

    2. The theology of the hymns is a bit all over the place. There is nothing I would call “contradictory”, but still They are not a catechism of careful and explicit doctrinal statements, but inspired poetry written by many people with different perspectives over many centuries. Again, I wonder how people would think about Catholic theology if this rich body of poetic texts were more familiar.

    3. The Office sanctifies time. Typically, we think about this more or less relating to its schedule more than its content. But the hymnody makes explicit and poetically beautiful the way that God’s Grace is with us through all the “changes of the light”.

    4. As I read them, I keep thinking, over and over: how would we be, as a people, if we were formed by these hymns from childhood? Spiritually, yes. But also morally. And also aesthetically. Linguistically. What if we had access to this rich treasure trove of images, puns, turns of phrase, poetic meters?

    Kathy is doing a great service to the Church and to the English language with this project. I’m thrilled to be able to help in a tiny way. I’m really looking forward to the completion of this.

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    Thank you Adam! And thanks for your help with the manuscript.

    I think the most recent historical answer to your fourth question is: The Oxford Movement.
    Thanked by 2CHGiffen Adam Wood
  • PLTT
    Posts: 121
    Are your translations available somewhere?
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    Here and there, especially on Chant Cafe and here.

    Several are in the Lumen Christi Hymnal.

    A hymn for Lent should be on One License, Today Is the Accepted Time (Nunc Tempus Acceptabile). It's in WLP's One in Faith hymnal.

    Magnificat includes several most months. Several are in a recent Christmas book of theirs on the Blessed Mother.

    The above hymn for the Conversion of St. Paul, Excelsam Pauli Gloriam, has been requested a lot, and was in the program for Papal Vespers for a couple of years.

    I get a lot of requests from Religious, and from Anglicans. An Anglican homily or two has quoted a translation.

    This book has my translation of an Ambrosian hymn on St. Agnes. image

    Etc.

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    I want to thank Adam in particular, but also others such as Charles Giffen and Alan Hommerding, for taking notice of these translations over the past years when I've been working on them.

    It has been an interesting problem, finding the right home for them. The theology of the office hymns, as Adam notes above, is not at all mainstream. They can be very strong medicine. It might be hard for folks committed to the post-Vatican II changes in the Liturgy to embrace them because of the flavor of their theology.

    At the same time they don't exactly fit into reform of the reform efforts, simply because they are hymns. Since the Council, such an emphasis has been placed on hymnody in the Mass that the reform of the reform tends to work against hymns. In a sense championing the propers sometimes has meant discounting the hymns.

    In my view, the office hymns are an important piece of the overall puzzle, and so far I'm very pleased with the way they're turning out. They've been a huge gift to me.
  • CHGiffenCHGiffen
    Posts: 4,749
    In my view, the office hymns are an important piece of the overall puzzle, and so far I'm very pleased with the way they're turning out. They've been a huge gift to me.
    Well expressed, Kathy. And your monumental translation effort has been a gift to all of us.

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,368
    Adam, in reply to your first point I would say 2 things.

    That impression might be based on the ordering of the liturgical year. The subject of the Blessed Mother's perpetual virginity, while hugely important in the early Christian centuries, is treated in the hymns primarily in Advent and Christmas, the first seasons of the year. So in a read-through as you're doing, they're encountered in a bundle.

    Secondly, a lot of times apparent focus on the Blessed Virgin is actually Christological. I think that's true in this case.
    Thanked by 2Adam Wood CHGiffen
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,412
    Yes, both of those seem very true.