Hymn to St. Anne

The morning star is on the rise
And soon the dawn will fill the skies,
Foretelling of the coming Sun
Whose light will shine on everyone.

The Sun of justice, Christ, true Light,
And Mary, grace’s dawning bright,
And Anna, reddening the sky,
Have caused the night of Law to fly.

O mother Anna, fruitful root,
From you came your salvation’s shoot,
For you brought forth the flow’ring rod
That bore for us the Christ of God.

Christ’s mother’s mother, by the grace
Your daughter’s birth brought to our race,
And by her merits and her prayer
May we her favors come to share.

O Jesus, Virgin-born, to You
All glory is forever due.
To Father and the Spirit, praise
Be sung through everlasting days.

trans. c. 2009 Kathleen Pluth. This text may be used freely on July 25-26, 2019. All other rights reserved.

Latin original:

Nocti succedit lucifer,
Quem mox aurora sequitur,
Solis ortum praenuntians
Mundum lustrantis lumine

Christus sol est iustitiae,
Aurora Mater gratiae,
Quam, Anna, praeis rutilans
Legis propellens tenebras

Anna, radix uberrima,
Arbor tu salutifera
Virgam producens floridam
Quae Christum nobis attulit

O matris Christi genetrix
Tuque parens sanctissime
Natae favente merito
Nobis rogate veniam.

Iesu, tibi sit gloria,
Qui natus est de Virgine,
Cum patre et almo Spiritu,
In sempiterna saecula


Clericalism and preaching

Apparently there is one of those tired ole envelope-pushing debates going on about women and preaching.

Apparently some would like women to preach at Mass. And I can only wonder why.

It seems the height of clericalism to suggest that preaching at Mass, which is reserved to the ordained, is a role to be coveted by those who are not ordained.

What is at stake? Doesn’t a lay person have many opportunities for preaching in daily life? Evangelization is not reserved to Mass, is it?

But perhaps this is not about evangelization. Quite possibly it is political.  It is most likely about making incremental changes leading to the toppling of structures. In which case it’s an anti-clerical cleralism, ironically devaluing the real accomplishments of lay people in the name of iconoclasm.

Personally I find Mass refreshing because it’s one of the few hours of the day when I can’t preach. There is so much to do for the Church and the world that one could preach all day and never fulfill the task. I find it’s helpful and rejuvenating to take that little break of listening, so beautifully tied to the Eucharist, because faith comes through hearing.





I have gone round, and have offered up in his tabernacle a sacrifice of jubilation: I will sing, and recite a psalm to the Lord.

The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?


Church music and the divinity of the Lord

When Arius argued a heterodox opinion and spread it through hymns, St. Ephrem famously counterargued, writing sound teaching in hymns set to the same tunes.

When the see of Milan was threatened with destruction, St. Ambrose wrote hymns to encourage his flock.

How can liturgical music help the Church in our days, scourged as she is these days by fightings without and fears within?

  1. Follow the liturgical year using the Proper texts of the Mass. The antiphons themselves are very nourishing, filling the imagination with scriptural prayers, often intimate cries for help to God. They introduce Psalms, and sometimes highlight beautifully Christological senses of the Psalms. They dig deeply into the meaning of the great feasts and announce them, framing our understanding of the mysteries of God.
  2. Choose musical settings that help people to pray. If there is one thing missing in modern life, it is a sense of peace. The Church has vast libraries of music that fill the mind and soul with a feeling of spaciousness and rest, much as the soaring spaces of gothic cathedrals fill the imagination with room to dwell in. If our Christian anthropology is correct, if we are “fearfully, wonderfully made,” then the superficial pastimes where our minds ordinarily live cannot possibly satisfy our souls. God can, and music, particularly chant and polyphony, can build aural spaces where the faculties can wander, recollected, innocent, and at peace.
  3. Set the bar a little high, for the sake of teaching. Church architecture, furnishing, and music, at their best, are themselves a liberal arts education. This is immensely important in the spiritual life. It is pretty hard to fool someone whose mind has been freed to think. Some of our best hymns, through the use of beauty, metaphor and simile, and by their sheer literary fluency, help free the mind to  see and think through the difficult aspects of life–and to pray. Come, ye faithful, raise the strain of triumphant gladness. God has brought His Israel into joy from sadness, loosed from Pharoah’s bitter yoke Jacob’s sons and daughters, led them with unmoistened foot through the Red Sea waters. Singing texts like these with understanding, which takes some work to do, is an education. The Orthodox have a saying: “The best theologian in the Church is the little old lady in the third row.” God can teach, and those who sing for the Church can help.
  4. Sing worthy music with children. It almost goes without saying that children outgrow childish music. When they outgrow the music, won’t they be in danger of likewise outgrowing the faith? Given the number of young people who either outgrow their faith, becoming “nones,” or who turn to more formal expressions such as the Extraordinary Form, it seems worth looking at the option of teaching young people the best liturgical music–chant and polyphony, according to the Second Vatican Council–from their earliest years.
  5. Choose hymns that testify to Jesus’ Divine Sonship. Like the Arians of long ago, our greatest danger is losing our dependence on the Sacred Humanity, the divine Gift given in the Incarnation. The reason He is the way, the truth, and the life is this unique relationship between the human and divine natures of the Lord Jesus. Since He is our salvation, we should be singing about Him. An awful lot of songs do not, including a remarkable number of Communion hymns in common use. Since there is no other name, since He inspires and perfects our faith, we should be singing hymns that keep our eyes fixed on Him.

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A hymn for Trinity Sunday

This Sunday’s first reading in the Ordinary Form was recast into a hymn by the outstanding but troubled poet William Cowper.
Hymns that quote Scripture at length are rather difficult to write, which makes the fluency of this one all the more remarkable. Writing a hymn free-style, without predetermined content, is much easier, especially in a rhyme-poor language like English.
Like any art, hymn writing, apart from inspiration and prayer, is a series of problems to be solved. When working on a hymn from one’s own meditations and imagination, a rhyme problem that is not easily solved can simply be abandoned, and a new idea, with new potential rhymes, can be substituted. Like an organist moving forward through an improvisation, one can choose to take possible roads, rather than highly difficult ones. There are so many beautiful things that can be said about the faith, that good hymns are possible to write even if the initial trajectory has to be abandoned.
It is different in cases of lengthy quotes from Scripture, or translations from the Latin. One has to stay on the subject that is given rather than moving on to a new aspect of the divine plan. The American Anglican F. Bland Tucker, one of the editors of both the 1940 and 1982 Episcopal hymnals, was outstanding at paraphrase. He is well-known among Catholics for his Father, We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted, which paraphrases the anaphora recorded in the Didache. Perhaps even finer is his incorporation of the Hymn to the Philippians (Phil 2: 6:10) into his majestic All Praise to Thee, for Thou O King Divine.
Cowper (pronounced “Cooper”) was a parishioner of John Newton’s, and a top-drawer poet of both sacred and secular works. To help him through his serious psychological struggles and scruples, Newton engaged Cowper to write hymns, and the two collaborated on the celebrated Olney Hymns, which include Newton’s Amazing Grace and Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, as well as Cowper’s God Moves in a Mysterious Way and the following, which may be sung to the tune AURELIA (The Church’s One Foundation).
Wisdom by William Cowper
(Proverbs, viii. 22-31)

“Ere God had built the mountains,
Or raised the fruitful hills;
Before he fill’d the fountains
That feed the running rills;
In me from everlasting,
The wonderful I am,
Found pleasures never wasting,
And Wisdom is my name.

“When, like a tent to dwell in,
He spread the skies abroad,
And swathed about the swelling
Of Ocean’s mighty flood;
He wrought by weight and measure,
And I was with Him then:
Myself the Father’s pleasure,
And mine, the sons of men.”

Thus Wisdom’s words discover
Thy glory and Thy grace,
Thou everlasting lover
Of our unworthy race!
Thy gracious eye survey’d us
Ere stars were seen above;
In wisdom thou hast made us,
And died for us in love.

And couldst thou be delighted
With creatures such as we,
Who, when we saw Thee, slighted,
And nail’d Thee to a tree?
Unfathomable wonder,
And mystery divine!
The voice that speaks in thunder,
Says, “Sinner, I am thine!”