For those who think the ideological struggle between Catholic music contemporary and traditional is new to the Judeo-Christian experience, think again. If the Psalter is seen as the Temple hymnal for serious Jews, then the Song of Songs must surely be the Twenty-five Greatest Pop Hits For Your Wedding songbook every decent cantor winced, gagged, and pouted about when the engaged couple pulled out a scroll of their wedding suggestions. Song of Songs doesn’t even mention “God.” Anywhere in the book. No doubt, many good religious people were offended by it.
The Catholic Lectionary offers one choice from the Song of Songs for weddings. This passage includes a melding of fragments from what James Fischer calls a “springtime song of love” in the Collegeville Bible Commentary. The shepherd boy pursues (one might even say stalks) the young girl like a frantic animal:
Hark! my lover–here he comes
springing across the mountains,
leaping across the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Here he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
peering through the lattices.
My lover speaks; he says to me,
“Arise, my beloved, my dove, my beautiful one, and come!
“O my dove in the clefts of the rock,
in the secret recesses of the cliff,
Let me see you,
let me hear your voice,
For your voice is sweet,
and you are lovely.”
My lover belongs to me and I to him.
The widest separation in the Lectionary follows. The gazelle leaps six chapters and delivers to his bride a serious charge, setting aside the playful infatuation:
He says to me:
“Set me as a seal on your heart,
as a seal on your arm;
For stern as death is love,
relentless as the nether world is devotion;
its flames are a blazing fire.
Deep waters cannot quench love,
nor floods sweep it away.
Not many couples choose this option for weddings. But some swallow a snicker at the outdated love imagery just to get to the final commitment of married love. It is good that an engaged couple be playful. And if that sense of attraction and play is tempered with the awareness that true love is a difficult path, I wouldn’t be too worried. In fact, I’d recommend this passage if any couple asked me.