It’s holiday time. Mainstream religious (or spiritual) humanity can’t seem to get away from sweets, be it in the goodies we consume or the music we utilize (listening or singing). The Blessed Mother seems a particular target for treacle in lyrics. As I’ve sorted through Christmas files in my new parish, there are a number of octavos for both children and adults with lyrics that might make the literary sensibilities among us cringe. Does that make them bad?
I know that this tune gets a lot of Advent and Christmas churchplay. Does Theodore Baker’s translation rate well for you?
O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
As opposed to the Amy Grant. Chris Eaton effort for Mary, first person:
I am waiting in a silent prayer.
I am frightened by the load I bear.
In a world as cold as stone,
Must I walk this path alone?
These days, I’m disinclined to criticize too much. I know a lot of people who are well-attached to seasonal music. Christmas and its associated events churn up a good bit of emotion, and what’s wrong with that? Few enough of us are poets. My sense is that for more people, actions are more beautiful than words. But we still need words to sing.
Long-time readers here know I think a lot of music critics over-think their bashing. Like here:
While the song has the merits of prompting its hearers to reflect on Mary beholding her Divine Son, lines from the very first stanza actually bring Christmas to a screeching halt. Here are the problematic lyrics:
“Did you know that your Baby Boy has come to make you new? This Child that you delivered will soon deliver you.”
Now, those lines make sense if Mary is another sinner just like us, who needs to be delivered from sin.
“New” is a problem word or an affirmative adjective for some Catholics. Depending. Church, bad. Evangelization, good. The Stylistics, well … a different context, I suppose.
Even second-tier pop lyrics need to be understood in context. On the other hand, which event delivers, and for whom: the Immaculate Conception, the Annunciation, the Nativity, or the Passion? Is the King of the Universe bound by human perspectives of time, which came first, and what caused what? Is clever wordplay by probably non-Catholic songwriters a trap for fence-sitting Catholics on the December 8th?
I’ve done all three of these songs, and I probably like my efforts better than most I’ve heard other people do. All three sets of lyrics are more or less of primary appeal to the heart. I struggle to smile when I play music, so I figure I need all the help I can get from the people who do love to sing them.
Anybody have a favorite Mary+Christmas or Advent song? Text-wise, the Magnificat is hard to top. But I’m mainly looking for guilty pleasures here: songs that make your intellect hold its nose, but your heart leaps inside when you sing or hear it.