Mary/Christmas Mash-Ups

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.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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7 Responses to Mary/Christmas Mash-Ups

  1. Liam says:

    “These days, I’m disinclined to criticize too much.”

    Just remember that you, like many of us, are can parse quite emphatically when it suits you, too. “For all” vs “for many”, just by way of example? You might say that one’s merely a song, the other the core of a required prayer, but the counter to that is that a song can have more liminal power (Aristotle dissected that back in the day) than recited “boilerplate” text….

    Now, to answer your question, I have too many Advent and Mary+Christmas non-Magniicat favorites. But this is an opportunity to shed light on an undeservedly obscure one, which Ted Marier set to a haunting French tune,“Je Sais Vierge Marie”. (example:

    Thou art the Star of Morning in God’s broad sky,
    Thou art his tower of ivory, raised up on high.
    Hail, Heaven’s Queen!
    O lux caelestia!
    Thou giver of all gladness,
    O plena gratia!

    Thou art the Maid and Mother, long foretold,
    In thee all beauty dwelleth,
    O House of Gold!
    Hail, Heaven’s Queen!
    O lux caelestia!
    Thou giver of all gladness,
    O plena gratia!

    Thou art the shining mirror of God’s fair love,
    The mighty Help of Christians enthroned above.
    Hail, Heaven’s Queen!
    O lux caelestia!
    Thou giver of all gladness,
    O plena gratia!

    All shall rise to bless thee the ages long.
    And angel choirs surround thee with praise and song.
    Hail, Heaven’s Queen!
    O lux caelestia!
    Thou giver of all gladness,
    O plena gratia!
    Share this Post.

    Here’s the original French carol melody:

    • Todd says:

      Nice tune and text. I like the YouTube link.

      I suppose my foray into many/all is more a response to the criticism of “for all,” and the suggestion that somehow universalism is a greater danger than a mash-up of neocalvinism and pelagianism. Plus that horrific idea floated during the last papacy (by the fanboys and girls, less the pope himself) of SCGS.

      • Liam says:

        Understood. But that means you are no less inclined to criticize much when you feel it’s appropriate as other folks who criticize when we/they feel appropriate. (Please, you’re better than a certain composer-writer who shall not be named who is quite high and mighty in his cherry-picking but completely avoids owning it. Defenders of the conciliar reforms should avoid that, tempting as it is. When it’s mirroring and owned, I can see it as a potentially fruitful tactic, but it needs to be owned, as it were.)

      • Liam says:

        PS: That French tune invites a small woodwind & harp/lute/mandoline ensemble…

  2. Melody says:

    “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” is one of my all time favorites. And I like the medieval carol, ” There Is No Rose of Swych Vertu” . However didn’t have any luck trying to talk the choir group I belong to into singing it. I did play it on the organ a couple of years ago for a prelude on Dec. 8. I really like the Anonymous Four’s version. While not specifically Advent or Christmas, I like “Mary’s Song” by Millie Rieth, it is a good Magnificat version. I’m pretty “meh” about the ones like Mary Did You Know, and Amy Grant’s that you cited above. But to each his own; we can all put up with one another’s favorites, ’tis the season, and all that.

  3. Rusty Walker says:

    Thanks for your post. I, too like “Mary’s Song” by Millie Rieth, but I have not been able to find any biographical information about her? Any ideas?

    • Todd says:

      The nine women I had for Mass tonight requested we bring it out again. Millie is a woman religious, pretty sure. Probably a parish musician. That piece has been in the music issue for decades.

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