First Things has a interesting post Looking for Mary in Christmas Carols By Michael Linton where he references just how few Christmas carols actually reference Mary.
It is hard to imagine a Christmas Crèche without Mary, but I guess most carols written since the Protestant reformation have done so.
Though this is not just a Protestant divide and something that effects just carols. Think of all the modern hymns that have unfortunately become standards in so many Catholic churches. I can think of only one one: Hail Mary: Gentle Woman. While the lyrics are okay I find the melody to be rather droning and when compared to some of the magnificent hymns for Mary, it is severely lacking. Funny with all the talk about inclusive language in the liturgy there has been no outcry against the lack of Marian hymns at most modern Masses.
Someone should say that “the child that you delivered will soon deliver you” from “Mary, Did you Know?” is heresy.
Funny with all the talk about inclusive language in the liturgy there has been no outcry against the lack of Marian hymns at most modern Masses.
Silly Jeff! Of course there has been no outcry. The hymns at Mass are supposed to be about us and how great we are!
“Look at us, God! We’re building your kingdom here on Earth! You better take notice of how well we are doing! We’re feeding the poor and helping the homeless!”
And if a hymn does happen to be about God, it must be in the first person voice. Everybody knows that!
Silly Jeff! Just ask any liturgist and you’ll learn that Marian hymns should not be sung at mass at all. The mass is about Jesus — Mary doesn’t belong!
“The Mass is about Jesus.” Wait—I thought that was the argument for including Mary!
(Sorry, Charles, I couldn’t resist the straight line. :-))
If we write songs about Mary some of the non-Catholics attending mass and receiving Holy Communion might think we are worshiping her. We instead have to pretend that we are worshiping ourselves#)
Things like inclusiveness are about classes of people like women. They’re not about individuals, let alone a specific woman.
Silly Jeff,Trix are for… oh crap, let me start again…
Silly Jeff, don’t you know it would be condescending to include a song at mass honoring submissiveness in a woman (or a man or a pet or anything else for that matter) but especially in a woman? How medieval of you. I suppose next, you’ll want them wearing veils again.
Ah, there is a perfect GKC quote for this:
If the world wanted what is called a non-controversial aspect of Christianity, it would probably select Christmas. Yet it is obviously bound up with what is supposed to be a controversial aspect (I could never at any stage of my opinions imagine why); the respect paid to the Blessed Virgin. When I was a boy a more Puritan generation objected to a statue upon a parish church representing the Virgin and Child. After much controversy, they compromised by taking away the Child. One would think that this was even more corrupted with Mariolatry, unless the mother was counted less dangerous when deprived of a sort of weapon. But the practical difficulty is also a parable. You cannot chip away the statue of a mother from all round that of a new-born child. You cannot suspend the new-born child in mid-air; indeed you cannot really have a statue of a new-born child at all. Similarly, you cannot suspend the idea of a new-born child in the void or think of him without thinking of his mother. You cannot visit the child without visiting the mother; you cannot in common human life approach the child except through the mother. If we are to think of Christ in this aspect at all, the other idea follows as it is followed in history. We must either leave Christ out of Christmas, or Christmas out of Christ, or we must admit, if only as we admit it in an old picture, that those holy heads are too near together for the haloes not to mingle and cross.
[GKC, The Everlasting Man CW2:303]
Note: if you are anxious to have something inspiring to read these last days of Advent, please read this chapter – “The God in the Cave” from GKC’s book. Christmas will never be the same for you – it will only get better and better.
You’re right there are not many modern hymns for Mary. There is John Michael Talbot’s “Holy is His Name,” and, though written in the 30’s, “Sing of Mary, Pure and Lowly.”
Our family is involved in planning and singing liturgical music, so I thought I’d add my two cents on some things we consider when planning music for Mass.
Marian hymns have a proper place in the Mass but
are most appropriate on her feast days and other special moments like during Advent or when the reading introduces her (i.e. The Wedding of Cana). To sing of her then draws us to the mystery being celebrated and praises
God for her role in His salvific action. At other times it would be less appropriate, or not appopriate, to sing a marian hymn since each hymn during Mass has its own purpose. We’ve been to one parish where the congregation had a great love and devotion to Mary and they sang “Immaculate Mary” at every Mass. Their love for Mary was most adorable but overshadowed, imho, the other mysteries that were proper to each Mass. For example, they never sang of the Holy Spirit.
To get back to the original question–I have a CD of Christmas “spirituals,” which includes “Mary Had a Baby,” “Sister Mary Had-A But One Child,” and “Mary Was the Queen of Galilee.” Another CD of Byzantine hymns has “Rejoice O Virgin Theotokos (by Rachmaninov),” “O Pure Virgin,” and “Today the Virgin” by John Tavener.
Well, compose some Marian hymns or hymns with Marian aspects woven in. It’s hard to do well. However, songs that sound like rejected Broadways musicals are easy. I could turn out 500 a day if I didn’t hate them so much. 🙂
I recommend any parish order the St. Michael Hymnal (or equivalent) and toss the OCP Music Issues. A lot of the classics have Marian themes. Getting better hymnals is 60% of the battle. The other 40% is volunteering as choir director/leader so you can force people to learn the classics.
On the St. Michael Hymnal, get the Choral Edition for the Choir and the regular edition for the pews.
One notes the utilitarianism in Mary’s (the hymn-planner)’s post.
And, of course, for the Roman Rite (Ancient) “hymns” are only used after the end of Mass, or during non-Mass liturgical services (Hours, Benediction.) The PROPERS of the Mass are what SHOULD be sung at the entrance, Offertory, Communion…
I mention that b/c the Roman Rite (Pauline) should be the same–one can cite the Liturgy Doc of Vat.II–
But the INTERPRETATION of that document has been erroneous from the git-go.
One song I hear at this time of year is “Mary Did You Know?” or sonething like that, basically asking Our Lady if she had any idea Who she was carrying.
Of course she did! I want to shout.
I don’t like “Gentle Woman,” but I do like “Sing of Mary.”
And of course I love “Hail Holy Queen” and “Immaculate Mary.” If only we would sing those more often. My boyhood parish sang them all the time. Sigh.
Earlier this week, on a Christian radio station, I heard a reworked version of “What Child Is This?” that had removed all references to Mary. I wish I could remember the tortured lyrics that were substituted, but the trauma has blanked it from my mind.
“Mary, Did You Know?” is still the dumbest thing I’ve heard, though. Did the writer think that Mary wasn’t paying attention to what the angel told her at the Annunciation?
Did Mr. Jeff suddenly acquire a new name when we weren’t looking? (‘Silly Jeff’ and whatnot) 😀
Add me to those who think ‘Mary, Did you know’ is rather dumb. I mean, where was her mind wandering for all those nine months? You’d think her, of all people would know! She’s the mother, for pie’s sake…
Let’s be nice about “Mary, Did You Know”. It’s at least in the right ballpark — ie, thinking that there is a connection between Mary and Jesus, and that the theological implications are pretty awesome! The song is the first time a lot of Protestants have ever been exposed to this stuff!
There’s a lot of modern versions of the Magnificat. There are also some VERY cool modern songs about Mary. The one we do in choir fairly often is a song from the eighties or nineties.
The verse is very sweet: “You are our strength, most lovely rose, You are our mother, most holy Queen”, etc. Then you swing into the chorus:
Queeeeeeen of the Universe,
Triumph, triumph and reign!
Queeeeeen of the Universe,
Triumph, triumph and re-eign,
Triumph and reign!”
You all _must_ get your music directors to do this one. It needs to be in hymnals! Everybody loves it!
Re: rabbit and Trix
Actually, Our Host is “Seelie Jeff”, ie, blessed Jeff. We’re anticipating his beatification a bit, that’s all. 🙂
Re: Marian carols
Now that I’ve read that article, I’m rather nonplused. Our Gentle Author totally ignores the entire tradition of German carols about Mary and the Child, as well as Joseph, Mary, and the Child. He also ignores Italian carols, Polish carols, etc, etc., etc. Not to mention a ton of English folk carols. (I Saw Three Ships only mentions Mary like a zillion times, especially if you get into some of the lesser known and folkier verses, which detail stuff like Mary’s outfit and cruise snacks.)
Now, his point is well taken about the Big Important Carols in Use in America. But why would that be? Because most of the Big Important Carols with Marian content have not been performed or recorded in the US, because of their oh-so-controversial Marian content.
Also, he doesn’t seem to count any of the forty zillion Annunciation carols, except “Gabriel’s Message”. No Holy Innocents/Flight to Egypt carols. No Visitation carols. No Mary as Second Eve carols. No Eve and Adam saying nice stuff about Mary carols. In short, he’s not even looking aat the vaster part of the Christmas carol genre throughout history and the world, so as to make his point.
I suppose the fact that one _can_ argue Mary has no carols is a good point in itself about how obscured she’s become, but… it’s not good research. No. Not at all.
Oh, I’ve pretty much gotten over “Mary Did You Know?” since the one of the possible answers to the musical questions (the correct answer, of course) is “Yes, she did know.” Nothing wrong with asking questions if it makes you think and meditate deeper, as long as you come up with the right answer. I’d have a bigger problem if the lyric said something like, “Mary, you just had no clue, did you?”
Another modern “Marian” song I’ve heard around Christmas is Amy Grant’s “Breath of Heaven.” It is a strikingly beautiful song, and much in the same vein of “Mary Did You Know?”
“Holy is His Name” is my favorite Marian hymn. And I do know at least one parish in which the Hail Mary is said during Mass, after the Prayer of the Faithful. A perfect place to insert it, despite all the screaming my admission has probably just caused.
It is true that Christmas carols rarely, if ever, mention Mary. I can’t think of one, off the top of my head.
Just found this lovely one…not totally “Marian” but still mentions her…
Gentle Mary laid her Child lowly in a manger;
There He lay, the undefiled, to the world a Stranger:
Such a Babe in such a place, can He be the Savior?
Ask the saved of all the race who have found His favor.
Angels sang about His birth; wise men sought and found Him;
Heaven’s star shone brightly forth, glory all around Him:
Shepherds saw the wondrous sight, heard the angels singing;
All the plains were lit that night, all the hills were ringing.
Gentle Mary laid her Child lowly in a manger;
He is still the undefiled, but no more a stranger:
Son of God, of humble birth, beautiful the story;
Praise His Name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!
And let’s not forget
Mary nodded, pa rum pa pum pum!
There’s a lot of Advent-Christmas-Mary songs up on http://www.topcatholicsongs.com –which has direct links to the songs in iTunes. One of my Marian favorites is “And On That Day” by Phil Keaggy, and “Cry of A Tiny Babe” by Bruce Cockburn.
::hmmm, maybe the reapearance of the EF will bring back some Marian hymns::
Marian references in famous carols
“Silent Night” – “Round yon virgin, mother and child,
“What Child Is This” – “The babe, the son of Mary”
“Mary’s Boy Child, Jesus Christ” – doesn’t get more explicit than that
“God Rest You Merry Gentleman” – “the which his mother Mary did nothing take in scorn”
“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” – “offspring of the virgin’s womb”
Holly and the Ivy – ” The holly bears a blossom as white as lily flower/ And Mary bore sweet Jesus Christ to be our sweet savior “
The Little Drummer Boy – “Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum”
I Wonder as I Wander – “When Mary birthed Jesus ’twas in a cow’s stall”
These are not especially mostly sung by Catholics.
But furthermore, carols have a lot of focus. Ones with the wise men, tend not to focus on shepherds, for instance. They usually take a detail of the nativity and zone in on it.
I like “The Angel Gabriel” – despite the title, you don’t get much more Mary-centric than that one, and I’ve heard it several times over the past few years, including at our Newman Center where good music is usually kept out with a firm hand. It’s not really a sing-along, though.
You can hear the song The Angel Gabriel referred to in the article on my website, I posted an mp3. It is beautifully sung by by a group called “Catholic Brass”. http://catholicipod.stblogs.com/2007/12/18/catholic-brass-advent-music-mp3-tracks-from-cd/
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