Mortis portis fractis fortis

Harrowing of hell

The Harrowing of Hell, from a fourteenth century manuscript – wikimedia commons

I was looking for Easter Carols and came across this gem from an old Latin hymn by Peter the Venerable from the 12th century.

Lo, the gates of death are broken,
And the strong man armed is spoiled;
Of his armor which he trusted,
By the Stronger Arm despoiled.
Vanquished is the prince of hell,
Smitten by the Cross he fell.

Then the purest light resplendent
Shone those seats of darkness through,
When, to save whom He created,
God willed to create anew.

That the sinner might not perish,
For him the Creator dies;
By whose death our dark lot changing,
Life again for us doth rise.

Satan groan’d, defeated then,
When the Victor ransom’d men;
Fatal was to him the strife,
Unto man the source of life;
Captured as he seized his prey,
He is slain as he would slay.

Thus the King all hell hath vanquish’d
Gloriously and mightily;
On the first day leaving Hades,
Victor He returns on high;

With Himself mankind upraising,
When He rose from out the grave,
Thus restoring what creating
In its origin He gave.

By the sufferings of his Maker,
To his perfect Paradise
The first dweller thus returneth;
Wherefore these glad songs arise.

Peter the Venerable
translated by Elizabeth R. Charles

from Great Hymns of the Middle Ages

To The Googles!

The Latin title is fantastic, Mortis portis fractis fortis.  Magdalene’s Egg has the latin text in an article titled A Diamond in the Rough. There Fr Anonymous gives two English translations, the one above and another from S.W. Duffield. Looking at Duffield’s book we find a reference to yet another hymn, this time by Bishop Reginald Heber. Duffield finds an echo in some lines of Heber’s hymn God has gone up with a merry noise.

How about I type up Heber’s Easter hymn here, as it seems worth perpetuating:

God is gone up with a merry noise
Of saints that sing on high,
With His own right hand and His holy arm
He hath won the victory!

Now empty are the courts of death,
And crush’d thy sting, despair;
And roses bloom in the desert tomb,
For Jesus hath been there!

And He hath tamed the strength of Hell,
And dragg’d him through the sky,
And captive behind His chariot wheel,
He hath bound captivity.

God is gone up with a merry noise
Of saints that sing on high;
With His own right hand and His holy arm
He hath won the victory!

I like those hymns where the final “y” rhymes with “high”, “aye”, “bye”. He hath won the victor-eye!

Duffield quotes Heber’s second verse as : “Now broken are the bars of Death,”

Duffield’s own translation is maybe the most literal:

The gates of death are broken through,
The strength of hell is tamed,
And by the holy cross anew
Its cruel king is shamed.
A clearer light has spread its ray
Across the land of gloom
When he who made the primal day
Restores it from the tomb.
For so the true Creator died
That sinners might not die.
And so he has been crucified
That we might rise on high.

For Satan then was beaten back
Where he, our Victor stood ;
And that to him was deathly black
Which was our vital good.
For Satan, capturing, is caught,
And as he strikes he dies.
Thus calmly and with mighty thought
The King defeats his lies,
Arising whence he had been brought.
At once, to seek the skies.

Thus God ascended, and returned
Again to visit man ;
For having made him first, he yearned
To carry out his plan.
To that lost realm our Saviour flew,
The earliest pioneer,
To people Paradise anew
And give our souls good cheer.

Hymnary has a translation by Alexander Ramsay Thompson Broken are the gates of death.  I’ll type it up here as no one else seems to have done so yet.

Broken are the gates of death!
To the Stronger yields the strong,
And his kingdom perisheth
At the cross, while all along
Death’s dark dungeon streams the light,
Driving out the abysmal night.

What at first He did create
Pure and holy, now to save,
And to make regenerate,–
Though it cost the cross and grave,–
Comes the Maker from on high,
Dying, that man may not die.

Wondrous death, which gives us life!
Hell against the Champion lone
Rushes madly to the strife,
Only to be overthrown,
What can ever equal this!
Life is ours, for death is His.

He who led a captive train,
Is himself a captive led;
And the slayer now is slain;
Death is left among the dead;
Strong and glorious comes the King
From the conflict, triumphing.

Risen with Him, in Him restored,
Is the falled, guilty race;
Sinful man and sinless Lord
Now are one; his rightful place,
By His Maker’s will, man takes,
And His joyful worship makes.

DIY Missal and Hymnal

Photo from the Campion MissalCorpus Christi watershed have unveiled plans for their new St Edmund Campion Missal and Hymnal for the Extraordinary form of the Mass.

It is a great idea – an all in one pew book with everything you need to join in all the parts of the Latin Mass that people are supposed to – singing the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei. Yes, you guys in the pews are supposed to be singing along. As well as that it has all the propers so people can follow all the parts that change from day to day – praying with understanding!

After all that the hymns section is like icing on the cake.

What a great idea! In fact, such a great idea that here’s one I prepared earlier. I call it Congregavit nos in unum, or the Draft Traditional Hymnbook. Okay, it’s not quite so swish, it has no colour pages, the kyriale is abridged (leaving out Masses 3,5,6,14,15), and instead of the entire propers it only has the epistle and gospel of each Sunday and Feast Day. But it’s cheaper and the source code is available so it can be customised to suit your local circumstances.

But with all that, the Campion Missal still comes out ahead. With the advantage of a large scale project you can have finer paper in a hard cover to last longer. They are also working to keep the price down to make it affordable for parishes to purchase in quantity.

But the Campion Missal is not ready yet. You can get a copy of my pale imitation Congregavit nos in unum via Lulu right now. Printed and shipped from a country near you (Australian orders are processed in Melbourne). As I write this it is still at cost price, I don’t get a cut yet until I’m sure it’s all fine and hopefully it will one day have an Imprimatur and be all finished and stuff. It’s still a useful book as is, and you can check this all out by downloading the pdf version from the sourceforge page.

How to make your own hymnbook

My latest preoccupation has been making a hymnbook. This is much more interesting than the last one, mostly owing to including copyright hymns this time.

I have dealt with copyright before. The Christus Rex Pilgrims’ Book included two copyright hymns. This new book is running at about 17 at the moment.

First step is to find out who wrote the hymn. Most hymnbooks give this information along with some dates. The hymnbook may also have an acknowledgement section that tells you who gives permission to print the hymn too. This is handy information to have.

Researching is much easier of late, thanks to Google.com. Searching for information can lead you to all sorts of sources, such as religious orders, literary agents, music publishers, directories of retired priests and even genealogical transcriptions of epitaphs.

But the internet alone is only the beginning. You may also need to write letters and make phone calls, even international phone calls. The literary agent A P Watt is very prompt in answering their telephone so if you are calling them choose Telstra’s 0011 option (billed per minute) rather than the 0018 option (billed per half hour).

Some copyright holders let you publish their works for free as long as you credit them properly. The religious orders seem to fall into this category. The literary agencies can be more pricey going by the prices given on the A P Watt website. There are agencies specialising in copyright permissions for Church groups but they seem to focus more on annual fees rather than fees for printing hymnbooks. Word of Life does have a rate for printing hymnbooks though.

It does take time, patience and persistance, but it can be done. Maybe I’m saying that a little early, but each little breakthrough gives hope.

Hymnbooks online!

Which is your favourite? The painstakingly correct Westminster Hymnal? The St Basil Hymnal? The Australian mainstay of parish choirs the St Pius X Hymnal?

They are all available online!

Firstly the national Library of Australia has the Pius X Hymnal in melody edition and accompaniment.

Next the Internet Archive has the Westminster Hymnal and the St Basil for viewing online or downloading.

There are also other great resources out there such as Fr Edward Caswell’s Lyra Catholica, another compendium of Fr. Faber’s hymns and the works of Cardinal Newman.

No longer need we wade through photocopies of yellowed manuscripts. Its all there in black and white ready to print at will! Its all out of copyright!

So, we have the words, we have the music. Now we need the choirs to breathe life into these treasures, publishers to make them available again.

There is one caveat. The music of James McAuley is still under copyright. I think the translations by Fr. Ronald Knox are also copyright, making the reproduction of the Living Parish Hymnbook more difficult. But we have heaps to work with already.