Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gloria in Profundis

by G.K. Chesterton

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is spilt on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all-
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate-
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

* * *

I was going to blog on this poem, and then I found that the Blog of the American Chesterton Society had done it already. So I'll just say a few words about it, and then let you go over there and see what they have to say.

I think the key to this topsy-turvey poem is the second stanza. The problem is, the second stanza is mostly composed of questions, and we tend to read poetry wanting answers. I think the answer to these rhetorical questions is something along the lines of "Nobody good!" If God, who is highest, now makes Himself lowest, who would exalt themselves? Well, the third stanza answers, "The bad angels." And not just them, either--bad people, too. If God has shown us what it is to be highest--falling down lowest--than all of our attempts to climb to the heights are resulting in the worst kind of fall: a fall where we imagine ourselves to be on a lofty mountain, which turns out to be Hell. Reminds me of Paradise Lost.

I think my favorite line is, "He has strayed like a thief or a lover." Both thieves and lovers might sneak around, but for different purposes. God has gone where He does not "belong," but out of love.

Okay, now you can go over and read the ACS blog. There are some good comments; I wrote one. But I forgot one, which is my thought as to what first gave Chesterton the idea of wine spilt on sand: simply that the colors look good together. Remember the last patriot in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, who took an advertisement for mustard and put some blood on it, because red and yellow were the colors of his country? Chesterton always loved the heraldry inherent in that kind of combination. Just a thought -- though I could be wrong, and I must say I do usually frown on the mind-reading of poets by their critics.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Nuptial Blessing

Let us pray. -- O God, who by Thy mighty power hast made all things out of nothing: and who, having established the first beginnings of the world, didst in the woman provide for the man, made after the likeness of God, a helpmate to be so inseparably bound to him, that Thou didst give to her body its beginning from his body--thus teaching us, that it should never be lawful to sever that which it had pleased Thee to form out of one substance: O God, who by so excellent a mystery consecrated the union between man and wife, as in this nuptial bond to prefigure the sacred union of Christ with His Church; O God, by whom woman is joined to man, and this primal partnership is enriched with a blessing, such as alone of blessings was not withdrawn either in the punishment of sin, or in the sentence of the Deluge: do Thou graciously look down upon this Thy handmaid, who, about to be joined in wedlock, seeketh the guarantee of Thy protection.

May this be to her a yoke of love and peace! May she, faithful and chaste, be wedded in Christ, and ever be an imitator of the holy women! May she please her husband, as did Rachel; be prudent, as was Rebecca; long-lived and faithful, like Sara! Let not the author of evil usurp the least share in any of her actions! May she live on, knit closely to the Faith and to the Commandments! Bound to one husband, may she fly all illicit connections! May she protect her weakness by the vigor of discipline! May she be sedate in her behavior, respected for her modesty, versed in heavenly doctrine! May she be fruitful in offspring: be approved and innocent: and to attain to the heavenly realms and to the rest of the Blessed! And may both she and her husband see their children's children, even to the third and fourth generations, and attain a happy old age! Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

* * *

Is there anything to add to this? This is the blessing that will be said at our wedding. I could not ask for a blessing that begs God for more of what I already ask of Him.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Rorate Coeli

Rorate coeli desuper,
et nubes pluant justum.

Ne irascaris Domine,
ne ultra memineris iniquitatis.
Ecce civitas sancti facta est deserta,
Sion deserta facta est,
Jerusalem desolata est,
domus santificationis tuae
et gloriae tuae,
ubi laudaverunt te patres nostri.

et facti sumus tamquam immundus nos,
et cecidimus quasi folium universi:
et iniquitates nostrae quasi ventus abstulerunt nos:
abscondisti faciem tuam a nobis,
et allisisti nos in manu iniquitatis nostrae.

Vide Domine afflictionem populi tui,
et mitte quem missurus es:
emitte Agnum dominatorem terrae,
de Petra deserti ad montem filiae Sion:
ut auferat ipse iugum captivitatis nostrae.

Consolamini, consolamini,
popule meus,
cito veniet salus tua.
Quare maerore consumeris,
quia innovavit te dolor?
Salvabo te, noli timere,
ego enim sum Dominus Deus tuus,
sanctus Israel, redemptor tuus.

* * *

Drop down dew of heaven from above,
let the clouds rain down the just one.

Do not be angry, Lord,
nor remember further our iniquity.
Behold the holy city has become deserted,
Zion has become deserted,
Jerusalem is desolate,
the home of your sanctification
and your glory,
where our fathers praised you.

We have sinned,
and we have become as if unclean,
and we have fallen like all the leaves,
and our iniquities, like the wind, have borne us away;
you have hidden your face from us,
and have crushed us in the hand of our iniquity.

See, Lord, the affliction of your people,
and send the one who is to be sent:
send forth the Lamb, master of the earth,
from the deserted Rock to the mount of the daughters of Zion:
that he himself may remove the yoke of our captivity.

Be comforted, be comforted,
my people,
swiftly comes your salvation.
Why are you consumed by grief,
because sorrow has altered you?
I will save you, do not fear,
for I am the Lord your God,
holy Israel, your redeemer.

* * *

This is the chant we used to sing when I was in boarding school during the novena before Christmas. A recording of it can be found on YouTube here. I have to say that I think we sounded much better when we sang it. You have to understand how chant works to do it right.

The translation is my own, though I don't care who borrows it. To me, the important thing is that these things are done properly, as they almost never are. I even found a mistranslation in the Adoremus Hymnal the other day!

I have never found anything that puts into words the longing of Advent better than this chant. During this time, we do not just wait for Christmas for ourselves. No, we unite ourselves with the longing of the generations. From the promise Adam and Eve received, that the serpent would be crushed by the seed of the woman, until Christ was finally born, all creation labored in darkness, bound in their sin. There was no solution to their guilt, for no one could take their sins from them. The Law, when it came, was too weighty for them to fulfill, yet there was no other way by which they could keep from wrongdoing. Imagine what your life would be with no confession. That one sin you did years ago, or that little pesky one you can't kick the habit of, would be on your conscience for the rest of your life.

The people crying out in this prophecy understand this. They feel the weight of their sin keenly on their shoulders. They know there is only one who can save them, and this is the very one who, by rights, should be unforgivably angry with them. Yet, though afraid, they are not too afraid to run to him for help. It is like the line in Prince Caspian (which I was reading today):


"And now, where is this little Dwarf, this famous swordsman and archer, who doesn't believe in lions? Come here, Son of Earth, come HERE!" and the last word was no longer the hint of a roar but almost the real thing.

"Wraiths and wreckage," gasped Trumpkin the ghost of a voice. The children, who knew Aslan well enough to see that he liked the Dwarf very much, were not disturbed; but it was quite another thing for Trumpkin who had never seen a lion before, let alone this Lion. He did the only sensible thing he could have done; that is, instead of bolting, he tottered towards Aslan.


No matter how afraid they were, not knowing that God liked them very much, knew enough to totter toward Him. Knowing what we do, we must never fail to do the same, especially now during Advent. Perhaps we have been living, at least in some little way, as the pagans who do not know God. But now that it is Advent, we must act as the Israelites did: wait for the Lord with courage; be stoutheared and wait for the Lord. He comes with power to save us, power that no sin can stand up against. That is what Christmas is for -- for us to "buy into" His original coming, every year, because we fall away a little every year, and must bring ourselves back.