Wednesday, March 25, 2009

"Lent Is Excised"

Charles Moore, editor of the British "Spectator," is one Anglican who pays attention to the words of the hymns in church, recognizing that they are expressions of prayer and praise to God:

At the beginning of Lent, the hymn ‘Forty days and forty nights’ is sung. Singing it this Sunday, I noticed that the words were different. In the original, the third and fourth stanzas go:

‘Shall not we thy sorrows share/ And from earthly joys abstain,/ Fasting with unceasing prayer/ Glad with thee to suffer pain?

And if Satan, vexing sore, / Flesh or spirit should assail,/ Thou his vanquisher before,/ Grant we may not faint nor fail.’

The Celebration Hymnal in front of me said:

‘Let us thy endurance share/ And from earthly greed abstain/ With thee watching unto prayer,/With thee strong to suffer pain.

Then if evil on us press/ Flesh or spirit to assail,/Victor in the wilderness,/ Help us not to swerve or fail!’

The changes are an almost perfect example of bowdlerising. Necessary antitheses vanish — ‘Sorrows’ are the opposite of ‘joys’ but ‘endurance’ is not the opposite of ‘greed’ . You are ‘glad’ to suffer pain because that is the opposite of what is normally expected: being ‘strong’ to suffer pain is what one would generally hope to be. ‘Flesh’, being weak, ‘faints’: why would it ‘swerve’? Fasting is removed, as are Satan and the temptation he offers. In short, Lent is excised.

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