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:
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.