Peccavimus: We have sinned

Piero della Francesca, The Penance of St. Jerome (c. 1450)

The Penance of St. Jerome (c. 1450), by Piero della Francesca. (WikiPaintings.org)

Today I discovered a new composer, and was immediately inspired to share him with my friends, and one thing led to another, and before I knew it, I’d translated the text of this overpoweringly beautiful and stirring motet. I thought it was worth sharing with you all.

I don’t know how many of you worldwide have access to Spotify; but I certainly hope many of you are able to hear this. Even if you can’t, I hope you enjoy the text. I highly recommend Spotify. With it I am able to explore and discover so much music, listen to whole records, all on a grad student’s budget.

This is from the CD TYE: Missa Euge Bone / MUNDY: Magnificat, from Naxos’s Early Music collection, performed by the Oxford Camerata under Jeremy Summerly (one of my favorite ensembles). This is the motet “Peccavimus cum patribus.”



[spotify id=”spotify:track:0vv7TNroSfVmRevxJdZT6A” width=”300″ height=”380″ /]

Christopher Tye (c. 1505 – c. 1572) was an English composer and organist, who lived right in the thick of the English Reformation. He served as Doctor of Music at both Cambridge and Oxford, and as choirmaster and organist of Ely Cathedral. He apparently had Protestant leanings, but served faithfully through the reigns (and religious tumult) of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I, and Elizabeth I. Later in life he took holy orders and served as Rector of Doddington, Cambridgeshire. This motet was composed, I suppose, under the Church of England, but I’m okay with that. It hit me especially powerfully in the penitent mood I’ve been in lately.

I’ll translate it a little bit by bit. I wasn’t happy with the English translation on ChoralWiki.

Peccavimus cum patribus nostris, 
iniuste egimus, iniquitatem fecimus.
Tuæ tamen clementiæ
spe animati ad te supplices confugimus, 
benignissime Jesu.

We have sinned as our fathers,
we have done unjustly, and committed iniquity.
Nonetheless driven by hope of your mercy
We flee to you in supplication,
Kindest Jesus.

Qui ut omnia potes
ita omnibus te invocantibus 
vere præsto es.
Respice itaque in nos infelices peccatores,
bonitas immensa.

Who just as you are able to do all things
So to all who have prayed to you
You are truly present.
Look upon therefore us unhappy sinners,
O boundless goodness.

Respice in nos ingratissimos miseros, 
salus et misericordia publica; 
nam despecti ad omnipotentem venimus,
vulnerati ad medicum currimus, deprecantes 
ut non secundum peccata nostra facias 
neque secundum iniquitates nostras retribuas nobis.

Look upon us most ungrateful wretches,
O salvation and mercy for all;
for we despicable ones into your omnipotence come,
Having been wounded we run to your healing [or to the Physician],
Praying that you do not do according to our sins
Neither according to our iniquities repay to us.

Quin potius misericordiæ tuæ antiquæ memor 
pristinam clementiam serva, 
ac mansuetudini adhibe incrementum 
qui tam longanimiter suspendisti 
ultionis gladium, 
ablue innumerositatem criminum, 
qui delectaris multitudine misericordiæ.

Rather remembering your compassion of old
Retain your former mercy,
And add increase to your gentleness
With such long-suffering having held back
The sword of vengeance,
Wash away the countlessness of our offenses,
You who are delighted by a multitude of mercy.

Ingere cordibus nostris 
tui sanctissimum amorem, 
peccati odium 
ac cœlestis patriæ ardens desiderium, 
quod magis ac magis crescere faciat 
tua omnipotens bonitas. Amen.

Pour into our hearts
Most holy love for you,
a hatred of sin,
and a burning desire for the heavenly kingdom,
Which by your omnipotent goodness
Make to grow more and more. Amen.

A Musical Journey

I’ve already written a little about my first flirtations with liturgy: how I began listening to Mozart’s Requiem as “mood music,” at a time when I was feeling morbidly depressed. I listened to it repeatedly, reflecting on failure and death and loss; recalling the sad end of Mozart’s life, and the idea that he was writing music for his own funeral — it seemed the most pained, desperate thing I could manifest. I had little concept of liturgy or what that even meant, only the sense that these words in Latin were somehow sacred and powerful. I downloaded their text; I memorized it. This fascination was one of the motives that brought me to study Latin.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach, a Lutheran, but someone who knew how to worship God.

My next contact with liturgy was Johann Sebastian Bach’s Mass in B Minor, BWV 232, a recording of it that came highly recommended. Honestly, at the time, I’m not sure I could have even told you what a “Mass” was, other than “something Catholics did.” At the time, it was just beautiful music to me; or so I thought.

But then, some four or five years later, something remarkable happened. It was after I had graduated with my bachelor’s. I was teaching at a small, Christian school. Preparing for class was one of the most stressful things I’d ever done. Peace was more a premium than it ever had been before. I had discovered Last.fm; I was listening, I think, to the J.S. Bach radio. And then, like a breath of fresh air, I heard this:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhuZ9GHT9pQ]
(The English translation on the first slide should read, “Hail, O sweetest Mary”)

Carlo Gesualdo

Carlo Gesualdo, Prince of Venosa.

Voices so worshipful, so longing, so mournful, so penitent — the music pierced right to my soul. The composer was Carlo Gesualdo, Italian nobleman, musician, composer — and murderer. As a young man, he had murdered his wife and her lover. Later in life, wracked with depression and guilt and fearful for the fate of his eternal soul, he wrote some of his most expressive music in penance. The story of the man, and especially his music, immediately captured my heart.

And listening to Gesualdo on Last.fm led, soon, to Dufay, and Josquin, and Tallis, and Byrd, and others — my collection of early, sacred music quickly mushroomed in a matter of a few weeks. As did my obsession with it. Very soon, it was all I was listening to. It had burrowed into my soul — these sounds of so long ago, carrying such order and peace; this worship — for I understood immediately that it was worship, and worshiped God with it — so clean and bright and pure and heavenly. What affected me more than anything was the Mass settings. I felt the sense, very early, that the Mass was spiritual food.

Josquin des Prez

Josquin des Prez, my current favorite composer (this frequently changes).

Prompted by the feelings of worship that the music stirred in me, I soon was devoting time every morning to daily Bible study, something I hadn’t done consistently for a very long time. I made my way through the whole New Testament in a matter of a month or two; there had been books, up until that time in my life, that I’d never read before. I played the music while I worshiped and prayed. I told myself that it “made me feel like a monk” — prayerful and contemplative and ascetic — this was a good thing. I felt I was drawing on some ancient, powerful store of spiritual power.

And I was. That store was liturgy. I was hearing the Mass every day. The music of the Mass was piercing my heart and drawing me to worship. The words of the Mass were pouring into my soul — even before I understood them or knew what was happening; though by this time my Latin was good enough that I understood them quickly. On a number of occasions I found the Roman Missal online, in Latin, and followed along. I began to practice the prayers of the Mass in my private spirituality. I had little inkling at this time that I was on the road to Catholicism; I had no intention, starting out, of ever attending an actual Mass. But the Holy Spirit was drawing me to the Church through the Mass, through liturgy.