Snow! We caught some of yesterday’s nor’easter – not as much as predicted, but still enough for us to get out there, clearing the walkways (with the enthusiastic help of our English sheepdog)! To me, snow is an incredible gift from God – it truly transforms our surroundings and illustrates in a stiking way the verse we sing in Psalm 50 every morning at Lauds: “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”
During the week after Christmas, our community has the tradition of singing carols as recessionals every day at Mass. This morning’s, for the Feast of the Holy Family, is a favorite of mine: “Behold a Simple, Tender Babe.” We sing it to the music written by Dom A. Gregory Murray, OSB of Downside Abbey, and his accompaniment has piercing harmonies that seem to echo the cold and wind of that first Christmas. Here’s the full text:
1. Behold a simple tender babe,
In freezing winter night,
In homely manger trembling lies:
Alas! A piteous sight.
The inns are full; no man will yield
This little Pilgrim bed;
But forced He is with silly beasts
In crib to shroud his head.
Weigh not His crib, His wooden dish,
Nor beasts that by Him feed;
Weigh not His Mother’s poor attire,
Nor Joseph’s simple dress.
This stable is a Prince’s Court,
The crib His chair of state,
The beasts are parcel on His pomp,
The wooden dish His plate;
The persons in that poor attire
His royal liveries wear;
The Prince Himself is come from heaven,
This pomp is prized there.
With joy approach, O Christian soul,
Do homage to thy King;
And highly praise His humble pomp,
Which He from heaven doth bring.’
Isn’t it lovely? The poem was written by St. Robert Southwell, the English Jesuit poet and missionary who was martyred at Tyburn in 1595. He suffered greatly, being first imprisoned in the Tower of London for three years and very badly treated. He was from a well-to-do family, and grew up with much “pomp,” and knowing that he shared something of Jesus’s poverty and the coldness of the stable makes this hymn even more meaningful. I hope you enjoy it!