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1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas

Pugh uŦ Mckellar
1he Pymn volŦ 43ţ noŦ4- CcLober 1994ţ page 1
Catho||cs |n 16
th
Century Lng|and
Cnly Lhe exerclse of hlsLorlcal lmaglnaLlon can make Lhe slLuaLlon of Lnglandƌs 8oman CaLhollcs durlng
Lhe ƍpenal LlmesƍŴbegun by Lhe AcL of unlformlLy (1339) and ended by Lhe CaLhollc LmanclpaLlon AcL
(1829)ŴaL all clear Lo us who have never faced leL or hlndrance ln Lhe publlc pracLlce of Lhe falLh we
professŦ
Cueen LllzabeLh l rlghLly feared LhaL Lhose of her sub[ecLs who resenLed her rellglous reforms would Lry
Lo help lrance or Spaln relleve her of her duLlesţ and a few of Lhem would lndeed bear waLchlngŦ
Accordlngly she decreed LhaL conLlnulng CaLhollcs mlghL noL slL ln ÞarllamenLţ hold clvll or mlllLary
offlceţ aLLend unlverslLyţ or buy properLyŤ slnce no women were Lhen allowedţ and preclous few men
could afford Lo do such Lhlngs anywayţ Lhe prohlblLlons prlnclpally affecLed landownersţ buL Lhese were
Lhe very people on whomţ before Lhe developmenL of bureaucracles and pollce forcesţ Lhe governmenL
had Lo depend Lo malnLaln law and orderţ especlally ln Lhe sparselyŴpopulaLed norLhwesLŦ
1hus a landowner prepared Lo guaranLee LhaL nelLher he nor any of hls close relaLlvesţ employeesţ or
LenanLŴfarmers would acL dlsloyally Lowards Lhe Cueen could usually arrange Lo worshlp as he pleased
on hls own premlsesţ especlally lf some money changed handsŦ
8y polnLedly lgnorlng Lhe Spanlsh Armada when lL swooped down on Lngland ln 1388ţ Lhe CaLhollc
genLry demonsLraLed Lhelr harmlessness Lo Lhe governmenLŴbuL noL Lo ordlnary clLlzensţ who came
lncreaslngly Lo feel LhaL people who clung Lo a falLh favored by forelgners were unŴLngllsh and Lherefore
unLrusLworLhyŦ
Lach dlsLurbance whlch could be lald aL CaLhollcsƌ doorŴnoLably Lhe Cunpowder ÞloL of 1603ţ sLlll
remembered LhroughouL Lngland every november 3 as ƍCuy lawkes nlghLƍŴ gave rlse Lo more
resLrlcLlons on Lhelr dayŴLoŴday acLlvlLlesŤ buL whlle Lhese laws remalned on Lhe sLaLuLe booksţ Lhey
were enforced less rlgorously Lhan Lechnology would allow a modern governmenL Lo doŦ
LxcepL ln Londonƌs embassy chapelsţ whlch en[oyed dlplomaLlc lmmunlLyţ Mass could be celebraLed only
on prlvaLe properLyţ where Lhe owner could be held responslble for Lhe behavlor of Lhose who
aLLendedŴundersLandablyţ by lnvlLaLlonŦ
SLudles llke uavld MaLhewƌs cotbollclsm lo íoqlooJţ tbe lotttolt of o Mlootltyť lts coltote ooJ 1toJltloo
(Lyre Ǝ SpoLLlswoodeţ 1948) or !ohn 8ossyƌs 1be íoqllsb cotbollc commoolty 1570Ŵ1850 (uarLonţ
Longman Ǝ 1oddţ 1973) show vlvldly how Lhese people comblned LenaclLy wlLh lngenulLyŦ A young
Lngllshman wlLh a vocaLlon Lo Lhe prlesLhood would Lraln aL Lhe Lngllsh College ln 8omeţ Lhe semlnary
of uoual ln norLhern lranceţ or aL valladolld ln SpalnŴlf hls faLher could afford Lo send hlmŦ
Cn reLurnlngţ he would be employed by a landownerţ osLenslbly as a buslness agenL or LuLor buL acLually
as a domesLlc chaplalnţ carrylng ouL or Lhe esLaLe whaLever prlesLly duLles Lhe owner deemed flLŴwhlch
would noL necessarlly be whaL Lhe prlesL LhoughL needed dolngŦ
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh uŦ Mckellar
1he Pymn volŦ 43ţ noŦ4- CcLober 1994ţ page 2
Lspeclally afLer 1700ţ lnsLrucLlon of LenanLsƌ and laborersƌ chlldren became a sore polnLŦ Some owners
LhoughL Lhey should learn aL leasL Lhe caLechlsmŦ CLhers felL LhaL learnlng of any klnd could only
unseLLle LhemŦ 8uL lf more chlldren grew up on an esLaLe Lhan lL could employţ some would have Lo
move awayţ probably lnLo a nonŴCaLhollc envlronmenLŤ and unless Lhey had memorlzed someLhlng how
were Lhey Lo hold on Lo Lhe rudlmenLs of Lhe falLh unLll Lhey agaln goL a chance Lo pracLlce lL under
cover?
ongs w|th h|dden messages
Cloaklng poLenLlally dangerous sLaLemenLs ln sorL of codeţ and seLLlng Lhe resulL Lo muslcţ was already
no new LhlngŦ ƍSlng a song of slxpence" commenLs on Lhe spollaLlon of Lnglandƌs monasLerles ln 1336Ŵ
38ť Lhe ƍblackblrdsƍ are Lhe cowled monks whose communal wealLh klng Penry vlll wanLedŦ ƍ8ockŴaŴ
byeţ babyƍ summarlzes Lhe downfall ln 1688 of klng !ames ll whlch was preclplLaLed by Lhe blrLh of hls
sonŦ
CrlmmesL of all ls ƍ8lng around a rosyţƍ whlch recalls Lhe CreaL Þlague 1663Ť Lhe dlseaseƌs flrsL sympLom
was a clrcular rash and people carrled flowers ln hopes LhaL Lhelr song would ward off lnfecLlonŴas ofLen
lL dld noLŦ
Why noLţ Lhenţ encode Lhe baslc LeneLs of Lhe CaLhollc falLhţ devlse a Luneţ and produce a song whlch
would [og Lhe memorles of Lhose ln on Lhe secreL buL rouse no susplclon ln ouLslders? And soţ Lhough
we have no ldea when or whereţ caLechlsmŴsong were bornŦ
Cn Lhe wholeţ Lhe sLraLagem worked wellŦ 1wo accumulaLlve caLechlsmŴsongsţ ƍCreen grow Lhe rushesţ
Cƍ and ƍCo where l send Lheeţƍ seem Lo have crossed Lhe ALlanLlc earlyţ and found favor among Lhe
people who would never knowlngly have sung anyLhlng of CaLhollc orlglnŦ lndeedţ Lhey pald Lhe songs
Lhe hlghesL compllmenL ln Lhelr powerţ replaclng nonŴexpllclL Lerms whlch baffle Lhem wlLh Lerms Lhey
could undersLandŦ
8uLţ as wlLh Lhe rlddleŴsongs whlch Lhey also cherlshed Lhey were uslng Lhe approach of codeţ ln whlch
each Lerm sLands for oneţ and only oneţ speclflc concepLţ so LhaL Lhe resulL ls a puzzle capable of
soluLlonŦ
Symbollsmţ as Lhe velled pollLlcal commenLarles above demonsLraLeţ works dlfferenLlyŤ a symbolƌs
buslness ls Lo suggesL as many relaLed ldeas as lL canţ even lf a hearerƌs background enables hlm Lo plck
up only some of LhemŦ ?ou see whaL you come equlpped Lo seeŤ and Lhe flnesL caLechlsm song Lo
survlve sparkles llke a faceLed dlamond wlLh meanlngţ once vlewed ln Lhe rlghL llghLŦ
1he 1we|ve Days of Chr|stmas
ln 1909ţ novello Ǝ CoŦ publlshed ƍ1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmasƍ ln an arrangemenL for solo volce and
plano by lrederlc AusLlnţ already prosperlng as a barlLoneţ who explalned on Lhe flrsL pageţ ƍ1hls song
wasţ ln my chlldhood żlŦeŦ Lhe 1870sŽ ţ currenL ln my famllyŦ l have noL meL wlLh Lhe Lune of lL elsewhereţ
nor wlLh Lhe parLlcular verslon of Lhe wordsţ and haveţ ln Lhls seLLlngţ recorded boLh Lo Lhe besL of my
recollecLlonŦ"
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh uŦ Mckellar
1he Pymn volŦ 43ţ noŦ4- CcLober 1994ţ page 3
8rlLalnƌs premler muslcŴpubllshlng flrm would hardly have lssuedţ ln a form sulLed only Lo slngleŴcopy
salesţ a song whlch Lhey had ƍmeL wlLh elsewhereţƍ as Lhey were unlquely poslLloned Lo doŦ
Pad ƍ1he 1welve uaysţƍ llke Canadaƌs ƍPuron Carolţƍ survlved decades of oral Lransmlsslon among Lhe
people for whom lL was creaLed before ouLslders caughL so much as a gllmpse of lL? unLll Lhls cenLuryţ
ChrlsLmas was celebraLed so modesLly (by our sLandards) LhaL few seasonal songsţ sacred or secularţ
were ln demandŤ as folkŴsong collecLors were dlscoverlngţ each locallLy had a LradlLlonal reperLolre
adequaLe Lo lLs needsŦ
lf AusLln even reallzed LhaL he was deallng wlLh a caLechlsmŴsongţ he had no reason Lo say soţ slnce for
elghLy years CaLhollcs had been pracLlclng and Leachlng Lhelr falLh as Lhey saw flLţ and acqulrlng
respecLablllLy along Lhe wayŦ
no one was apL Lo hold hls cradle CaLhollclsm agalnsL Slr Ldward Llgarţ who had recenLly conflrmed Lhe
naLlonƌs selfŴlmage wlLh ƍLand of Pope and CloryƍŤ more falLhfully Lhan anyone ouLslde Lhe SlsLlne
Chapelţ 8lchard 1erry was carrylng ouL Lhe dlrecLlves of Þope Þlus xƌs 1903 Moto ltoptlo (on church
muslc) aL WesLmlnsLer CaLhedralţ a bulldlng largely flnanced by wealLhy converLs whose frlends sLlll
spoke Lo LhemŦ 8y 1909ţ no one much wanLed Lo recall Lhe slLuaLlon whlch had called Lhe caLechlsmŴ
songs lnLo belngŤ buL nelLher dld everyone forgeLŦ 1hus my flrsL lnLlmaLlons LhaL someLhlng lay below
Lhe surface of ƍ1he 1welve uaysƍ came from elderly people who had moved Lo Canada from Lhe norLh of
LnglandŤ Lhelr memorles ylelded more Lhan l have ever managed Lo flnd ln prlnLŦ ln any caseţ really
evocaLlve symbols do noL allow of deflnlLlve expllcaLlonţ exhausLlng all posslblllLlesŦ l can aL mosL reporL
whaL Lhls songƌs symbols have suggesLed Lo me ln Lhe course of four decadesţ hoplng Lhereby Lo sLarL
you on your own quesLŦ
,y true |ove sent to me a partr|dge |n a pear treeŦ
1he speaker ls an ordlnary ChrlsLlanţ whose ƍLrue loveƍ lsţ or should beţ CodŦ WhaL else can accounL for
Lhe accumulaLlve sLrucLure? Who buL Cod could or wouldţ ln addlLlon Lo besLowlng a fresh glfL each dayţ
repeaL or renew every glfL already offered? And Lhe glfLs are senLţ noL glvenť for Lhe speaker has free
wlllţ and may noL accepL whaL Cod makes avallableŦ
Loglcallyţ Lhe glfL on ChrlsLmas uay wlll be ChrlsL hlmselfŴbuL why dlsgulse hlm as a parLrldge? 1haL blrd
ls noLed for lLs hablL of felgnlng ln[ury ln order Lo lure predaLors away from lLs nesLţ rlsklng lLself on
behalf of fledgllngs lncapable of defendlng Lhemselvesţ even as ChrlsL sacrlflced hlmself for usŦ ?eLţ lf by
mlschance a predaLor ouLruns Lhe parLrldge before she can soar lnLo Lhe alrţ musL noL Lhe baby blrds
sLarve even lf Lhe predaLor falls Lo flnd Lhem? 1he Church has long denounced speculaLlons LhaL ChrlsL
dld noL really dleţ or LhaL he was Loo cerLaln of rlslng agaln Lo be much lncommodedŤ Lhe success of hls
sacrlflce musL noL obscure lLs compleLenessŦ And Lhls LrlumphanL parLrldge ls lodged ln a Lree whlch
from a dlsLance resembles Lhe appleŴLree LhaL undld Adam and LveŦ Cnly Lhose who come close Lo ChrlsL
can see LhaL Lhls Lree bears sofLerŴLexLuredţ mllderŴflavored frulLŴas Lhough lL wereţ llke lLs occupanLţ
ƍmeek and lowly of hearLŦƍ
1wo turt|e dovesţ three Irench hensţ four ca|||ng b|rds
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh uŦ Mckellar
1he Pymn volŦ 43ţ noŦ4- CcLober 1994ţ page 4
ƍ1wo LurLle dovesƍ recall mosL dlrecLly Lhe sacrlflce prescrlbed aL Lhe 1emple for people llke !oseph and
Maryţ whoƌ could noL afford a lambŦ uovesţ howeverţ are renowned for Lhelr amlcablllLyŤ hence Lhese
Lwo may represenL any dyad whose membersţ whlle seemlng and remalnlng dlsLlncLţ complemenL each
oLher ln underglrdlng CaLhollc LruLhŦ Such are Lhe Lwo 1esLamenLs and Lhelr lnLernal subdlvlslonsŴLhe
Law and Lhe propheLsţ Lhe gospels and Lhe eplsLlesŤ scrlpLure and LradlLlonŤ reason and revelaLlonŤ falLh
and good worksŦ
lrench hensţ beauLlfulţ cosLlyţ and exoLlcţ call Lo mlnd Lhe glfLs of Lhe Wlse Menţ whose fesLlval
concludes Lhe songƌs LlmeŴspanŦ 8uL Lhe cardlnal vlrLues of falLhţ hopeţ and charlLy do noL sprlng
auLomaLlcally ouL of fallen naLureŤ Lhey have Lo be lmparLed by Codţ and worked aL unLll Lhelr beauLy
shlnes LhroughŦ
ƍCalllng blrdsƍ could apply Lo Lhe wrlLers of Lhe four gospelsţ Lo Lhe four ma[or Cld 1esLamenL propheLs
(lsalahţ !eremlahţ Lzeklelţ and uanlel)ţ Lo Lhe Cld 1esLamenLƌs four poeLlcal booksţ or Lo Lhe four CaLhollc
orders whose members speclallzed ln preachlngŦ Þosslbly Lhe four horsemen of Lhe Apocalypseţ who
Lraverse Lhe alr sllenLlyţ are drawn Lo people who lgnore wlse counsel from sources whlch would
provlde lLŦ
I|ve Go|den k|ngs
Lven Lhe muslc marks ouL Lhe flve golden rlngs as speclalŦ 1hey alone share Lhe 4/4 Llme of Lhe flrsL glfLţ
and a cadence emphaLlc enough Lo alLer Lhe course of Lhe followlng melodyŦ 8uL a cadence on Lhe
domlnanL allows Lhe slnger only Lo pauseţ noL Lo sLopŤ nowhere shorL of Lhe ChrlsLŴsymbol wlll Lhe Luneţ
or dare Lhe slngerţ come Lo resLŦ
1hus Lhe rlngs mlghL sLand for Lhe flve books of Lhe Lawţ whlch had Lo be compleLed by Lhe comlng of
ChrlsLţ well as Lhey were ln Lhelr wayŦ 1hey could allude Lo Lhe flve decades (groups of Len beads) of Lhe
rosaryţ whlch llkewlse Lakes good care Lo lead oneƌs mlnd Loward ChrlsLŦ 8uL mosL llkely Lhey represenL
Lhe flve obllgaLory sacramenLs of Lhe Churchţ maLrlmony and holy orders belng opLlonalŦ
lf you Lry Lo sLreLch or crlmp a rlngţ you may well end up wlLh someLhlngţ buL you canƌL falrly call lL a
rlngŦ Slmllarlyţ Lhe lawţ Lhe rosaryţ and Lhe sacramenLs demand Lo be Laken as Lhey areţ or noL aL allŤ
Lhey reslsL modlflcaLlonŦ Coldţ whlle falrly easy Lo work as meLals goţ defles corroslonŤ lL can be abusedţ
buL noL spolledŦ
|x Geese aŴ|ay|ngţ even wans aŴsw|mm|ng
Lggs are abouL all LhaL geese can produce for human belngs whlle remalnlng allveţ and Lhese slx are
embraclng Lhe work eLhlc lnsLead of followlng Lhelr speclesƌ lncllnaLlon Lo make Lhorough nulsances of
LhemselvesŦ 1hey may represenL Lhe slx days of creaLlon andţ by exLenslonţ Lhe weekdays when ƍLhou
shalL labor and do all Lhy workŦƍ
AdulL swans on waLer embody grace Lo Lhe polnL of lmmedlaLely suggesLlng Lhe seven glfLs of Lhe Poly
SplrlLŦ 8uL newlyŴhaLched cygneLs are almosL as ugly as Lhe seven deadly slnsţ whose cluLch can Lo some
exLenL be escaped by medlLaLlon on Lhe seven penlLenLlal psalms (6ţ 32ţ 38ţ 31ţ102ţ130ţ and 143ţ ln Lhe
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh uŦ Mckellar
1he Pymn volŦ 43ţ noŦ4- CcLober 1994ţ page 3
numberlng of Lhe klng !ames verslon) unLll carrylng ouL Lhe seven corporal and Lhe seven splrlLual works
of mercy becomes a prlvllege raLher Lhan an lmposlLlonŦ
no one waLchlng swans swlm wlLh efforLless elegance would guess how far Lhey have come from
unpromlslng beglnnlngsŤ yeL ChrlsLlans who glve Lhe lmpresslon of ease ln Lhe splrlLual llfe have come
much farLherţ and needed more helpţ Lhan swansţ whlch have only Lo keep breaLhlngŦ
L|ght ma|ds aŴm||k|ngţ n|ne |ad|es danc|ngţ ten |ords aŴ|eap|ngţ e|even p|pers p|p|ngţ twe|ve drummers
drumm|ng
1he flrsL human belngs feaLured ln Lhe song would aLLracL noLlce from karl Marxţ for Lhey have only
labor Lo conLrlbuLeť cows produce Lhe mllkţ and Lhelr owners geL lLŦ ÞeLerţ !ohnţ !amesţ !udeţ and Lhe
anonymous auLhor of Pebrewsţ whose elghL eplsLles round ouL Lhe new 1esLamenLţ are comparably
poslLlonedţ for whaL Lhey say dld noL orlglnaLe ln Lhelr own mlndsŤ Lhey are slmply passlng lL on Lo Lhe
people who can beneflL from lLŦ
Agalnţ durlng Lhe dark decadesţ Lnglandƌs CaLhollcs were en[olned Lo recelve communlon elghL Llmes a
yearţ lf posslbleţ and on each such occaslon Lhe offlclaLlng prlesL would be a mere LransmlLLer of graceŦ
Llkewlseţ Lhe elghL 8eaLlLudes menLlon people who keep dolng whaL ls rlghLţ even Lhough Lhey can
expecL reward only ln Lhe fuLureŦ
unLll Lhls cenLuryţ danclng (ln seLs raLher Lhan ln couples) was used as a means of soclallzlng chlldrenţ
glvlng Lhem pracLlce ln paLLerned lnLeracLlon wlLh oLher peopleŤ any fallure Lo coŴordlnaLe Lhelr
movemenLs wlLh Lhose of oLhers would be noLlced and correcLed aL onceŦ
Slmllarlyţ Lhe nlne frulLs of Lhe SplrlL llsLed by SLŦ Þaul ln CalaLlans 3ť 22Ŵ23 lnLermlngle wlLhouL geLLlng ln
each oLherƌs wayŴas do Lhe ranks of angelsţ nlne ln allţ whlch he menLlons ln varlous passagesţ llke Lhe
nlne ladlesţ Lhey move as communlLles ln dlsclpllned dellghLŦ
Long before Slr lsaac newLon explalned why people knew LhaL Lhose who leap llke Lhe Len lords rlsk
comlng down wlLh a LhudŦ 1hls mlrrors our relaLlonshlp wlLh Lhe 1en CommandmenLsţ whlch we cannoL
really breakţ for Lhey sLand flrm as gravlLy whaLever we doŤ we can aL mosL break ourselves agalnsL
LhemŦ
1he Len hlsLorlcal books of Lhe Cld 1esLamenL Leem wlLh people who found LhaL ouL Lhe hard wayŦ MosL
of Lhemţ llke Lhe lordsţ already had plenLyţ buL wanLed moreţ and leaped afLer whaL Lhey deslredţ
CommandmenLs or noŤ some falledţ whlle oLhers goL more Lhan Lhey bargalned forŦ 1he Len norLhern
Lrlbes of lsraelţ whose klngs kepL golng Lhelr merry wayţ supply abundanL examplesŦ
unllke lLs nelghborsţ whlch serve as bases for all sorLs of sysLemsţ Lhe number 11 reslsLs efforLs Lo do
anyLhlng wlLh lL excepL mulLlplyŤ and among lnsLrumenLsţ Lhe bagplpe ls [usL as lnLranslgenLŦ 8uL even
one bagplpe ls as dlfflculL Lo lgnore as were Lhe 11 survlvlng dlsclples afLer ChrlsLƌs resurrecLlonŦ 1hey
proclalmed a dlsLurblng message whlch Lhey would nelLher sofLen nor compromlseŴan example worLhy
of conslderaLlon by clandesLlne CaLhollcsŦ
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh uŦ Mckellar
1he Pymn volŦ 43ţ noŦ4- CcLober 1994ţ page 6
Agalnţ boLh MaLLhew (11ť17) and Luke (7ť32) menLlon !esusƌ quoLlng wlLh dlsapproval people who
complalnedţ ƍWe have plped unLo you and ye have noL danced"Ŧ Lnglandƌs CaLhollcs had Lo accepL LhaL
Lhelr nelghbors were so unllkely Lo dance Lo any Lune of Lhelrs LhaL Lhey mlghL as wellţ unllke Lhe
dlsclplesţ plpe downŦ
Slnce 8oman Llmesţ drums had been vlewed less as muslcal lnsLrumenLs Lhan as means of sendlng
slgnals over long dlsLancesţ especlally ln Lhe confuslon of baLLleŦ
1he Lwelve mlnor propheLs of Lhe Cld 1esLamenL send Lhelr slgnal across Lhe cenLurlesţ as do Lhe Lwelve
arLlcles of falLh ln Lhe AposLlesƌ Creedţ whereas Lhe Lwelve gaLes of Lhe new !erusalem beckon from
beyond boLh space and LlmeŦ urumbeaLs normally command acLlvlLy of some klndŤ by soundlng on Lhe
feasL of Lplphanyţ Lhese Lwelve drummers hearLen us Lo emulaLe Lhe Wlse Men by conLlnulng our
[ourney Lowards ChrlsL desplLe all obsLaclesţ ln Lhe cerLalnLy LhaL we cannoL exhausL Lhe bounLy of CodŴ
who ls boLh Lrueţ and LoveŦ