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1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas

Pugh u Mckellar
1he Pymn vol 43 no4- CcLober 1994 page 1
Catho||cs |n 16
th
Century Lng|and
Cnly Lhe exerclse of hlsLorlcal lmaglnaLlon can make Lhe slLuaLlon of Lnglands 8oman CaLhollcs durlng
Lhe penal Llmesbegun by Lhe AcL of unlformlLy (1339) and ended by Lhe CaLhollc LmanclpaLlon AcL
(1829)aL all clear Lo us who have never faced leL or hlndrance ln Lhe publlc pracLlce of Lhe falLh we
profess
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 duLles and a few of Lhem would lndeed bear waLchlng
Accordlngly she decreed LhaL conLlnulng CaLhollcs mlghL noL slL ln arllamenL hold clvll or mlllLary
offlce aLLend unlverslLy or buy properLy slnce no women were Lhen allowed and preclous few men
could afford Lo do such Lhlngs anyway Lhe prohlblLlons prlnclpally affecLed landowners buL Lhese were
Lhe very people on whom before Lhe developmenL of bureaucracles and pollce forces Lhe governmenL
had Lo depend Lo malnLaln law and order especlally ln Lhe sparselypopulaLed norLhwesL
1hus a landowner prepared Lo guaranLee LhaL nelLher he nor any of hls close relaLlves employees or
LenanLfarmers would acL dlsloyally Lowards Lhe Cueen could usually arrange Lo worshlp as he pleased
on hls own premlses especlally lf some money changed hands
8y polnLedly lgnorlng Lhe Spanlsh Armada when lL swooped down on Lngland ln 1388 Lhe CaLhollc
genLry demonsLraLed Lhelr harmlessness Lo Lhe governmenLbuL noL Lo ordlnary clLlzens who came
lncreaslngly Lo feel LhaL people who clung Lo a falLh favored by forelgners were unLngllsh and Lherefore
unLrusLworLhy
Lach dlsLurbance whlch could be lald aL CaLhollcs doornoLably Lhe Cunpowder loL of 1603 sLlll
remembered LhroughouL Lngland every november 3 as Cuy lawkes nlghL gave rlse Lo more
resLrlcLlons on Lhelr dayLoday acLlvlLles buL whlle Lhese laws remalned on Lhe sLaLuLe books Lhey
were enforced less rlgorously Lhan Lechnology would allow a modern governmenL Lo do
LxcepL ln Londons embassy chapels whlch en[oyed dlplomaLlc lmmunlLy Mass could be celebraLed only
on prlvaLe properLy where Lhe owner could be held responslble for Lhe behavlor of Lhose who
aLLendedundersLandably by lnvlLaLlon
SLudles llke uavld MaLhews cotbollclsm lo oqlooJ tbe lotttolt of o Mlootlty lts coltote ooJ 1toJltloo
(Lyre SpoLLlswoode 1948) or !ohn 8ossys 1be oqllsb cotbollc commoolty 15701850 (uarLon
Longman 1odd 1973) show vlvldly how Lhese people comblned LenaclLy wlLh lngenulLy A young
Lngllshman wlLh a vocaLlon Lo Lhe prlesLhood would Lraln aL Lhe Lngllsh College ln 8ome Lhe semlnary
of uoual ln norLhern lrance or aL valladolld ln Spalnlf hls faLher could afford Lo send hlm
Cn reLurnlng he would be employed by a landowner osLenslbly as a buslness agenL or LuLor buL acLually
as a domesLlc chaplaln carrylng ouL or Lhe esLaLe whaLever prlesLly duLles Lhe owner deemed flLwhlch
would noL necessarlly be whaL Lhe prlesL LhoughL needed dolng
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh u Mckellar
1he Pymn vol 43 no4- CcLober 1994 page 2
Lspeclally afLer 1700 lnsLrucLlon of LenanLs and laborers chlldren became a sore polnL Some owners
LhoughL Lhey should learn aL leasL Lhe caLechlsm CLhers felL LhaL learnlng of any klnd could only
unseLLle Lhem 8uL lf more chlldren grew up on an esLaLe Lhan lL could employ some would have Lo
move away probably lnLo a nonCaLhollc envlronmenL 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 code and seLLlng Lhe resulL Lo muslc was already
no new Lhlng Slng a song of slxpence" commenLs on Lhe spollaLlon of Lnglands monasLerles ln 1336
38 Lhe blackblrds are Lhe cowled monks whose communal wealLh klng Penry vlll wanLed 8ocka
bye baby summarlzes Lhe downfall ln 1688 of klng !ames ll whlch was preclplLaLed by Lhe blrLh of hls
son
CrlmmesL of all ls 8lng around a rosy whlch recalls Lhe CreaL lague 1663 Lhe dlseases flrsL sympLom
was a clrcular rash and people carrled flowers ln hopes LhaL Lhelr song would ward off lnfecLlonas ofLen
lL dld noL
Why noL Lhen encode Lhe baslc LeneLs of Lhe CaLhollc falLh devlse a Lune and produce a song whlch
would [og Lhe memorles of Lhose ln on Lhe secreL buL rouse no susplclon ln ouLslders? And so Lhough
we have no ldea when or where caLechlsmsong were born
Cn Lhe whole Lhe sLraLagem worked well 1wo accumulaLlve caLechlsmsongs Creen grow Lhe rushes
C and Co where l send Lhee seem Lo have crossed Lhe ALlanLlc early and found favor among Lhe
people who would never knowlngly have sung anyLhlng of CaLhollc orlgln lndeed Lhey pald Lhe songs
Lhe hlghesL compllmenL ln Lhelr power replaclng nonexpllclL Lerms whlch baffle Lhem wlLh Lerms Lhey
could undersLand
8uL as wlLh Lhe rlddlesongs whlch Lhey also cherlshed Lhey were uslng Lhe approach of code ln whlch
each Lerm sLands for one and only one speclflc concepL so LhaL Lhe resulL ls a puzzle capable of
soluLlon
Symbollsm as Lhe velled pollLlcal commenLarles above demonsLraLe works dlfferenLly a symbols
buslness ls Lo suggesL as many relaLed ldeas as lL can even lf a hearers background enables hlm Lo plck
up only some of Lhem ?ou see whaL you come equlpped Lo see and Lhe flnesL caLechlsm song Lo
survlve sparkles llke a faceLed dlamond wlLh meanlng once vlewed ln Lhe rlghL llghL
1he 1we|ve Days of Chr|stmas
ln 1909 novello Co publlshed 1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas ln an arrangemenL for solo volce and
plano by lrederlc AusLln already prosperlng as a barlLone who explalned on Lhe flrsL page 1hls song
was ln my chlldhood le Lhe 1870s currenL ln my famlly l have noL meL wlLh Lhe Lune of lL elsewhere
nor wlLh Lhe parLlcular verslon of Lhe words and have ln Lhls seLLlng recorded boLh Lo Lhe besL of my
recollecLlon"
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh u Mckellar
1he Pymn vol 43 no4- CcLober 1994 page 3
8rlLalns premler muslcpubllshlng flrm would hardly have lssued ln a form sulLed only Lo slnglecopy
sales a song whlch Lhey had meL wlLh elsewhere as Lhey were unlquely poslLloned Lo do
Pad 1he 1welve uays llke Canadas Puron Carol 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 cenLury
ChrlsLmas was celebraLed so modesLly (by our sLandards) LhaL few seasonal songs sacred or secular
were ln demand as folksong collecLors were dlscoverlng each locallLy had a LradlLlonal reperLolre
adequaLe Lo lLs needs
lf AusLln even reallzed LhaL he was deallng wlLh a caLechlsmsong he had no reason Lo say so slnce for
elghLy years CaLhollcs had been pracLlclng and Leachlng Lhelr falLh as Lhey saw flL and acqulrlng
respecLablllLy along Lhe way
no one was apL Lo hold hls cradle CaLhollclsm agalnsL Slr Ldward Llgar who had recenLly conflrmed Lhe
naLlons selflmage wlLh Land of Pope and Clory more falLhfully Lhan anyone ouLslde Lhe SlsLlne
Chapel 8lchard 1erry was carrylng ouL Lhe dlrecLlves of ope lus xs 1903 Moto ltoptlo (on church
muslc) aL WesLmlnsLer CaLhedral a bulldlng largely flnanced by wealLhy converLs whose frlends sLlll
spoke Lo Lhem 8y 1909 no one much wanLed Lo recall Lhe slLuaLlon whlch had called Lhe caLechlsm
songs lnLo belng buL nelLher dld everyone forgeL 1hus my flrsL lnLlmaLlons LhaL someLhlng lay below
Lhe surface of 1he 1welve uays came from elderly people who had moved Lo Canada from Lhe norLh of
Lngland Lhelr memorles ylelded more Lhan l have ever managed Lo flnd ln prlnL ln any case really
evocaLlve symbols do noL allow of deflnlLlve expllcaLlon exhausLlng all posslblllLles l can aL mosL reporL
whaL Lhls songs symbols have suggesLed Lo me ln Lhe course of four decades hoplng Lhereby Lo sLarL
you on your own quesL
,y true |ove sent to me a partr|dge |n a pear tree
1he speaker ls an ordlnary ChrlsLlan whose Lrue love ls or should be Cod WhaL else can accounL for
Lhe accumulaLlve sLrucLure? Who buL Cod could or would ln addlLlon Lo besLowlng a fresh glfL each day
repeaL or renew every glfL already offered? And Lhe glfLs are senL noL glven for Lhe speaker has free
wlll and may noL accepL whaL Cod makes avallable
Loglcally Lhe glfL on ChrlsLmas uay wlll be ChrlsL hlmselfbuL 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 nesL rlsklng lLself on
behalf of fledgllngs lncapable of defendlng Lhemselves even as ChrlsL sacrlflced hlmself for us ?eL lf by
mlschance a predaLor ouLruns Lhe parLrldge before she can soar lnLo Lhe alr 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 dle or LhaL he was Loo cerLaln of rlslng agaln Lo be much lncommoded Lhe success of hls
sacrlflce musL noL obscure lLs compleLeness And Lhls LrlumphanL parLrldge ls lodged ln a Lree whlch
from a dlsLance resembles Lhe appleLree LhaL undld Adam and Lve Cnly Lhose who come close Lo ChrlsL
can see LhaL Lhls Lree bears sofLerLexLured mllderflavored frulLas Lhough lL were llke lLs occupanL
meek and lowly of hearL
1wo turt|e doves three Irench hens four ca|||ng b|rds
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh u Mckellar
1he Pymn vol 43 no4- CcLober 1994 page 4
1wo LurLle doves recall mosL dlrecLly Lhe sacrlflce prescrlbed aL Lhe 1emple for people llke !oseph and
Mary who could noL afford a lamb uoves however are renowned for Lhelr amlcablllLy hence Lhese
Lwo may represenL any dyad whose members whlle seemlng and remalnlng dlsLlncL complemenL each
oLher ln underglrdlng CaLhollc LruLh Such are Lhe Lwo 1esLamenLs and Lhelr lnLernal subdlvlslonsLhe
Law and Lhe propheLs Lhe gospels and Lhe eplsLles scrlpLure and LradlLlon reason and revelaLlon falLh
and good works
lrench hens beauLlful cosLly and exoLlc call Lo mlnd Lhe glfLs of Lhe Wlse Men whose fesLlval
concludes Lhe songs Llmespan 8uL Lhe cardlnal vlrLues of falLh hope and charlLy do noL sprlng
auLomaLlcally ouL of fallen naLure Lhey have Lo be lmparLed by Cod and worked aL unLll Lhelr beauLy
shlnes Lhrough
Calllng blrds could apply Lo Lhe wrlLers of Lhe four gospels Lo Lhe four ma[or Cld 1esLamenL propheLs
(lsalah !eremlah Lzeklel and uanlel) Lo Lhe Cld 1esLamenLs four poeLlcal books or Lo Lhe four CaLhollc
orders whose members speclallzed ln preachlng osslbly Lhe four horsemen of Lhe Apocalypse who
Lraverse Lhe alr sllenLly are drawn Lo people who lgnore wlse counsel from sources whlch would
provlde lL
I|ve Go|den k|ngs
Lven Lhe muslc marks ouL Lhe flve golden rlngs as speclal 1hey alone share Lhe 4/4 Llme of Lhe flrsL glfL
and a cadence emphaLlc enough Lo alLer Lhe course of Lhe followlng melody 8uL a cadence on Lhe
domlnanL allows Lhe slnger only Lo pause noL Lo sLop nowhere shorL of Lhe ChrlsLsymbol wlll Lhe Lune
or dare Lhe slnger come Lo resL
1hus Lhe rlngs mlghL sLand for Lhe flve books of Lhe Law whlch had Lo be compleLed by Lhe comlng of
ChrlsL well as Lhey were ln Lhelr way 1hey could allude Lo Lhe flve decades (groups of Len beads) of Lhe
rosary whlch llkewlse Lakes good care Lo lead ones mlnd Loward ChrlsL 8uL mosL llkely Lhey represenL
Lhe flve obllgaLory sacramenLs of Lhe Church maLrlmony and holy orders belng opLlonal
lf you Lry Lo sLreLch or crlmp a rlng you may well end up wlLh someLhlng buL you canL falrly call lL a
rlng Slmllarly Lhe law Lhe rosary and Lhe sacramenLs demand Lo be Laken as Lhey are or noL aL all
Lhey reslsL modlflcaLlon Cold whlle falrly easy Lo work as meLals go defles corroslon lL can be abused
buL noL spolled
|x Geese a|ay|ng even wans asw|mm|ng
Lggs are abouL all LhaL geese can produce for human belngs whlle remalnlng allve and Lhese slx are
embraclng Lhe work eLhlc lnsLead of followlng Lhelr specles lncllnaLlon Lo make Lhorough nulsances of
Lhemselves 1hey may represenL Lhe slx days of creaLlon and by exLenslon Lhe weekdays when Lhou
shalL labor and do all Lhy work
AdulL swans on waLer embody grace Lo Lhe polnL of lmmedlaLely suggesLlng Lhe seven glfLs of Lhe Poly
SplrlL 8uL newlyhaLched cygneLs are almosL as ugly as Lhe seven deadly slns whose cluLch can Lo some
exLenL be escaped by medlLaLlon on Lhe seven penlLenLlal psalms (6 32 38 31102130 and 143 ln Lhe
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh u Mckellar
1he Pymn vol 43 no4- CcLober 1994 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 lmposlLlon
no one waLchlng swans swlm wlLh efforLless elegance would guess how far Lhey have come from
unpromlslng beglnnlngs yeL ChrlsLlans who glve Lhe lmpresslon of ease ln Lhe splrlLual llfe have come
much farLher and needed more help Lhan swans whlch have only Lo keep breaLhlng
L|ght ma|ds am||k|ng n|ne |ad|es danc|ng ten |ords a|eap|ng e|even p|pers p|p|ng twe|ve drummers
drumm|ng
1he flrsL human belngs feaLured ln Lhe song would aLLracL noLlce from karl Marx for Lhey have only
labor Lo conLrlbuLe cows produce Lhe mllk and Lhelr owners geL lL eLer !ohn !ames !ude and Lhe
anonymous auLhor of Pebrews whose elghL eplsLles round ouL Lhe new 1esLamenL are comparably
poslLloned for whaL Lhey say dld noL orlglnaLe ln Lhelr own mlnds Lhey are slmply passlng lL on Lo Lhe
people who can beneflL from lL
Agaln durlng Lhe dark decades Lnglands CaLhollcs were en[olned Lo recelve communlon elghL Llmes a
year lf posslble and on each such occaslon Lhe offlclaLlng prlesL would be a mere LransmlLLer of grace
Llkewlse Lhe elghL 8eaLlLudes menLlon people who keep dolng whaL ls rlghL even Lhough Lhey can
expecL reward only ln Lhe fuLure
unLll Lhls cenLury danclng (ln seLs raLher Lhan ln couples) was used as a means of soclallzlng chlldren
glvlng Lhem pracLlce ln paLLerned lnLeracLlon wlLh oLher people any fallure Lo coordlnaLe Lhelr
movemenLs wlLh Lhose of oLhers would be noLlced and correcLed aL once
Slmllarly Lhe nlne frulLs of Lhe SplrlL llsLed by SL aul ln CalaLlans 3 2223 lnLermlngle wlLhouL geLLlng ln
each oLhers wayas do Lhe ranks of angels nlne ln all whlch he menLlons ln varlous passages llke Lhe
nlne ladles Lhey move as communlLles ln dlsclpllned dellghL
Long before Slr lsaac newLon explalned why people knew LhaL Lhose who leap llke Lhe Len lords rlsk
comlng down wlLh a Lhud 1hls mlrrors our relaLlonshlp wlLh Lhe 1en CommandmenLs whlch we cannoL
really break for Lhey sLand flrm as gravlLy whaLever we do we can aL mosL break ourselves agalnsL
Lhem
1he Len hlsLorlcal books of Lhe Cld 1esLamenL Leem wlLh people who found LhaL ouL Lhe hard way MosL
of Lhem llke Lhe lords already had plenLy buL wanLed more and leaped afLer whaL Lhey deslred
CommandmenLs or no some falled whlle oLhers goL more Lhan Lhey bargalned for 1he Len norLhern
Lrlbes of lsrael whose klngs kepL golng Lhelr merry way supply abundanL examples
unllke lLs nelghbors whlch serve as bases for all sorLs of sysLems Lhe number 11 reslsLs efforLs Lo do
anyLhlng wlLh lL excepL mulLlply and among lnsLrumenLs Lhe bagplpe ls [usL as lnLranslgenL 8uL even
one bagplpe ls as dlfflculL Lo lgnore as were Lhe 11 survlvlng dlsclples afLer ChrlsLs resurrecLlon 1hey
proclalmed a dlsLurblng message whlch Lhey would nelLher sofLen nor compromlsean example worLhy
of conslderaLlon by clandesLlne CaLhollcs
1he 1welve uays of ChrlsLmas
Pugh u Mckellar
1he Pymn vol 43 no4- CcLober 1994 page 6
Agaln boLh MaLLhew (1117) and Luke (732) menLlon !esus quoLlng wlLh dlsapproval people who
complalned We have plped unLo you and ye have noL danced" Lnglands CaLhollcs had Lo accepL LhaL
Lhelr nelghbors were so unllkely Lo dance Lo any Lune of Lhelrs LhaL Lhey mlghL as well unllke Lhe
dlsclples plpe down
Slnce 8oman Llmes drums had been vlewed less as muslcal lnsLrumenLs Lhan as means of sendlng
slgnals over long dlsLances especlally ln Lhe confuslon of baLLle
1he Lwelve mlnor propheLs of Lhe Cld 1esLamenL send Lhelr slgnal across Lhe cenLurles as do Lhe Lwelve
arLlcles of falLh ln Lhe AposLles Creed whereas Lhe Lwelve gaLes of Lhe new !erusalem beckon from
beyond boLh space and Llme urumbeaLs normally command acLlvlLy of some klnd by soundlng on Lhe
feasL of Lplphany Lhese Lwelve drummers hearLen us Lo emulaLe Lhe Wlse Men by conLlnulng our
[ourney Lowards ChrlsL desplLe all obsLacles ln Lhe cerLalnLy LhaL we cannoL exhausL Lhe bounLy of Cod
who ls boLh Lrue and Love