Gregorian chant, Mary and the Blessed offspring (Beata viscera): the evisceration of scripture

A few months ago I bought a Sony turntable and over one hundred classical music LPs at a car boot sale. I removed a pair of speakers from my caravan and bought an amplifier. I connected them all up a few minutes ago. The records are standing stacked next to one another on a high shelf, and so the covers are not visible. I randomly reached up and pulled one out: Gregorian chant from the Benedictine Monastery of Monserrat; my first vinyl for many decades.

I think on my devout Catholic twenty-something years and the monasteries I stayed at in Europe. The Catholic church is sure filled with beauty. If only beautiful music, liturgy, architecture, ceremonies could reconcile us with God! This is not to say that the Reformers and Catholics did not share core biblical beliefs, which are reflected in some of the chants on the record such as “Descendit de caelis” (He came down from heaven), “In principio erat verbum” (In the beginning was he word) and “Verbum caro factum est (The word was made flesh). Several of these chants, however, stick in my throat; for example, “Beata viscera” (Blessed Offspring), a Marian piece sung during the Communion of the Mass. It is sung also on the feast of the Assumption (Mary taken, like Enoch, up to heaven without tasting death) and votive masses of the Blessed Virgin.

Here is the English translation of “Beata Viscera”:

Blessed flesh (inner parts) of the Virgin Mary, (Beata viscera Marie virginis)

at whose breast the king of eminent name,

concealing, under altered guise,

the force of divine nature,

has sealed a pact of God and Man.

O astonishing novelty and unaccustomed joy

of a mother still pure after childbirth (matris integrita post puerperium)

 

Vision does not endure to behold in its radiance

the sun, unconcealed, as he rises forth, pure.

Let the wholly enclosed womb of the mother

behold from the side as it is reflected.

O astonishing novelty and unaccustomed joy

of a mother still pure after childbirth.

 

Beata Viscera,” according to Catholic teaching, is based on Psalm 45:10b,11,12,13,14,15,16

10 a Listen, daughter, and pay careful attention:
 b Forget your people and your father’s house.

11 Let the king be enthralled by your beauty;
    honor him, for he is your lord.

12 The city of Tyre will come with a gift, people of wealth will seek your favor.

13 All glorious is the princess within her chamber;
    her gown is interwoven with gold.

14 In embroidered garments she is led to the king;
 her virgin companions follow her—
    those brought to be with her.

15 Led in with joy and gladness,
they enter the palace of the king.

16 Your sons will take the place of your fathers;
 you will make them princes throughout the land.

If you believe Mary is not only the mother of all mankind but also the Queen of heaven (as Catholics do), how on earth do you see the “Queen of heaven” as one of the several virgins sent in to share King David’s bed. No doubt she will be “led in with joy and gladness (when) she enters the palace of the king,” for what can be more joyful for her than to share her King’s bed? For one brief night – at least – she will be queen. And when she wakes up in the morning, yes, she’ll still, as a legitimate concubine,  be pure, but will she still be a virgin?

 Like many of the abuses of scripture in rabbinism, “mea viscera” not only distorts, scripture, it eviscerates it.