Chapters from the Myroure, IV

Chapter 20: of the hasty saying of these holy hours and of over-skipping.

It is such a great peril to omit anything from this holy service as I said before, therefore all who are bound to say them should not only accustom their heart to remember this, but also to use their time to say it appropriately and distinctly without failing or skipping over words or syllables. It is like a good harper who strikes all of the strings of his heart at the right time; if he were to strike only the first and the last or if he would strike them recklessly all at once, he would make no decent melody. Rightly God’s service is compared to the songs of a harp as the prophet says: Psallite domino in cithera. That is, sing to God on the harp. Therefore in this harp of our Lord’s service, you ought to strike all the strings – that is to say, all the words and syllables each in its kind and its proper place and not rattle them out together as if you would say them all at once. For the praise of God in his church ought to accord with his praise in heaven concerning which St. John in the Apocalypse after he had heard it said this: Et vocem quam audivi sicut citharedorum citharisancium in citharis suis. That is, the voice that I heard in heaven was the voice of harpers harping on their harps.

When Aaron—by our Lord’s command—offered a calf upon the altar, he cut it into pieces and then offered it up with the head and each of its members. By this calf is understood the service of our Lord’s praise which is much more acceptable to him than the offering of any calf as the prophet says: Laudabo nomen dei cum cantico et magnificabo eum in laude, Et placebit deo super vitulum novellum. That is, I shall praise the name of God with song and I shall make much of him in praise and it shall please God more than the offering of any young calf. But when this calf of our Lord’s praise is offered, it must be cut into pieces, for all the words and syllables ought to be said distinctly from the beginning to the end in each member and in each part of it.

Just as “clippers” or counterfeiters of the king’s money are punished by death, rightly so they who clip away from the money of God’s service any words or letters or syllables and counterfeit it from the true sentence or from the true manner of saying it deserve to be grievously punished by God.

Therefore the fiend readily sends his messengers to gather all such negligences together and to keep them to accuse the soul as we read from holy abbot of the order of Cistercians who, while he stood in the choir at matins, saw a devil that had a long and great bag hanging about his neck and went about the choir from one to another and waited attentively for all the letters and syllables and words and failings that any left. These he gathered diligently and put them in his back. When he came before the Abbot, waiting to see if anything had escaped him that he might have retrieved and put in his bag, the Abbot was astonished and afraid of the foulness and misshapenness of him and said to him, “what are you?” He answered and said, “I am a poor devil, and my name is Titivullus and I perform the office that is committed to me.” “And what is your office?” said the Abbot. He answered, “Every day I must bring my master 1000 bags full of failings and of negligences in syllables and words that occur within your order in reading and in singing or else I will be sorely beaten.” You may see, that though such failings are soon forgotten by those that make them, yet the fiend forgets them not but keeps them diligently in sure store to accuse the soul with them at our Lord’s judgment. Therefore it is good to know the causes of such haste and negligence and how to remedy it.

One cause may be the result of a bad habit; some have accustomed their tongue to rattle off their service in such haste that they cannot do otherwise. This habit needs to be unlearned that the worthiness of our Lord’s praise may bridle their tongue to say it more appropriately as our Lord says by his prophet: Laude mea infrenabo te. I shall bridle you with my praise.

Another cause is lack of devotion. Some have so little devotion to our Lord’s service that they consider it a pain to them as long as they are saying it. Therefore they hurry themselves as fast as they can until they are delivered from it. This lack of devotion comes either from great sloth, that they do not wish to work in this holy service to attain devotion, or else it comes from some sin that is hidden in their conscience that bears down the soul and makes it so heavy that they cannot it up and have spiritual desire in any prayer.

The remedy for this is to purge their conscience by contrition, by confession, and to stir up their dullness to work for devotion as much as they can or may and to focus upon the appropriate saying of their service—no matter how wearisome it may be—until they have broken the hardness and coldness of their own heart.

The third cause is worldly or outward occupation. For some have their hearts so focused on bodily works or upon other business that they must do that they rattle off their service as fast as they can in haste to be at their other work. Yet while they are praying, their mind is more upon their work then upon their service and therefore they feel no savor from it. St. Bernard says that the holy delight of devotion flies from the heart that is occupied with worldly business for truth may not be mixed with vanity, nor imperishable things with perishable things, nor spiritual things with fleshly things, nor high things with low things. You may not, he says, savor both at once the heavenly things that are above, and earthly things that are below. Therefore as Chrysostom says, he who wishes to keep the commandments of God needs to despise the wills of the world.

Chapter 21: what attention ought to be had concerning the song of these holy hours.

The fourth thing that belongs to the duty of this holy service is to take heed of the song which is the least of the things we have spoken of. For while there are three parts to God’s service—that is to say, the sense, the words, and the tune—the notes and tune serve the words and the words serve the inward sense. All three, this sense, the words, and the tune, serve to stir the soul to love, to worship, and to praise God and to have joy and devotion in him. Therefore all the attention that should be had regarding the tune ought to be for this and to be judged accordingly. For you should not in singing seek after loveliness of voice, nor delight yourself in the sweetness of the song itself, nor in the highest songs, nor in novel singing, nor in any manner of vanity, but only to see compunction for your sins and devotion to God and to his holy mother whose praise you sing.

Although, as St. Benedict says, such ought to read and to sing as will edify the hearers, yet it is not useful to have any regard in the heart toward the hearers. The song that is sung most devoutly towards God edifies  others most if you think nothing concerning them; the less you think on them (thus fleeing from vanity), the more you edify.

It is necessary to take heed in singing that all the notes be sung as they are in your books, each of them to their own tune, and that the rhythm of singing be evenly set and kept. But all this ought so to be ruled that the spirits of all be kept in rest and that devotion to God be furthered by it and not hindered. Therefore each one should have an ear to the others so that if any discord occurs, each one should be ready to give help to another. One should not hasten forward while another draws back, but all ought to sing together and in accord together that as you ought to be all of one heart, so you praise God, as it were, with one voice.

Chapter 22: how the song of the holy service ought to be humble and sad without any vanity or novelty.

There is no manner of singing or reading that pleases God in and of itself, but the disposition of the reader or singer is pleasing or unpleasing. Our Lord takes heed to the heart and the intent, and not to the outward voice. Therefore they who rejoice in themselves through vainglory or delight themselves in the sweetness and pleasantness of their own voice do not please God with their singing; rather they offend him and please the fiend. St. Gregory says that when pleasant voices are sought after, the sober life is forsaken.

The fiend has such a great entry through this vice that sometimes he uses it himself. We read that there was once a clerk who had so sweet and fair a voice that many delighted to hear him sing. But one day when a religious man heard him sing, he said it was no man’s voice but the fiend’s and amazed all the people. When the holy man exorcized him before them all, he immediately left the stinking body that he appeared in and went his way. Therefore the more pleasant and fair that anybody’s voice is, the more diligent they ought to be about the keeping of the heart in humility and in devotion that it may be pleasing in God’s sight. It is written of a monk who was in the same abbey where Benedict was Abbot that he had a voice most pleasant and sweet. This monk once hallowed the Paschal candle on the Easter Eve and sang so sweetly the hallowing song [the Exultet] that it sounded to the ears of all that heard him as if it had a melody most sweet and delicious. But he had such delight and vainglory in himself that as soon as he had finished, the fiends took him to themselves both soul and body in so sudden and marvelous a way that no man knew how nor where he had gone. Therefore you may see how perilous it is for anyone to delight himself either in his own voice or in the outward song. As St. Augustine says in his Confessions, as often as the song delighted him more than the inward meaning of the thing that was sung, so he acknowledged that he sinned grievously.

Our Lord Jesus Christ showed to St. Bridget how the spirit of vainglory accuses the soul of a religious man at our Lord’s judgment for his high and vain singing. The fiend said this to him: “He sang,” he said, ”For vainglory and for a vain name. And when his voice fell down in anything and became weary, then I lifted it up higher and gladly came running to help him.” So for this and for other sins, the wretched soul was damned.

Similarly, I read of a young Cistercian monk who from pride and self-will when the psalmody was begun in a low voice, he said it three notes higher even though some of the older monks would have sung it as it was begun. Yet with the help of others who favored him, he prevailed against them and held forth his own and they gave way. Then immediately it was seen openly how the fiend coming out of his mouth in the likeness of hot burning iron entered into all his helpers.

Just as a man who climbs high loses his footing and hold sometimes and so falls and breaks his neck, just so such high singers who lose the footing of humility and have no hold of devotion above fall down by pride and break their spiritual necks. Just as every note and devout song shall have a special reward from God, just so the fiends mark every note of such proud songs to have the singers punished for them.

For at one time when clerks sang in the choir with high and loud voices, a religious man saw how the fiend sat on high with a great sack in his left hand and with his right hand he put into it all their voices and songs. When the service was done they rejoiced greatly and gladly among themselves as if they had praised God properly with their songs. Then the holy man said to them, “You have sung fast” he said, “And have filled a great sack full.” They asked him what he meant, and he told them what he had seen. Then they were ashamed as much as they had rejoiced before.

Therefore our merciful Lord Jesus Christ wills that all such songs should be excluded from this order; he himself bids that your song should not be novel nor high nor vain but in all ways humble, sad, and sober saying thus to our holy mother St. Bridget: “Have you not read that the sister of Moses on account of the great miracle that was done in the Red Sea went out with virgins and women singing timpani and with cymbals a song of joy to God? So should my mother’s daughters go out of the Red Sea. That is to say, and pleasures of the world, having in the hands of their works timpani– that is to say, abstinence from fleshly lusts – and cymbals of clear praising whose song ought not to be slothful nor broken nor dissolute but honest and sad and in unison and in all ways humble. Following the song of those who are called Charterhouse whose psalmody savors more of the sweetness of the soul and humility and devotion than any vain outward showing. For the heart is not clean from sin when the song delights the singer more than the thing that is sung. It is in always abominable towards God when the lifting up of the voice is more for the hearers then for God.” These are the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.