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Musical Musings: Prayers and Liturgical Texts Page 2

The Te Deum (cont.)

"Unigenitum" in v.12 is considered the original reading ("unicum" having supplanted it perhaps through the influence of the Apostles' Creed, in which "unigenitum" was rare). In v.21 nearly all manuscripts read "munerari" (gloria munerari) instead of the present "numerari" (in gloria numerari) which Blume has found in a twelfth century manuscript, and which perhaps was suggested by the words in the Canon of the Mass: "in electorum tuorum jubeas grege numerari." Verse 16, "Tu ad liberandum suscepturus hominem..." offers much opportunity for critical discussion. Most of the old manuscripts favour "suscepisti" (with "liberandum," followed sometimes by "mundum" — Tu ad liberandum mundum suscepisti hominem): but "suscepturus", contended for by Abbo of Fleury, Hincmar, and others, and quoted in a letter of Cyprian of Toulon (about 530), was probably the original word. The verse does not lend itself readily to translation. A fifteenth century translation runs: "When thou shouldest take upon Thee mankind for the deliverance of men, thou horydest not the Virgin's womb." With similar accuracy a Sarum Primer of 1504 has: "Thou (when thou shouldest take upon our nature to delyver man) dydest not abhorre a virgynes wombe." The last Primer of Henry VIII (1546) was probably the first to introduce the ambiguous rendering: "When thou tookest upon thee to deliver man." The (Baltimore) Manual of Prayers is not more accurate: "Thou having taken upon Thee to deliver man, didst not abhor the Virgin's womb." The Roman Missal Adapted to the Use of the Laity (New York 1901) is laboriously accurate: "Thou, when about to take upon Thee man to deliver him, didst not fear the Virgin's womb." The Missal for the Use of the Laity (London, new ed. 1903 cxxxiv) gives a new version in rhyme:
Thou, to redeem lost man from hell's dark doom,
Didst not abhor the lowly Virgin's womb.

This is not far removed from Dryden's version:

Thou, who to save the world's impending doom,
Vouchsaf'dst to dwell within a Virgin's womb.
The general rubrics (titulus XXXI) of the Roman Breviary direct the recitation of the Te Deum at the end of Matins:
(a) on all feasts throughout the year, whether of nine or of three lessons, and throughout their octaves. It is said on the octave day of the feast of the Holy Innocents, but not on the feast itself unless this should fall on Sunday;

(b) on all Sundays from Easter (inclusively) to Advent (exclusively) and from Christmas (inclusively) to Septuagesima (exclusively);

(c) on all ferial days during Eastertide (namely from Low Sunday to Ascension Day) except Rogation Monday.
For the sake of greater explicitness, the rubrics add that it is not said on the Sundays of Advent, or from Septuagesima to Palm Sunday inclusively, or on ferial days outside of Eastertide. It is said immediately after the last lesson, and therefore replaces the third or ninth responsory, as the case may be; but on days when it is not said, its place is occupied by the responsory. The Te Deum is followed immediately by Lauds except on Christmas Day (when it is followed by the prayer, and this is Mass). In general, the Te Deum may be said to follow the same rubric as the Gloria in excelsis at Mass.

In addition to its use in the Divine Office, the Te Deum is occasionally sung in thanksgiving to God for some special blessing (eg. the election of a pope, the consecration of a bishop, the canonization of a saint, the profession of a religious, the publication of a treaty of peace, a royal coronation, etc.), and then usually after Mass or Divine Office, or as a separate religious ceremony. When sung thus immediately before or after Mass, the celebrant, who intones the hymn, may wear the vestments appropriate in colour to the day, unless these should happen to be black. Otherwise, while the rubrics prescribe no special colour, violet is forbidden in processions of thanksgiving (pro gratiarum actione), green is inappropriate for such solemn occasions, red (though permissible) would not suggest itself, unless some such feast as Pentecost, for example, should call for it. White, therefore, or gold, which is considered its equivalent, is thus left as the most suitable colour. The choir and congregation sing the hymn standing, even when the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, but kneel during the verse "Te ergo quaesumus..." At the end the versicles "Benedicamus Patrem..." are added, followed by the single prayer "Deus cujus misericordiae."

There is practically but one plainchant melody for the hymn, varying greatly, however, in different manuscripts. The official and typical melody is now given in the Vatican Gradual (1908) in the Appendix (pro gratiarum actione) in two forms, the tonus solemnis (in which every verse begins with preparatory or intoning notes) and juxta morem romanum (in which the verse begins ex abrupto). Pothier notes a strong affinity between the melodies of the "Te Deum laudamus," "te dominum confitemur" and those of the Preface, "Per omnia...Sursum corda." He also points out (Mélodies grégoriennes, 239) a psalmodic turn in the melody of the Te Deum, strengthened by the introduction of a distinct antiphon-form at the words "Aeterna fac...", the antiphonal melody being thrice repeated. While the chant melody has been frequently used as a canto fermo for polyphonic Masses, the polyphonic settings are few compared with many hymns of less prominence. Palestrina, Jacob Händl, and Felice Anerio have thus treated the old melody. Italian composers of the seventeenth century made settings for several choirs with organ and orchestra. Cherubini's manuscript setting is lost. Berlioz considered the finale of his own setting (for two choirs, orchestra, and organ) "undoubtedly his finest work." Sometimes the alternate verses only are set to music, so that another choir or the congregation may sing the other verses in plainchant (as in the Miserere). The Latin text has been translated into English and has received many settings in that form. Handel's "Utrecht" and "Dettingen" Te Deums are famous. One interesting feature of the latter is that it borrows inspiration for ten of its numbers from a Te Deum composed by the Minorite Francesco Urio, and able Milanese composer of the seventeenth/eighteenth century. Perhaps the most satisfactory of the recent setting of the Te Deum for use in Church is that of Edgar Tinel, written to celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Belgian independence (1830-1905). It is composed for six voice mixed choir, orchestra, and organ.

There are about twenty-five metrical translations into English, including the sonorous version of Dryden, "Thee, Sovereign God, our grateful accents praise," and that of the Rev. Clarence A. Walworth, commonly used in American Catholic hymnals, "Holy God, We Paise Thy Name," but written before his conversion, as it appeared with date of 1853 in the Evangelical Hymnal. There are also six versions into English based on Luther's free rendering into German. There are many German versions, of which the "Grosser Gott, wir loben dich" is commonly used in Catholic churches. Probably the most recent Catholic translation is that found in the new edition (London 1903) of Provost Husenbeth's Missal for the Use of the Laity, "We praise thee, God: we glorify thee, Lord."


The Catholic Encyclopedia, VolumeXIV
Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company
Online Edition Copyright © 1999 by Kevin Knight
Nihil Obstat, February 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor
Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
Reprinted by permission of copyright owner.

See New Advent Catholic Website

See also Te Deum Laudamus (Calvert Shenk) [CNP Catalog #5107]

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