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VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Experts in music, theology and literature are pillorying a Vatican hymn composed for the 2025 Jubilee Year as epitomizing the "juvenilization of Christianity."
Coined by American sociologist Thomas Bergler, "juvenilization" refers to "the process by which the religious beliefs, practices and developmental characteristics of adolescents become accepted as appropriate for Christians of all ages."
The criticism of the new hymn comes in the wake of the controversy over the Jubilee Year "rainbow" logo designed by Giacomo Travisani — a practitioner of New Age and sensual massage therapies — with a phone number linking the Italian designer to a gay porn website.
Catholics on social media mocked the logo for its "infantile" artwork and its association with the colors of the LGBTQ flag, calling it an "embarrassing clipart" of "juvenile graphics for mental midgets and the emotionally stunted," Church Militant earlier reported.
While Pope Francis personally picked Travisani's logo as the winner out of the top three chosen submissions, the Vatican did not explain how it selected the text of the Jubilee's official hymn, authored by the Italian theologian Msgr. Pierangelo Sequeri.
On Saturday, the Vatican's Dicastery for Evangelization advertised a competition for a musical composition to accompany Sequeri's Italian text.
Titled "Pilgrims of Hope," the theme of the Jubilee Year, the hymn will be translated into other languages after the winner of the musical composition is chosen in 2023.
Announcing the competition, the Vatican upheld the Psalms as "a striking example" of musical composition, emphasizing that "the prayers of the people of Israel were written to be sung, and it was in song that the most human events were presented before the Lord."
However, Italian novelist and littérateur Elisabetta Sala told Church Militant that the hymn's text had "no substance, apart from a vague feeling of renovation that progressive bishops have been hammering into our brains ever since the 'new Pentecost' of Vatican II."
"The hymn conveys a juvenile, ambiguous meaning through a facile variation of hendecasyllables and decasyllables," Sala said. "This is typical of the author, notorious for the sugary songs of the seventies."
"But here, he's managed to do even worse. This sort of nursery rhyme has actually neither rhyme nor reason," lamented Sala, author of The King's Wrath Is Death: Henry VIII & the Schism That Divided the World.
Noting that the hymn was a "poor variant" of Bob Dylan's political anthem "Blowin' in the Wind," Sala explained:
As usual, Sequeri rhymes "te" with "te" (same word), creates assonances between "nuovo" and "nuova," "tempo" and "vento," exactly as a child would do in elementary school. The cringe-worthy line is "passa i muri Spirito di vita" (the Spirit of life moves walls). And, of course, we have the vague image of God's paternity in the description of God as "Womb."
"The appallingly low quality of this hymn, both as theology and poetry, reminds us of the vast patrimony of wonderful Catholic music, including hymns from every age of the Church, which lie almost entirely neglected and unused," Oxford medievalist Dr. Joseph Shaw remarked.
"One can only imagine that those making the selection would reject the hymns of Newman, Bernard of Clairvaux or Ambrose because they actually don't want hymns with real theological content or poetic interest," added Shaw, president of the International Una Voce Federation — a movement promoting the Traditional Latin Mass.
Explaining that the hymn was composed by Sequeri, a "well-known Italian theologian very much in tune with the current Vatican narrative," Italian composer and musicologist Prof. Aurelio Porfiri asked why the hymn for the Jubilee was not written in Latin.
"What would be a better sign of Catholicism, of universality, than all nations joining in one voice? The Italian version must be translated into many languages and the text cannot be the same," Porfiri, a distinguished organist and hymn writer observed.
"And what about the competition for composers from all over the world? How will people who are not Italian set music to an Italian text? If you give away Latin, this is what happens," Porfiri stressed.
Speaking to Church Militant, a theologian and the former chaplain to the late Queen Elizabeth II, Dr. Gavin Ashenden argued that "the hymn sadly represents the lowest common denominator in religious writing."
Ashenden, a trained opera singer and the presenter of the Merely Catholic podcast, observed:
There is nothing wrong with the words, but they have been put together with the sticky tape displaying the marks of the fingerprints of a committee, or worse, the algorithms of a badly programmed software. It's as if a bunch of well-meaning 1960s liturgists got together, and each was allowed to throw in their favorite phrase.
Although it uses several catchphrases and stock ideas drawn from the filing cupboard drawer marked "inspirational," it feels as though it has been done by a computer program rather than a poet. Perhaps the most difficult thing in responding to the spiritual poetry is understanding why it appears not to work?
"This falls short of being religious art and, instead, achieves a status of religious graffiti," the former Anglican priest and convert to Catholicism lamented.
The Vatican said that the Jubilee Year's motto, "Pilgrims of Hope," was based on the prophet Isaiah (in chapters 9 and 60) and expressed "the themes of creation, fraternity, God's tenderness and hope in our destination," which would ring "eloquently in the ears of our time."
But Hebrew Bible scholar Dr. Caroline Kaye told Church Militant that "instead of being rooted in biblical poetry and prose," the hymn "makes for a bland and vacuous reading experience" and "comprises of what we can all come to expect as the New World Order marches on."
"All the usual woke shibboleths are present, nestled in the mediocrity. We first encounter what, at first, seems like an advertisement for a new type of gas fire in the words 'living flame of my hope,'" said Kaye, an art historian and painter.
"Then, we find a curious reference to an 'eternal womb.' The Catholic image of a womb might have once been linked to Mary, Mother of God. However, in keeping with the current fads, it is a disembodied, decontextualized organ, as if the Holy See were unable to address one of the big questions of the day: What is a woman?" Kaye commented.
Noting the political subtext of the hymn, the creator of The Sideways Thinker elaborated:
We have the multitude of languages, peoples and nations finding "light in God's Word," yet they are "fragile" and "dispersed." Does this refer to those who are migrating to new nations? And are these nations soon to be dissolved under the World Economic Forum's plan for one world government?
"The clue might reside in the phrase, 'the dawn of a new future' and 'new heavens earth made new.' That is a lot of 'news' in a couple of lines. 'New' World Order anyone?" Kaye asked.
According to Vatican stipulations for the competition, the musical composition should include a score for voice and organ and a score for four-part harmony.
The biblical book of Leviticus orders a Jubilee to be held as a year of liberation "par excellence," which happens about every 50 years.
In the Catholic Church, the Jubilee Year began to be celebrated in 1300 AD and was seen as a year of forgiveness of sins and reconciliation. Today, a Jubilee Year is celebrated every 25 years. The most recent was in 2000.
Refrain: Living flame of my hope
May this song reach up to You!
Eternal womb of infinite life,
on the way I trust in You.
1. Every language, people and nation
find light in Your Word.
Fragile and dispersed sons and daughters
are welcomed in Your beloved Son.
2. God looks at us, tender and patient:
The dawn of a new future is born.
New heavens earth made new:
The Spirit of life moves walls.
3. Lift your eyes, move with the wind,
speed up the pace: God comes, in time.
See the Son Who became Man:
Thousands and thousands find the way.