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How signed singing for the deaf helped me to understand Newman

Watching the deaf members of the congregation is moving and informative

By on Thursday, 5 April 2012

We are now on the threshold of the Sacred Triduum, a time when earthy clamour should cease and when we should all retreat into contemplative silence. There will be a chance for this at the Altar of Repose tonight. Do try and get along there, even if you cannot make the Mass of the Lord’s Supper.

I love the Altar of Repose. I remember as a teenager visiting the altar of repose in Mdina Cathedral, and being amazed by its Baroque splendour, and then going to visit six further churches in the vicinity – this being Malta, that meant in the space of about half a square mile. I used to make a point of visiting seven altars of repose in Rome when I lived there, which was often very frustrating. The adoration until midnight is supposed to be silent, but in Rome so very often this is interpreted to mean that nuns strum guitars, people shout out the rosary, and the local youth group sings the Italian equivalent of Kum bay yah: all of which usually empties the church.

I have just been to the Chrism Mass in our diocese which was a good way in to the Sacred Triduum. From where I was sitting, in one of the side aisles, I had an excellent view of the deaf members of the congregation who joined in all the hymns, following the lead of a signer. I found their actions both moving and informative: never before had the words of Cardinal Newman’s great hymn seemed so full of meaning to me.

O wisest love! that flesh and blood,
which did in Adam fail,
should strive afresh against the foe,
should strive, and should prevail;

and that a higher gift than grace
should flesh and blood refine:
God’s presence and his very self,
and essence all-divine.

O generous love! that he who smote
in man for man the foe,
the double agony in Man
for man should undergo.

And in the garden secretly,
and on the cross on high,
should teach his brethren, and inspire
to suffer and to die.

I learned these words years ago, but now, thanks to the signed singing of the deaf, I think I understand them much more than before.

May I wish you all a very Happy Easter!

  • Adam Thomson

    It’s one of my favourite hymns – especially the verse about Christ as the second Adam :

    O loving wisdom of our God, when all was sin and shame,
    A second Adam to the fight, and to the rescue came.

    However, I’m puzzled by “the double agony”. Do you know the significance of the “double”?

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    I think, and I may be wrong about this, the double agony means he suffered as Man, and he suffered as God, in his humanity and in his divinity.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    People might like these two exemplars of altars of repose from Malta, sent to me by my facebook friend Charlie Scerri.

  • Jacob Ford

    Lovely, now go out and win some converts with your expensive education!

  • Confusedof Chi