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May 26, 2012

Rumours (3): Bring flowers of the rarest

evelyn @ 10:32 am

Well, well, well. So it’s only a rumour. But this one has been going a long time, probably since Vatican II itself.

In a question-and-answer feature in this week’s Scottish Catholic Observer, a church musician asked why some priests insist that hymns to Our Lady during Mass are liturgically incorrect, while others don’t seem to mind. The hymn in question was ‘Bring flowers of the rarest’, the use of which at the Offertory had greatly upset a supply priest at the musician’s church.

The answer, from ‘a member of the Scottish Catholic clergy’, was that these hymns are not incorrect at all. This from page 15 of the Scottish Catholic Observer of 25 May 2012:

… there is no official document which prohibits the use of a hymn in praise of Our Lady, or one invoking her intercession, during the Preparation of the Offerings or at any other point during Mass. It is difficult to work out where this idea originated or what reason those who assert that singing a hymn to Mary is liturgically incorrect have for doing this …

I find this quite amazing. There is absolutely no doubt that Marian hymns during Mass are widely discouraged by the clergy and apparently by the Church generally, except for very occasional use, such as on 15 August. And the hymn which gets the most stick, to the point of being deliberately excluded from hymn books, is ‘Bring flowers of the rarest’.

Every May, this blog gets hits galore from all over the world from people who have googled ‘chords for bring flowers of the rarest’. This year has seen more than ever. This hymn obviously has continuing value for people, probably sentimental but surely for the music, too. And it isn’t just the older pre-Vatican II generation who like it. I’ve been asked to play it at weddings. On one memorable occasion, I even had to improvise on it unexpectedly.

‘Bring flowers’ has a pleasant, lilting 6/8 melody. It’s a bit wide-ranging, so you have to choose the key carefully. A major or B flat major work best. The very simple version for beginner organists which the googlers eventually reach, probably to their disappointment, is in G, though transposing knobs or guitar capos can always be used to raise the pitch.

[NB A chords version in A has now been added – March 2013].

When I do get the chance to play ‘Bring flowers of the rarest’, the singing is always enthusiastic, as indeed it is with other older Marian hymns, such as ‘Hail, Queen of heaven’, or ‘I’ll sing a hymn to Mary’.

People like them.  They really do.

There’s none of the ‘Catholics-can’t-sing’ syndrome about the congregation when it’s a hymn to Our Lady.

Now we discover they are not liturgically incorrect at Mass.

So why, why, WHY are they so greatly discouraged? And why are the clergy so divided about them?

Can anyone – including priests – comment and answer?


  1. It’s been done several times this month in Blackfen.

    But I remember hearing from the Head of Re at the school I first taught in in the 90s that it had been banned altogether along with anything Latin. Ah well.

    Comment by leutgeb — May 26, 2012 @ 5:51 pm

  2. What about the Magnificat…. Sung during Vespers in a Cathedral… (well, in the English ones)?
    Regarding the banning of Latin… Thats not technically correct is it… I was taught Latin hymns in school in Glasgow and sung them at Masses outside of school right up until the late 80s. And again, English cathedrals and some big parish churches have always had bits of Latin remaining.

    Comment by Paul — May 28, 2012 @ 11:15 am

  3. Leutgeb:

    Banned? My gosh. I thought it was just discouraged. I’ve just had another look at the words – OK, they are a bit old-fashioned but there’s nothing doctrinally wrong, as far as I can see. But if your school also banned Latin, maybe this was a local decision.

    By the way, if your Blackfen is the Blackfen between Welling and Sidcup it’s the area the English half of my family came from. They weren’t Catholic, so I won’t know your church. But I’m glad you’re singing ‘Bring flowers’.

    Comment by evelyn — May 28, 2012 @ 11:25 am

  4. Paul: I’ll grant you Evening Prayer, but at Mass there are various paraphrases of the Magnificat (Tell out my soul, My soul is filled with joy) which ordinary parishes could use, but on the whole don’t. In reply to both you and Leutgeb, I think once the sense of ‘official discouragement’ is felt, then it can lead to an actual ban in certain places – maybe priests interpret it in this way. Latin is a case in point. Very unpopular after Vatican II, but now it’s OK (ie ‘officially encouraged’).

    Comment by evelyn — May 28, 2012 @ 11:37 am

  5. Sorry for the tardy reply. Yes, it’s the Blackfen between Sidcup and Welling and the one where we have a an EF Missa Cantata every Sunday, so plenty of Latin.

    As to the banning of Latin, that particular teacher was bonkers.

    Comment by leutgeb — July 15, 2012 @ 7:51 pm

  6. I’m quite pleased to see some of the Latin returning. And the EF, theoretically at least, can bring back to the liturgy all the great Mass music of the last thousand years. It was so sad when Vatican II relegated it to the concert hall.

    Comment by evelyn — July 17, 2012 @ 3:26 pm

  7. […] written before about how I’ve never understood the depth of hostility towards this hymn. Many priests just […]

    Pingback by Forth In Praise - Liturgy Commission Music - Organists' Blog — April 24, 2015 @ 4:53 pm

  8. […] written before about how I’ve never understood the depth of hostility towards this hymn. Many priests just […]

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