Monday, December 15, 2014

THE JUKEBOX HERO HYMNAL: Hymn 016: Riu Chiu by The Monkees

Just as there are still uninformed atheists out there who put forth the scientifically disproven argument that human beings are born with no concept of God or religion, there are still sad music know-it-alls who insist The Monkees had no talent. Well, all it takes is one listen to the boy’s rendition of “Riu Chiu” to embarrass such skeptics. In an interview with Parade magazine, Peter Tork himself named “Riu Chiu” as his favorite Monkees music overall, and it’s pretty easy to hear why.

To tell the truth, though, I had actually forgotten about this buried track which first appeared on the 1967 Christmas episode of The Monkees television show. Fortunately, after Fr. Steve Grunow wrote an article discussing the meaning of “Riu Chiu,” Amy Wellborn recalled The Monkees’ version and posted a link. And now we’re adding to The Jukebox Hero Hymnal for Advent.

“Riu Chiu” is a fine example of the Spanish musical genre known as villancico which came to prominence during the Renaissance. Like other poetic forms, villancico has a distinct rhythmic structure which I won’t bore you with here, but which is detailed over at PoetryBase for those who are interested. For our purposes, all that’s important is to know that the musical form eventually moved away from folk songs to become associated primarily with Christmas carols sung during the liturgy.

”Riu Chiu” is particularly suited for Advent as its lyrics expound on the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as well as the redemptive nature of the birth of Christ…

River, roaring river, guard our homes in safety,
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
God has kept the black wolf from our lamb, our Lady.
Raging mad to bite her, there the wolf did steal,
But our God Almighty defended her with zeal.
Pure He wished to keep Her so She could never sin,
That first sin of man never touched the Virgin sainted.
River, roaring river...
He who's now begotten is our mighty Monarch,
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied.
He has brough atonement by being born so humble,
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created.
River, roaring river...

Pretty heavy stuff for The Monkees to cover, huh? The interesting thing about this 16th century villancico is how it makes clear that the Immaculate Conception was a commonly accepted doctrine of the Church long before its formal definition as an article of faith by Pope Pius IX in 1854. In fact, the dogma which proclaims that Mary was spared from the stain of original sin from the moment of her conception has its first inklings all the way back in the Gospel of Luke.

“And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin' s name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:26-33, DRB)

If we can get technical for just a moment, the Greek word kecharitomene, translated here as “full of grace,” is the perfect passive participle of charitoo, which means "to fill or endow with grace." The use of the perfect tense indicates that grace imparted to Mary in the past continues to have effects in the present. Basically, it means Mary was in a state of grace her entire life.

Neat, right? But the most important takeaway from all that theology is that all that grace came from God, not Mary herself. Which means, in theory, we can have the same thing. Oh sure, not from the very first second like she did, but at any point afterwards when we make ourselves ready for it. Which is part of what Advent is supposed to be about, right?

1 comment:

Joseph R. said...

Wow, that's really cool, thanks for posting. I"ve always had a fondness for the Monkees.