I’d written a post about Năm Xưa Trên Cây Sồi [Years Ago on an Oak Tree], which has been, in my opinion, the most popular devotional Marian hymn in Vietnamese. This post is about a different hymn that happens to be about Our Lady of Fatima as well.
There is a very long history to the Catholic concept of reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. While Marian devotion has existed since the early centuries of Christianity, the seventeenth century witnessed a growing devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a parallel devotion to the Immaculate Heart.
The first devotion is rooted in the belief that the heart of Jesus is full of compassion for humanity yet they ignore it, reject it, treat it with contempt. The devotion to the Sacred Heart therefore embraces his love for humankind. In comparison, the devotion for the Immaculate Heart of Mary is about the love that she has for Jesus and for God. The purpose is to imitate this love of hers. To quote one of Donal Anthony Foley’s books on Marianism, this devotion provides “a model for the way we should love God.”
Francis de Sales, bishop and co-founder of the Order of the Visitation in 1610, had come up with the image of a heart inscribed with the names of Jesus and Mary, pierced with a pair of arrows, and surrounded by a crown of sharp thorns. Some six and a half decades later, a French member of this order, Margaret Mary Alacoque, experienced visions of Jesus presenting his heart to her and, thereafter, devoted her work to spreading this devotion. Her propagation contributed to the prominence of this devotion over the devotion to the Immaculate Heart. In the next century, however, there was an alliance of the two devotions, and nineteenth-century Marian apparitions subsequently enhanced the devotion to the Immaculate Heart. Both devotions proved crucial to the ultramontane revival in France, Italy, and other Catholic territories.
The concept of “reparation” also appeared alongside these devotions. It was partially a reaction against Jansenism, which advanced a narrow interpretation of salvation: that it was already determined by God. The basic idea is that human sins offend the Sacred Heart and the Immaculate Heart, and one ought to make reparation for those sins. Reparation typically takes the form of regular practice of a certain prescription such as receiving communion on the first Friday of the month and praying the rosary daily. The promotion of reparation to the Sacred Heart and/or the Immaculate Heart meant to empower individual believers to take salvation into their hands, so to speak, and to counter Jansenist belief.
After the creation of the Soviet Union and, especially, during the Cold War, reparation to the Immaculate Heart took on a more urgent role among Catholic anticommunist populations, including those in Vietnam. In this respect, the most popular Vietnamese hymn about reparation to the Immaculate Heart is Đền Tạ Trái Tim Mẹ: Reparation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. (Yep, it’s as unambiguous of a hymn title as there could be.)
The composer was Nguyễn Khắc Tuần (1930-2009). Not a member of the clergy, Tuần’s primary association was the Phát Diệm Musician Group during the formative period of Catholic choral music (1945-1955) that coincided with the First Indochina War. Another member of this group was Phạm Đình Nhu, later a priest, with whom Tuần co-wrote one of only two or three popular hymns about St. Joseph: Cầu Xin Thánh Gia [Petition to the Holy Family].
Here is a performance of the song for the program Thúy Nga, well known in the diaspora and Vietnam. In fact, the program was recorded at my parish, St. Columban Catholic Church, in December 2017.
The song opens with the refrain, in which the devotee addresses Our Lady of Fatima. Mostly an exposition of the reasons for the devotion, the refrain ends with a resolution for reparation to the Immaculate Heart.
Lạy Mẹ Fatima,
Mẹ nỉ non bao lần
Tội gian trần để phiền cho trái tim Mẹ.
Lòng Mẹ thương bao la,
Tình ái ân vô ngần,
Con dâng mình đền thay tội lỗi muôn dân.
We bow to you, Our Lady of Fatima,
You have confided to us time and again,
That earthly sins have offended your [immaculate] heart.
Great is your compassion,
Endless is your love.
I consecrate myself towards the reparation of humankind.
True to the emotive pillar of devotionalism, the first verse further commits the devotee to a life-long and intimate relationship with Our Lady.
1. Từ nay lòng con nhớ lời Mẹ tha thiết.
Sá gì dầu nguy biến thề chết có Mẹ, vui có Mẹ.
Dù rằng bao sóng gió, con lo gì, con lo gì,
Chết bên Mẹ con sợ chi, con sợ chi Mẹ ơi.
From now on I’ll dearly miss [i.e., think of] you,
Regardless of any hazards, I vow to be happy with you and to die with you.
Regardless of any storms, I worry not, worry not.
For I fear not, fear not, since I shall die with you by my side.
The second verse further justifies the devotee’s choice by appealing to the situation of the world. For emphasis, there is often repetition of the last words in a line.
2. Trần gian trụy sa nhuốm màu tang đắm đuối,
Trên đường theo chân lý nào đâu mấy người, đâu mấy người.
Đường trần gian say đắm không bến bờ, không bến bờ,
Phút gian nan trông vào ai, nương vào ai Mẹ ơi.
The sinful earth is in the darkness of death,
Few walk on the path of truth, so few.
No destination, no destination on this earthly path.
In times of danger to whom we should turn to but you, Our Mother.
The third verse varies from one version to another, often completely different. In one version, it elaborates on the devotee’s conversion and reparation.
3. Mẹ ơi giờ đây con thực tình thống hối,
Con đường xưa tội lỗi nguyện xa cách rời, xa cách rời.
Và quỳ đây con muốn không dâng gì, không xin gì,
Mắt con trông lên Mẹ yêu, âm thầm nhìn Mẹ thôi.
Our Lady, now I am genuinely sorry,
I promise to have left, to have left the sinful road of old,
Here I kneel, not wanting to ask for anything,
My eyes raise to you, quietly looking at you only.
Reparation appears in some other popular Marian hymns, including Năm Xưa Trên Cây Sồi, but never as clear-eyed and direct as it does here. Reflecting the intimate setting of the hymn, choral and individual performances tend to be slow in pace. Here are two videos of choral performances from the last few years, in Saigon and Chicago, respectively.