O Sacred Woods Now Wounded

 on December 5, 2023

The power of Christian singing paradoxically was testified by the second century critic of our faith, Celsus, who admitted that despite his qualms, “you just want to sing along.” One of the most powerful hymns is O Sacred Head Now Wounded, composed by the French Cistercian Abott and poet, Arnulf de Leuven, who died in 1250.

When composing his passion hymn in Latin, “Salve Mundi Salataire”, Arnulf was contemplating the wounds of Jesus from the Crucifixion. What made the hymn so popular however was its German translation written during the horrific conditions of 17th century wars of religion in Central Europe. The wounds on the body of Jesus appeared then to mark the terrible divisions in Christ’s body in the form of the Church. While the 17th century wars scarred the body of Christ’s Church, today’s ecological crisis mars the forest mantle which once covered most of our Earth.

I got a sense of this suffering when walking around a forest in Niagara Falls, properly called Ramsey Road Woodlot in ecological studies. It has become popularly called the Thundering Waters Forest, derived from its close proximity to the great cataract on the Niagara River. While most of the woodland is still protected as a significant wetland, lands around it are horribly scarred, with streams being hidden, by woods being exposed, and hurtling surprisingly into previously unseen pits. Ugly scenes of mud and trees pounded into sawdust stand as a warning to the biggest cut of healthy forest seen in the Niagara Diocese since the mid-19th century.

When “Sacred Woods So Wounded” was sung in St. Barnabas Church, a packed parish sang of the need to heal our wounded planet. May its message spread and Christian passion build to heal creation.

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