"wretch" in song lyrics

In the song Amazing Grace, Catholic hymnals sometimes substitute “saved and set me free” for the original “saved a wretch like me.” My guess is the change has to do with the idea that none of us are truly wretches, as we’re made in the image and likeness of God. However, I have recently seen the original lyrics used in a hymnal, and the article discussed in last week’s Amazing Grace thread didn’t object to the song on this basis. This occurred to me last night at mass when we sang Victory in Jesus, from the Lead Me, Guide Me hymnal, with the lyrics

How He gave His life on Calvary
To save a wretch like me;

I’m curious, [LIST=1]
*]Am I correct as to the reason the lyrics were changed?
*]Has that concern become less common in recent years?
*]Are there any other songs in Catholic hymnals that contain the word “wretch”?

I can’t get inside the head of the person(s) who changed the lyrics. But I can’t help thinking that it is because, in this day when so many people are big on “self-esteem” and have lost their sense of sin, nobody is willing to think of themselves as “wretches.” But without God’s grace (which is exactly where we are before Baptism or when we have committed mortal sin), we are indeed wretches!

I have only sang it with the word “wretch”. It is that way in Gather.

In my hymnal it’s “wretch” but it has a little aterisk next to the a -

“Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound That saved *a wretch like me!”

Then at the bottom of the hymn it says:

*Alternative text: “and set me free!”

There are many reasons why words are changed. Some words are changed is to avoid copyright’s. Some are changed to reflect political correctness. Some words are changed so as not to associate a particular hymn as being Protestant in origin. Changing the words is nothing new its been going on for a long time. Another example is particular hymn sung at our church during Lent “O Come And Mourn With Me Awhile” one word was changed because it was offensive to some.

O come, and mourn with me awhile, See Mary calls us to her side;
Oh, come and let us mourn with her, Jesus our Love is crucified!

Have we no tears for Him While soldiers scoff and men deride?
Ah, look how patiently He hangs, Jesus, our love is crucified.

  • this word used to be Jews, sometimes All is substituted .

Wretch isn‘t a word used in everyday conversation. People don‘t want to sing that.

So what do we do? Replace it with the lamest rhyme we can think of, with the result that people don‘t like singing that either.

Unfortunately, I think you’re right. Many people seem to think that the words used in prayer have to be the same as the words used in everyday conversation. Why is there a tendency to “dumb down” the language used in prayers and hymns to include only the most commonly used words? In doing so we lose a lot of meaning, replacing strong words and images with weak ones.

All things old are NOT necessarily bad, especially when it comes to language.

Theologically, the use of ‘wretch’ in Amazing Grace is problematic as it is contrary to a Catholic understanding of personhood.

In Catholic theology, actions can be wretched, but persons are not, they are intrinsically good.

Calvinist theology, for example, holds to Total Depravity of the human person (the ‘T’ in TULIP). That Original Sin left mankind in a totally wretched state, that we were, as persons and as a race, no longer ‘good’ but wretched.

That is contrary to a fully Catholic understanding of the human person.

This may, or may not be what the author is describing when he uses the term ‘wretch’, but the term is theologically ambigous at best, and heretical at worst.

So given the choice between the original lyrics, or the change, I would prefer the change, as it is less ambigous in it’s theology.

Someone forgot to tell Jesus.

"For you say, ‘I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything,’ and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. "

                                                      - Jesus (Revelation 3)

I tend to agree that it is a politically correct thing. Catholic theology doesn’t seem to me to avoid our occasional wretchedness. In fact, I think the whole, “God loves us so we must be good” is a more recent paradigm even in the Catholic Church. Historically it has been more, “we are made good because God loves us, though we are nothing in ourselves.” A small but significant difference.

I think Brendan is closest. It isn’t that the song is wrong, per se. But it can APPEAR wrong if you aren’t careful. There once was a period in America where the protestant influence was pervasive and the catholic church had to actively guard American catholics against trading in our “good, but fallen” view of humanity for the “total depravity” view common in protestant theology.

Today, the opposite is true. Common culture has swung to the opposite pole and sees humans as good and that evil is merely the result of outside influences (typically the rich and powerful, with no explanation given for why THEY are so evil!). So today, IMO, using the original word ‘wretch’ can actually be helpful in counteracting the prevailing error in the culture.

The word is and was the same in both eras. But the potential effects of it have changed 180 degrees.

Good one, p.

I don’t claim to speak for anyone but myself. I was a wretch when Jesus pulled me out of what I was wallowing in. And sometimes I still am.

I have sometimes wondered if people who can’t see their own wretchedness have lost sight of the gap between their sinfulness (starting with the sin of pride) and God’s holiness.


Lack of understanding of language, I think. In part; cultural change is part of the answer.

Everyday English is not the same as Liturgical English - Liturgical English is (or was) in a heightened style, to underline the difference in subject matter between what is going on in the Liturgy, & OTOH, what we do in “everyday life”. The use of Latin instead of the vernacular was one of the ways in which the sacrality of the Liturgy, its difference from everyday life, was emphasised. Using a language other than the vernacular to emphasise the sacrality of a thing is certainly not confined to Christianity; to do so, is a means of perpetuating the traditional character of what is done. So such language is often archaic by comparison with everyday speech, which may be in a completely different language, or in a later stage of the same one. Presumably vestments - which are often archaic forms of everyday garments - have the same purpose.

The change from the use of a specifically poetic vocabulary in poetry, to something much closer to “everyday language” is part of this change. “Translation English” in the 19th century was apt to rather archaic - perhaps because the Bible & Prayer Book were archaic, perhaps in an attempt to underline the literary character of what was translated. With the rise of a class of reader ignorant of the “high style” in English, and suchlike cultural changes, translation has become much more concerned with sense than sound - which has affected the translation of the Biblical & liturgical texts. This distinction between the two types of languages reflects an outlook in which the “sacred” is consciously separated from the “secular” - an argument against making the distinction is that the primitive Church as found in the NT texts is “secular” - it has no “sacred vocabulary” even though it is God-centred. Everything becomes sacred, everything becomes secular. So the distinction collapses. Which affects the use of language. One aspect of the Catholic-Evangelical Protestant divide is that Catholicism is “sacrally” minded; Evangelical Protestantism, also Christian, is not - it lives by faith in a “secular” manner. Both are apt to be very “worldly” - but that is not the same thing as being “secular” in this context.

There is no one cause of the tendency you mention :o

Any use to you ?

This is just a song some guy wrote. It’s not directly from Scripture, not a Psalm that’s meaning was changed by some tinkering. The composer could have written “set me free” just as easily. And we were set free from the bonds of sin. To me, this just isn’t important enough to worry about. On the whole, I like the song and I think a lot of people like to sing it because they know it and I certainly prefer a song I already know.

I’d like to change the words to some songs. We sang I Know That My Redeemer Lives for the first time Sunday. This is the one that says “He Lives” over and over. The verses that bothered me were the ones that say He lives to end my fears, He lives to dry my tears," – He lives to do things for me. That seems rather presumptuous on “my” part.

We really shouldn’t be singing Amazing Grace at all during mass, but it’s a sad fact that that song is lightyears better then the banality that passes for contemporary liturgical music. We have 2000 years of glorious musical tradition to draw from. Why do we have to ape protestants?

We should be proud of our religious roots. We should be proud of chant, of the organ, polyphony etc. Why, all of a sudden, are these things inadequate?

That has been a debatable position here. There is even an active thread on it.

Actually, that thread got locked. But you are quite right to imply that the issue is outside the scope of this thread, and best debated elsewhere.

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