Well I think they are subversive anyway.
The following lyric was taken from the Penguin Classics Medieval English Lyrics 1200-1400. The lyrics in the book are in Middle English with occasional gloss of difficult or archaic words & phrases. So I am “translating” them, if you can call it that. Most of them are pretty easy to read but I wanted to preserve the rhyme scheme as much as possible. Any mistakes are mine. I put a few notes at the bottom.
129. As I went on Yol Day
'Kyrie', so kyrie,
Jankin singeth merrily
As I went on Yule Day in our prosession
Knew I jolly Jankin by his merry tone.
Jankin began the office on the Yule Day
And yet I think it does me good, so merry does he say,
Jankin read the epistle full fair and full well,
And yet I think it does me good, as ever have I bliss.
Jankin at the Sanctus(2) split a merry note,
And yet I think it does me good- I paid for his coat.
Jankin split notes a hundred on a knot,
And yet he splits them smaller than herbs for the pot.
Jankin at the Agnus(3) beareth the pax-board(4),
He twinkled but he said nothing and on my foot he trod(5).
Benedicamus Domino(6), may Christ shield me from shame,
Deo gratias(7) as well- alas, I go with child!
1: Kyrie eleison is Greek for “Lord have mercy” and is the beginning of a short, repetitive prayer (usually sung) found in the Mass in the West and the Liturgies of the East. The commentary of the book suggest the different spelling between this and the rest of the poem (Kyrieleyson) is a play on the name Allison and is a hint this is the speaker’s name.
2: Sanctus. Sung prayer/hymn from the end of the Preface, before the Canon of the Mass.
3: Agnus. Sung prayer/hymn from the Mass, said after the consecration of the Host.
4: Pax-board. In medieval England, a plaque with handle that allowed the clergy to exchange the Kiss of Peace with congregants without physically kissing them. The priest kissed the board then the congregants kissed the board. See also http://ecusa.anglican.org/109399_15001_ENG_HTM.htm
5: Considering the final verses and the metaphoric relationship feet have to sex and genitals (at least in the Bible) I wonder if this is metaphor for Jankin and the speaker’s sexual relationship?
6: Benedicamus Domino. “Let us bless the Lord,” from the end of the Mass on solemn feasts, after Communion.
7: Deo gratias. “Thanks be to God,” response to the above.
There are a few lyrics in this and other books I have dealing with corrupt clergy- those that commit sins sexual and financial. Medieval England has not traditionally had a happy relationship with the Church. Just as nobles and royalty were wrestling with the Church’s power in England, such as its ecclesiastical court system (where any fines paid would be paid to the Church, not the English government), the writers, poets and lay people of the time were quite aware of the corruption of clergy and monks. I have a few more poems like this which I will post later.
Edit: I am not sure whether Jankin is a priest or a deacon, but I think he is a deacon. In the more modern, pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, the Benedicamus Domino is sung by the deacon, but probably if there is no deacon, the priest would sing it.