A Lesson on Text Criticism and the Beatles’ Let it Be

Jeff McLeod - Let It Be

One of the commonly asked questions of Sir Paul McCartney is whether his lovely song Let It Be is about the Virgin Mary.

It is a beautiful song. A studio outtake reveals that the earliest version had a nearly-solemn quality. Of course, many know that Paul McCartney and John Lennon had a friendly songwriting competition. It is evident in many of their outtakes. Unsurprisingly then, just seconds before the tape rolls on the first recording of Let it Be, you can hear John being naughty, trying to unnerve his friend, asking, “Are we supposed to giggle in the solo?” Paul replies without missing a beat, “Yeah.” Then he adds with affected braggadocio: “This’ll – this is gonna knock you out, boy.” McCartney knows a good song, and this was one of his best. The studio goes quiet, the light goes on, and the familiar piano chords commence. The take comes out very close to what the final take will sound like, as many of McCartney’s first takes do.

Throughout the song, McCartney’s voice is vulnerable yet resolute. It gives me goose bumps to hear, every time.

Is this song about the Virgin Mary? McCartney typically answers the question by assuring his fans that they can interpret the song however they would like. However, he is always careful to say that the literal genesis of the song was a particular event: During the final days of the Beatles, their business was in chaos caused by a bitter management dispute, and the four guys who had been close friends for years were coming unglued. One night, Paul’s mother Mary, who had passed away, appeared to him in a dream and comforted him, telling him to let go. That’s all.

You must understand that during the 1960s, John Lennon had told a reporter – as a fact, by the way – that the Beatles were probably more popular than Jesus was. He wasn’t bragging. I think he was trying to say, look at these kids, they’re insane, they’re looking for meaning. What in the world are they doing trying to find it in a little guitar band? He was right. He later affirmed that in his view, “the Beatles were just four guys who formed a band, and made it very, very big, that’s all.”

The Jesus comment sparked record burnings and death threats, all the things that Christians should not have been involved in. Lennon should not have said it, but the lesson had been learned, Paul McCartney was understandably wary of making any reference to religion. This is more of a reflection of how volatile the 1960s were than anything to do with the Beatles.

Now, be honest. Do you believe the song Let it Be is not manifestly about the Virgin Mary? The words tell us about the hour of darkness, a broken hearted world, an eternal light, and an eternal life giving wisdom. There is universality in McCartney’s longing for the answer to suffering. The Blessed Mother knows this more than anyone does.

Yes, the song is absolutely about the Virgin Mary.

I once took part in a discussion on the Internet in which I attempted to defend this view. It is not a popular view, mind you. The received view is the one I related earlier, that Paul McCartney himself had cleared the matter up. The guys I argued with said that settled it. It is not about the Virgin Mary because the author said it was about something else.

Those words gave me a moment of clarity that I will never forget. I asked myself, is that a sufficient reason to say the song is not about the Virgin Mary? The author had spoken, so the case is closed? In this logic, I spotted a style of reasoning that I was taught to treat with suspicion, thanks to my Catholic education. Here was vintage Cartesian error, from the deceptively simple mental model of Rene Descartes.

The Cartesian influence in the history of ideas led directly and indirectly to the modern principle of text interpretation that the meaning of a text is the author’s psychological intention. If the author is alive, all one needs to do is ask him what he was thinking when he wrote it. If the author is not alive, the task is to infer, based on historical circumstances, what he most likely had in mind.

As I said, this picture is compelling because it is so deceptively simple.

It might surprise you to know that Catholics don’t necessarily think this way, at least not exclusively. I certainly don’t. Our recent Popes do not think this way. The interpretive principle of authorial intent is useful in its place, but when it is promoted as the sole criterion of truth, it is flawed.

Why does the Church care about authorial intent? We care because the Catholic tradition involves reading and interpreting Scripture and the works of the Doctors and Saints. We think quite hard about what words mean, and we think quite a bit about how we know for certain what words mean.

In my mind, there are two reasons why the author’s intent cannot be the definitive criterion of the meaning of a text. First, such a theory of meaning leaves no place for the truth itself. Nowhere in this Cartesian model is the question even raised as to whether what the author said is true.

There is only the fact that the author wrote such-and-such words. The task of the interpreter is to reconstruct the author’s subjective psychological state at the time and to thereby establish the fact. Excuse me, but when did psychology replace truth? What happened to the truth? Modern scholars might reply with sincerity, “What difference would that make?”

Second, the principle of the author’s intent as a standard of accuracy is psychologically unrealistic. I am a psychologist, so I can say this.

Your friend asks, “What do you feel like for dinner?” You say “pizza.” Your friend talks you into a steak and a potato. After dinner you say, “My goodness thank you! You knew what I wanted better than I did.” You did not want pizza for dinner after all. Did you lie? Descartes might say you did. You and I know better. Sometimes we have to get to know our own intentions. We are not reporters taking stenography as spectators inside our skulls, we are people finding our way, getting to know the truth about ourselves, about others, about the world, and about God.

Did Paul himself know what the song Let it Be was about when he wrote it? My answer is that, like you and I, he might not have been fully aware of the universal truth he was communicating. You have to help him answer that question. You participate in his spiritual milieu. Paul was raised Catholic, so you know full well that he knew the Blessed Mother would have said “Let it Be” – (or in Latin fiat). Whether he remains Catholic I don’t know. But he would certainly agree that if his song is about consolation, light, and solace, this would be a faithful portrait of the mercy of our Blessed Mother.

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98 thoughts on “A Lesson on Text Criticism and the Beatles’ <i>Let it Be</i>”

  1. Your interlocutor is correct that Sir Paul himself says it’s about his mother, Mary. But I think McCartney is also aware of–and comfortable with–the ambiguity in its meaning. Indeed, he draws on it in concert, where the video images that accompany the song are candles, as on a votive rack, against a dark background.

  2. Classic–
    A Catholic claims that the lyrics of a great song HAVE to be referring to catholic theology even though the author of the song says differently.
    Sort of like when Stacy Trasancos “interpreted” the pro-catholic theology of the lyrics of REM’s “Losing My Religion” while ignoring the fact that “losing my religion” is southern slang for “going crazy”.
    Let it Be is a great song. It is a great song that is NOT about the catholic church, the virgin Mary, in support of catholic theology, about John McCartney’s secret longing to be a better catholic, or whatever other bolstering of your religion you want to claim it is about.
    The entire world doesn’t revolve around the Vatican–no matter what you think.
    Get over yourselves.

    1. Whew. Take a breath.
      No one is pushing Catholicism by saying that the lyrics were written in regard to Our Mother Mary.
      We are just pointing out the obvious, which you would know if you knew Catholicism, like Paul did and does.
      As far as I have read, no one is saying that Paul was trying to be more Catholic. If they did imply that, they are not very aware of Paul’s life.
      In fact, he did everything he could to hide his Faith.
      Catholics don’t think the entire world revolves around the Vatican–no matter what you think. Get over yourself.

    2. I’ll give you another example. Once read a catholic blog talking about the recent movie of Anna Karenina. The author wrote about the fact that the movie covered more of the story of Constantine Levin and Kitty (a secondary plot usually not highlighted in films.) Constantine is widely regarded as autobiographical of Tolstoy.

      The blogger talked about the story of Constantine and Kitty and claimed that it was obvious that this was Tolstoy’s ode to faith and organized religion as found in the RC and RO churches. He trotted out a couple of heavily edited lines from the novel to “prove” his point.

      One problem–Tolstoy was so vehemently ANTI organized religion that he was excommunicated by the RO patriarch. (Which was
      really only the church acknowledging that Tolstoy had left them.)

      Bad scholarship is bad enough. Bad scholarship on a mission to promote an agenda is fraud.

      “No one is pushing Catholicism by saying that the lyrics were written in regard to Our Mother Mary.”
      Except that is what the author is doing.

      “We are just pointing out the obvious, which you would know if you knew Catholicism, like Paul did and does.”

      It isn’t obvious–because is simply isn’t true. No matter how many times you say it.

      “Sir Paul has also spoken movingly of how his mother inspired the song Let It Be. When McCartney wrote the piece in 1968 the Fab Four had experienced unprecedented success but were by then divided by bitter arguments and the band was close to breaking up. But during this period of stress McCartney had something of a breakthrough.

      HE once explained: “One night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, I had the most comforting dream about my mother. There was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes, and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly: ‘Let it be.’ It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point and gave me this message: Be gentle, don’t ? ght things, just try to go with the flow and it will all work out.”

      “So being a musician I went to the piano and started writing a song: ‘When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, let it be.’”

      And the reason I called this “classic” is because it is. Here the author is trying to claim a great song is about, and for, a Catholic symbol. As I’ve shown–other authors have done the same. Anything good is to be appropriated to be about Catholicism.

      Even if the ACTUAL CREATOR of that good says it isn’t.

    3. “… ignoring the fact that ‘losing my religion’ is southern slang for ‘going crazy’.” I’m thinking that slang must be more localized than just “the South”. I’m from the South, and I’ve never heard the phrase used that way.

    4. “southern term for losing one’s temper, “flying off the handle”, etc. Note that the R.E.M. song of this title has nothing to do with religion, despite the common misinterpretation of the phrase.
      “I was close losing my religion with the kid wrecked the BMW.””
      Stipe told The New York Times the song was about romantic expression.[6] He told Q that “Losing My Religion” is about “someone who pines for someone else. It’s unrequited love, what have you.”[7] … “It’s just a classic obsession pop song. I’ve always felt the best kinds of songs are the ones where anybody can listen to it, put themselves in it and say, ‘Yeah, that’s me.'”[8]

    5. Wow. If urbandictionary.com and Wikipedia both say it’s true (probably referencing either each other or the same source), it MUST FREAKIN’ BE TRUE, huh?

      Wrong. I’m not denying that there may be SOME place within the South where the expression is used that way, which would be a special case of it being used on Earth. I’m saying that the expression does not have that meaning everywhere in the South. To say it is a Southern expression is not more true than to say it is an Earthling expression, even though most people on this planet certainly don’t talk that way. It might be a North Carolina expression, or a Tennessee expression, or whatever, but not everything said in North Carolina will be perfectly understood in Louisiana, and vice versa.

    6. Forgive me for proving my point.
      Tell me–can you call a “southern accent” a “southern accent” only if each and every person in the south speaks with that accent?
      Does a northerner living in Atlanta suddenly destroy the fact that a “southern accent” exists?
      So just because YOU”VE never heard of it doesn’t mean it MUST NOT BE FREAKIN’ TRUE.

      It just means you never heard it at whatever Bob Jones University or whatever Christian diploma mill you went to.

    7. I forgive you for proving MY point, which is, remember, that this is not so widely known even in the South that it is ridiculous for someone not to know that usage. I have always admitted that there may be some places in the South where it is used. Unfortunately, you are clearly the kind of person who would tell a German that “zwo is not a word” on the basis of some book you read, rather than trusting that someone who lives there and speaks the language doesn’t actually need Wikipedia to know his own language. This really sets the limits of your credibility.

      As for my degrees, I have all of my transcripts scanned and online, together with my CV. Anyone can find them. Well, probably not YOU.


    Dr. Jeff McLeod would approve and enjoy “The Virgin Mary’s Revolution” (amazon.com). Please let me know if you would like a copy, thank you for your article, Gonzalo T. Palacios, Ph.D., C.U.A. 1970 .

    1. Thank you. I can’t wait to read it. I am placing my order on Amazon tonight. Thank you for calling this to my attention. I read the first two pages and I know already I will like your book.

      I am honored you appreciated my article.

      Jeff McLeod

  4. The Stones wrote a song called Saint of Me. Now, Jagger has some very
    interesting lyrics out there that seem to impose both a question and an
    answer to those who are so moved to interpret.

    Saint Paul the persecutor
    Was a cruel and sinful man
    Jesus hit him with a blinding light
    And then his life began

    And could you stand the torture And could you stand the pain
    Could you put your faith in Jesus When you’re burning in the flames

    And I do believe in miracles And I want to save my soul
    And I know that I’m a sinner I’m gonna die here in the cold

    John the Baptist was a martyr But he stirred up Herod’s hate
    And Salome got her wish To have him served up on a plate

    I thought I heard an angel cry. I thought I saw a teardrop
    falling from his eye. I thought I saw an angel cry

    You’ll never make a saint of me You’ll never make a saint
    of me (this is the refrain) The melody is awesome.

    I would be very much interested in your take, Jeff, if you have one.
    To me it speaks of redemption and reluctance to accept the Path.
    Admiration for the saints and revulsion at what they had to do.
    The wish to achieve salvation and the pre conceived notion that
    it is not possible.

    1. Great example of a song of Faith outside of the context of being religious.

      I suppose some think the lyrics are referring to drugs, or something other than Scripture, just because of the era and the group involved.
      Its obviously a contemplative song, just like Let It Be, and doesn’t require the authors’ interpretation, just as Let It Be doesn’t, unless the hearer of the lyrics have no knowledge of the subject matter at hand.

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  6. In the sentence, “What does he mean by that?”, what does the word “mean”, mean? In French we would say, “Que veut-il dire?”. Literally, “what does he wish or want to say?”. That is the question. Another would be broader, what does this text signify. I am a philosophical realist; I recognize that truth is the conformity of the mind with reality, but the meaning of a text is not what is the truth. The author may in fact be lying, for example. Etc.

    1. I like your precision, Paul. My phrase, what is the text “about” or what does it “mean” is too informal. I should have stuck with the classic terminology of (or I should learn French!): Sinn and Bedeutung, or sense and reference.

      I think I could spare many commenters much angst if I would have emphasized that I too am a philosophical realist, a strong one. I am talking about reference.

      So-called “liberal” or post-modern philosophy sees the reference of a text as the mental content of the author. Realists like you and I see the reference of a text as the thing out there in the real world, i.e., the truth. Am I right?

      I wish everybody could read your comment and my reply. I doubt it would make many people happy, but it is a very clear statement of how orthodox this view is!

      I think the Catholic traditionalists, if they knew what I was referring to, would be agreeing with me.

      Thank you, sir!

    2. I’m a Traditional Tridentine Catholic and I have had no problem understanding what you said and meant.
      This actually makes more sense to the traditional Catholic mind than to the liberal Novus Ordo mind, who has been trained to detach all things from their Faith in some misguided means of trying to not offend anyone with their Faith.
      Modern Catholics are embarrassed to publicly acknowledge their Faith, just as Paul was.
      Traditionalists know that Christ came to stir things up.
      I might add that Traditionalists never published “Let It Be” in their Hymnals, but the modernists in the Novus Ordo did, while at the same time, when approached about the subject of Mother Mary, they let it be.
      I’m old enough to remember this songs big splash, and how it was perceived for the first decade of its release, so, I know the silliness of some of the comments who claim to know about the song when it was first released.
      Their time frames are confused and misplaced.
      For example, the reference to a joint being called Mother Mary came much later than the release of the song, it did not precede it. No sir, it did not.
      Common sense would blow that away anyways because of the rest of the words in the song.
      My earlier comment clearly covers this issue.

    3. Off-topic, but I have to point out that your generalizations (specifically, the ones in this post) are pretty absurd.

  7. Jeff, I remember this song when it came out, I was a Beatle fan also from their beginning. However I listen to music differently than others (or am willing to say so). I do not often pay attention to the lyrics, the individual words themselves and any meaning they may convey – depends on the song. I just sort of feel the music and can’t really tell you what it means. Just to be clear, I HAVE NEVER USED DRUGS, so that can’t be it dude.

    1. Very good namesake. I do believe that lyrics can have a profound effect on ones life, especially popular music. All these years I have had this strange longing to find a long, tubular, yellow object, that surrounds the entire population of the earth.

  8. Great piece, Jeff. You may have opened a door into a new field of dimention. All
    music is perception and falls on open ears and minds. Paul knew this could be a
    double entendre and what harm in that. It affected most Catholics the same way
    and thats quite a lot of fans. I think this is your most controversial and inspirational
    contribution yet.

  9. It takes some significant hubris to assert that you know what the song is about more than the songwriter. Please. If you would like to transfer the meaning to the Virgin Mary for your own inspiration, that’s fine. We all do that with art of all sorts. But don’t assume you can crawl around in McCartney’s head. This is a ludicrous article.

    1. Think of Caiphas who said that Jesus must be killed “for the sake of the Jewish nation.”

      We know what he thinks he meant.

      But his intention was swept up and reinterpreted into a story that preceded him.

      My whole point is that the absolute worst way to interpret the song is to crawl around in McCartney’s head.

      I am suggesting we crawl around in the creative LOGOS to find the true meaning of every shred of what happens in this world.

      Pretty radical stuff.

    2. If the song has nothing to do with the Virgin Mary, then why didn’t he just say so when asked? Why make the cryptic comment that you can interpret it however you want? Another thing to consider, is that very often in art, the specific and individual is connected to the universal and when an artist can show that it can be profound. I think it is “both/and”, not “either/or”. It doesn’t seem too much of a stretch to think that the marijuana angle is possible, too.

    3. Your question of why didn’t he make it clear that it wasn’t about Our Blessed Mother Mary, if it really wasn’t, is a great point.
      The pot angle is too ridiculous for several reasons.
      1. During the 1960’s I never heard a joint called Mother Mary. It wasn’t until around 1973 that I first heard it. And if it was used as a common slang prior to that I doubt I would have missed it (not that I was a pot head, I was surrounded by them).
      2. The lyrics of the song have nothing to do with pot smoking, no matter how far you try to stretch it, they just don’t fit.
      However, the lyrics completely match commonly used Catholic words and phrases used involving Our Blessed Mother Mary.
      Paul just avoided telling the truth, and gradually created a convenient yarn, using the coincidence of his mothers name, so as to keep religion out of the sales of the music.
      Protestants almost lose their minds at the very mention of Our Mother Mary, and both John and Paul were well aware of that fact.
      So, the cover story had to be in place. Many Catholics were going to buy the song no matter what they said about it because of the lyrics, but most of their fans weren’t, and aren’t Catholic.
      This is about sales, and sell they did and still do.

    4. I take him at his word that he did not intend it as a religious song.

      I agree it’s not either/or…

      I think that art, or any symbol at all for that matter, has meaning that cannot possibly be exhausted by a single perspective. An artist can be very talented, and not see fully the truth that is latent in what they created.

    5. “And this he spoke not of himself: but being the high priest of that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation.” So St. John thinks it is important that Caiaphas was not just some guy, but the high priest. If you want to believe that EVERYTHING that ANYONE says is in fact a prophecy, if only understood “correctly”, then you do not have support in this passage.

  10. sorry jeff…being 64 years old and having grown up with the music of the beatles and the stones, the mother mary in the song let it be isn’t about the Blessed Mother Mary. When this came out , mary…mother mary ..was slang for weed, marijuana…this is what it was about in the music circles back then. Its nothing more than a double play on words and meaning…its sounds like he means Mary Mother of Jesus, but he’s really highlighting the drug use back then of weed..mary is short for marjuana

    1. Hi Mister Retirement.

      You’re right, pretty much everything was slang for drugs in those days.

      Just like today everything is racist or sexist etc.

      I want my language back so we can all understand each other again.

  11. I loved this article because it affirms my own thoughts on the song. Marian imagery always comes to mind when listening to it. The other song I find very spiritual is “The Long and Winding Road”. I was away from the Church for a few years when I felt drawn to go back. As I sat into a pew “The Long and Winding Road” came into my head. It was a very emotional experience. I had gone away yet through my wandering God was always leading me back to His door. A simple knock was all that was needed and the door was opened.

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  13. I enjoyed the article. When a meadowlark sings in the field, is it heard the same by all? Such is the nature of music, our Father’s gift. O God, Our God, how you know your creation!

    1. Gregory,
      your words are what i felt when I read this article.
      Thank you for expressing it.
      God Bless

    2. This is the sense of wonder I was hoping to rehabilitate.

      In the beginning was the word.

      We have lost that. We are in love with everything that came after, but not the Word itself, the divine LOGOS, without which none of what follows makes a shred of sense.

      You said it better than I did. Thank you 🙂

  14. Or, perhaps I should say it like this: if “the principle of the author’s intent as a standard of accuracy is psychologically unrealistic,” then I cannot know what your essay means, and so guided by the truth I take it to mean that modern psychology is a crock of something unpleasant. And since you cannot know what I really mean, you can take this comment to be a ringing endorsement of your point of view.

  15. I don’t think much of where you’re going with this. Do the words of real prophets have meanings that the prophets themselves did not know? Yes, because those are INSPIRED words. It has become unpopular even in the Catholic Church to attribute much role to the Holy Spirit in the precise choice of words used by the inspired authors, but without such assurances the Scriptures become as vague as modern Protestantism makes them.

    But the Holy Spirit plays no apparent role in songs like “Let It Be” any more than in “Bye Bye Miss American Pie”. So if the Holy Spirit placed no Truth in the song, and the meaning of the writer is irrelevant and/or unknowable, you’re making it into a purely subjective work of modern art. It’s like seeing shapes in clouds. The shape may “truly” tell you if it’s likely to produce lightning or a tornado, but the fact that it looks like a sheep to you and reminds you that “all we like sheep have gone astray” really has little to do with the cloud.

    Outside religion, your dismissal of original intent has huge implications in constitutional law. You seem to open the door for any justice of the Supreme Court to interpret the Constitution any way he sees as being “true”, since “the principle of the author’s intent as a standard of accuracy is psychologically unrealistic.” Instead of hearing pizza and thinking steak, they hear “due process” and “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” and give us abortion and “gay marriage”.

    Excuse me, THAT is unreasonable. If “the principle of the author’s intent as a standard of accuracy is psychologically unrealistic,” it is apparent that the problem lies with modern psychology.

    1. Howard, I don’t disagree with you. My editor is a taskmaster and she limits me to 1,000 words!!

      I am saying when we interpret Scripture, the locus of the truth is not the warm fuzzy in the writers head, it is the truth that preceded the warm fuzzy, right?

      You mentioned the constitution. Like you, I don’t want my civil rights to find their ultimate justification in the thoughts and feelings of the founding fathers, the images that went through their heads as they signed the founding documents.

      The truth upon which civil rights are based precedes the founding fathers and their documents.

      I am questioning a style of thinking that says the meaning of the constitution is exhausted by the thoughts of the founders. That is not true. The truths being spoken about the right to life and liberty pre-dated the founding fathers.

      Many academics today do not believe this.

      You seem to place me in the school of thought that says we get to make up whatever we want when we interpret a document. You think my focus is AFTER the document is written. No sir, the thing I am trying to make credible is the immutable truth that itself gave BIRTH to the document. The document does not interpret itself.

      We’re on the same side, Howard. I’m coming at an important problem from a very unusual angle in order to get people to think about it. I hope I succeeded.

    2. I don’t think we really agree, because I still believe that language has meaning. There are a million questions that can be asked about the connotations associated with a writer or speaker when he chooses a word, or regarding how seriously he meant what he said; but if the author’s words do not reflect the author’s meaning, the words have no meaning.

      Some principles referred to in the Constitution may be eternal, or at least coterminous with the period from the Fall to the Second Coming, but certainly not all. Take, for example, Article 1 Section 8, which includes, “The Congress shall have Power … To declare War….” If we want to know what that means, it is useless to try to appeal to a single divine standard, because it does not exist. We can look at the historical precedents up to the time when the Constitution was ratified, and we can look at the debates, but the essential fact is that this was written in the English language and PUBLISHED so that everyone could read it. There is no point in doing that if it has no inherent meaning — if the meaning of the authors is impossible to know, and the “document does not interpret itself.” If the latter is the case, the founding fathers should have adopted the Voynich Manuscipt as our Constitution, so that courts and presidents could tell us it means whatever they want us to think it means, and we would have no way of knowing otherwise.

      I’ll go this far, though. It is well-known that the Holy Trinity cannot be fully explained by mortal man; the nature of God transcends our language and is an ineffable mystery. Yet we can still say meaningful things about the Trinity, and we do so at every Mass where the Creed is recited and every time we say the Rosary. If you want to say that even statements like “Socrates is a man” and “All men are mortal” contain deep mysteries (such as, “What is a man?” “What exactly is the relationship between body and soul?” “What do we mean by soul?” “What is death?”), then I must agree. Yet in analogy with the Creed, there are certain ideas that we can assert with confidence. There may be MORE truth to be found than the surface meaning, but I deny that there is LESS, or that the surface meaning simply does not exist.

    3. “I am saying when we interpret Scripture, the locus of the truth is not
      the warm fuzzy in the writers head, it is the truth that preceded the
      warm fuzzy, right?”

      Well, not really, at least, not if you believe the “warm fuzzy” is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which is what we, as Catholics, are bound by our faith to believe. Your article is directly contrary to the most important principle of scriptural interpretation as laid down by the Catholic Church: “To interpret Scripture correctly, the reader must be attentive to what the human authors truly wanted to affirm and to what God wanted to reveal to us by their words,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #109).

      In order to discover the sacred authors’ intention, the reader must take into account the conditions of their time and culture, the literary genres in use at that time, and the modes of feeling, speaking, and narrating then current,” (CCC, #110).

    4. The truth precedes the warm fuzzy in the writers head.

      If you find that statement controversial, I don’t think you and I are going to understand each other; we are not speaking the same language; so let’s just say we’ll pray for each other.

    5. Our Mother Mary is a prophet and is memorialized for it, as well. Luke 1:46-56, the Canticle of Mary, really demonstrates that.
      This issue doesn’t require religiosity, psycho-babble, and legalese to resolve.
      It’s not that deep.
      No one sings a contemplative song of sentiment about a pot joint, nor do they sing about their birth mother using her name.

  16. The Beatles were a group of complex individuals. They produced good, and not so good music, morally speaking.
    They were in business and felt that they had to please a very diverse world of people in order to achieve success.

    Paul’s own comment encouraging fans to interpret the song how they choose to is an obvious use of diplomatic tact and salesmanship. Something Paul is a noted genius at.
    Paul is a sharp minded individual who knows that not all of his potential customers will appreciate a song about Our Mother Mary… especially in heavily Protestant England and the USA.
    Mary is a very commonly used name in Catholic families, so the coincidence of his own mothers name being Mary is no big deal, but it sure helped him out of the tight spot when he was pressed further on the subject.
    He shouldn’t have been so quickly believed when he told his yarn to get out of the religion issue, because no one ever calls their mom, Mother Mary or Mother Kathy or Mother Jane or Mother anything.
    The only person called Mother Mary, in any public venue, is the Blessed Virgin.

    Also, the song completely embodies the Catholic teaching about Our Mother Mary.
    So, this is a matter of salesmanship, tact, and common sense.
    Paul has insulated himself from the Catholic haters with his yarn, while at the same time pleased the Catholics who instantly know exactly who and what he is singing about, because his words are commonly used Catholic words and phrases.
    Non Catholics won’t see it because they don’t know it, whether they choose to admit it or not.
    So, the Beatles were safe on the religion front, and so they made money from multiple groups.
    Obviously Paul wasn’t interested in proselytizing the Faith. He was momentarily inspired, but inspiration doesn’t just come to saints.
    Paul did a great job of fooling the non Catholics, but he can’t fool the Catholics who know the Faith, but then, he didn’t want to fool us………
    that’s why he gave permission for his song to be published in our Catholic Church hymnals. (Oops. Guess the non Catholics weren’t supposed to know.)
    Not all Catholic Churches chose to put it in their hymnals, but most did.
    Go to Church and check it out.

    1. A simple “thumbs up” just won’t do. I have to thank you for your comment. It put a smile on a confounded face. : )

    2. Kelly is a family name here – like the things we’d put on “Papa Bush’s doorstep”. “Mother” is also an honorific for the leader of a convent. But those are contextualist ways of reading the lyrics. The key question, especially from the Cartesian side of the argument, is in what sense a departed person can “come to” someone else. If Mary McCartney is the subject then this is still some sort of spiritual visit or mental occurrence, and to name it we must respect Paul’s internal naming choices. Did Paul ever call his mother “Mother Mary”? Probably not, especially given the meaning already attached to that name by his upbringing. After her death – might she shade-over into being one with the Blessed Mother? Yes, of course that is precisely the ambiguity in this work of art, and even Descartes believed that text could express an ambiguous or indeterminate intent.

    3. “There will be some feedback, let it be”.

      – Macca’s jokey comment (about changing the lyrics after his microphone failed during the first two minutes of the 1985 Live Aid finale) is very apt on here.

  17. tripe. we are all stupider for having read this nonsense. it is not open to interpretation, it is Paul’s mom. full stop.

    1. Hey maninthemac, did you know I once stayed at the Amsterdam Hilton precisely because that Hotel was named in the song referenced in your handle? True story!

    2. All I know is that I don’t call my mom “Mother Sara.” I call her “my mother”, “my mom”, “mother”, or just “mom.” Interesting how he used “Mother Mary.” It makes it all the more convoluted the fact that his mother is, in fact, named Mary. Otherwise we would have no dispute.

      It’s about the Blessed Mother Mary, that’s the REAL full stop.

  18. I’m not an artist of the caliber of either McCartney or Lennon–but I have written a novel that is currently in the process of being offered to publishers. I can tell you, I wrote every word, I had an idea of where the story was going and there is absolutely content there I neither intended nor planned….I remember well writing late at night, finishing a scene, and musing to myself, “I wonder where that came from…”

  19. Jeff,

    You left out one important fact: John Lenon himself understood it to refer to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he knew the average listener would also. And he hated this. So he made sure that when the album came out, that right after Let It Be, the song Maggie Mae (a song about a prostitute) was listed.

    1. Sorry, I’m thinking of the Get Back album, version one. Maggie Mae does follow Let It Be on the Let It Be album, but I can’t confirm it’s there for the reason you say.

    2. Isn’t it exciting to be able to name versions of the album?

      It’s like having a favorite translation of Kierkegaard. Kind of scary.

      Nick is right about the Phil Spector version.

    3. I had the same brain glitch because I was thinking of the 20 greatest hits album which has The Long and Winding Road following Let It Be.
      But, yes, Nick is correct about the song order on the original release.
      Not sure if the additional commentary about the reason for the order is correct. Interesting speculation though. Would like to see some facts or other info on it.
      I wouldn’t put it past Lennon because by that time he had a real public disregard for Catholicism, and most religions in general, and favored Buddhism and free spiritualism; humanism in general.

    4. The problem with that is that Phil Spector produced Let it Be by himself with minimal input from the band….there is no doubt that the album, in its final release, definitely mocked the title song, remember on the album the song begins with John Lennon saying in a high pitched voice saying ‘and now hark the angels signing’…..obviously mocking the song….but this was the work of Phil Spector, John Lennon had nothing to do with it….

  20. Absolutely spot on. Even from a pure psychological perspective, we cannot be completely aware of the things driving us from moment to moment – literally! Perhaps all of us have had the experience of zoning out while we were driving, only to come into full awareness as we were pulling up into the driveway. The majority of us don’t crash, but are thankfully responding to contingencies outside of our awareness. Any artist with honesty and a decent level of insight will tell you that they don’t completely know what led him/her to create a particular work in a particular way. Often you will hear from an artist that the full realization of what he/she was doing did not dawn on him/her until many years later. So yes, Paul McCartney has spoken – but Paul, like everyone, does not and cannot know all the forces and contingencies driving his creative act.


      Nothing good ever came out of the Beatles mouths

      This is typical modern journalistic tripe at it’s best.

      You would do us a favour and keep your opinions to yourself instead of propounding falsehoods.


      Irresponsible seekers for their own self worth are everywhere today.

    2. Jill, it cuts me to the core that you called me a journalist.

      Still, if you’re a traditional Catholic, know this. I attend the Latin Mass. True story!

      Is it a sin to like the Beatles? That’s really what you’re asking.

      Still, the topic of my essay was text interpretation. That’s a pretty Catholic topic. I could have written it about the book of Maccabees. I would prefer people apply what I am saying to the book of Maccabees.

      Indeed, may I?

      Maccabees 2, Chapter 7 features a mother who whispers prayers into the ears of her dying sons as they are killed for professing their faith. She prays for them at the hour of their death, Amen.

      Is Maccabees 2 about the Blessed Mother? Lots of blokes would say no.

      I could just as easily have written the very same essay on that.

      Maybe you could tell us what you think. Is Maccabees 2 chap 7 about the Blessed Mother?

    3. I can’t figure out why you would consider Jill as a possible traditionalist. There is no reference in the comment.

      I’m a traditionalist, as you apparently are, and I know of no true traditionalist who would approach this like Jill did, especially in such an aggressive and uncharitable manner.

      Calling Jill a traditionalist is worse than calling you a journalist. At least she came close, you wrote an article.

      Jill just isn’t educated enough to know the difference between commentators and journalists.

      The hilarious part of this is that, without knowing it, Jill is a commentator too, and Jill’s cementation attacks itself. Funny.

    4. I assumed she was because some traditionalists don’t accept contemporary music. Thanks for the clarity. I think she just doesn’t like the Beatles. Oh my. I can’t even wrap my head around that.

  21. Pingback: A Lesson on Text Criticism and the Beatles’ Let it Be - CATHOLIC FEAST - Every day is a Celebration

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