Skip to comments.There’s Mass Music, and There’s Music for Mass
Posted on 11/29/2009 12:36:46 PM PST by NYer
My thoughts tend to wander in church. The lector might open with a biblical passage describing the Israelites assailing Jericho. Ill picture myself inside the city, as a trader bartering in the ancient streets. This, in turn, will cause me to wonder how people got along in those days without air conditioning.
So it was that, waiting for Mass to begin one recent Saturday evening, I was unruffled by the sweet, dark strains of Night and Day.
Its just me, I thought. Just my wayward imagination.
It was with a jolt that I realized, No, its not just me. Someone really was playing a Cole Porter song in church. It was the violinist.
Later, as the parishioners filed out after the recessional hymn, the same musician struck up a Bobby Darin tune, Beyond the Sea. This may have been meant to put a bounce in our step as we exited the building, but I was feeling too disoriented to do much bouncing. Bobby Darin? Was this a Catholic church or a nightclub?
Or was it me? Had I at last turned into the brittle old square I always thought my father was? Music, after all, is largely subjective. By what authority could one anoint some musical pieces for admittance into church while excommunicating others?
I checked the hymnal. It contained hundreds of songs composed for church. Sure enough, though, it also contained a small battery of privileged foreigners songs composed for other forums but that nonetheless enjoy the occasional performance at Mass. Among these interlopers were America the Beautiful and God Bless America.
A revelation dawned on me: Admittance into my church depended on a songs being either composed for Catholic worship or endowed with rightly ordered patriotism. This comported with the idea of a nation under God. (For more on this, see Tim Drakes essay here.)
That notion, however, exploded in the next instant when I thought of another song Id heard at Mass, Ode to Joy. With music composed by Ludwig van Beethoven, a German living in an era when there was no German nation over which to be patriotic, the ode gets its lyrics from another German, Friedrich Schiller, whose sentiments were neither Christian-specific nor dedicated to any particular country.
I thought also of the church song Morning Has Broken. This was a song Id first heard sung by the popular entertainer Cat Stevens, who, as far as I knew, was now a devout Muslim.
As if Ode to Joy and Morning Has Broken were not remote enough from orthodox Catholicism and Old Glory, I thought also of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. This hymn is sung in Catholic churches even though its composer, Martin Luther, was a catalyst of the ecclesiastical revolt that would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation. If Luther enjoyed entry into a Catholic church, then why not Cole Porter or Bobby Darin or, heck, the Rolling Stones?
There must, I thought, be something about the music itself. A songs melody could have a spiritual temperament that could qualify it for admission into church. In that case, time might be necessary. Like purgatory, time could wash away any stains or taints inappropriate in the house of the Lord, admitting only unblemished gold.
Just so. From its beginnings, the Catholic Church has worked through local cultures to spread its message, honoring differences in expressions of faith. The Catechism, No. 1207, states: It is fitting that liturgical celebration tends to express itself in the culture of the people where the Church finds herself, though without being submissive to it. Moreover, the liturgy itself generates cultures and shapes them.
I was gratified to participate in this process, howsoever humbly, by voicing my views regarding the music played at my church. Locating the churchs website, I left an e-mail message criticizing some of the music Id heard at Mass. Before receiving a reply, I telephoned the church office. A deacon answered. Briefly and courteously, I explained why I thought some of the music played at Mass had been inappropriate and suggested that the musicians confine their church repertoire to songs of worship.
My efforts seemed to work. Next week, church sounded like church again.
The Catholic Church is no democracy; nor should it be. But through its parishes, it can respond to local, even individual, concerns like mine accommodating a vast variety of continually evolving customs, traditions and personal tastes within the compass of a truth that is both universal and eternal.
Seriously, I can’t tell you amount of parishes we hit during the summer while traveling around camping, where the “Cantor” and his production team have huge solos for every song.
Arm waving and “feeling it”. It looks silly and with so much interpretation that no one in the congregation could sing along if they tried. There isn’t meant to be participation, they are meant to be solos.
Last year, we went to a parish in the thumb region of MI where they had a little “ding” at the end of each refrain of the “Lamb of God” (which they embellished with “Prince of Peace” deviating from the GIRM). Truly, it sounded like we got the answer right on a gameshow! Then in FL, we went to a huge parish that dimmed the lights and threw a follow spot on the Priest for the consecration.
Broadway all the way!
Probably, but it is the version of the Litany of the Hours reinstated after VII. I’m sure there were lots of “ecumenical” things considered as that was the time we blended so much.
>>Sing the Mass. <<
I’m down wit dat.
I love a sung mass. My daughters were just invited to join the Latin choir. I’m very proud.
So, did anybody else sing "Lo, He Comes With Clouds Descending" this morning? Great hymn.
Wow, we never go anywhere like that! Blandness is the order of the day in places we vacation.
Come on up to MI!
(no, not really....I’ll meet you somewhere else)
"I thought also of the church song Morning Has Broken. This was a song Id first heard sung by the popular entertainer Cat Stevens, who, as far as I knew, was now a devout Muslim."
Looks to me as though the author only makes claim to where he'd first heard that song, nothing more. I'd wager most folks alive now probably had the same experience.
Church in Myrtle Beach was bland, except for the building fund solicitation ;-).
What of the psalms? God himself has given us words of lyrical worship, yet we insist on making up and using our own.
We almost had to sing tonight.
If we lector and the organist doesn’t show, we have to sing.
We scrambled and found
O come O come Emmanuel
Come Accept the Gifts we offer
At that First Eucharist
Holy God We Praise thy Name.
Luckily for the congregation, the organist showed up and they didn’t have to suffer.
My girls always point to “The King of Glory” and we bust up laughing.
Nobody (Catholic or Protestant) sings Schiller's words to An die Freude in church (maybe the Unitarians do, but I have my doubts as to whether that's "church"). There are a separate set of words set to the tune for use in worship, written by a Presbyterian, Henry Van Dyke, around 1900. The first line is "Joyful, joyful we adore thee" and there is nothing theologically objectionable that I can find on a short read over.
Morning Has Broken (its actual name is "Morning Song for the First Day of Spring") was written by a devout Anglican lady named Eleanor Farjeon back in the early 1900s. It is set to a well known (o.k., it's well known to me) Scottish folk tune that goes back who knows how far. If it's objectionable purely because Cat Stevens sang it, we're gonna have to get rid of the National Anthem because Roseanne Barr butchered it . . . this is just a silly objection to a very unobjectionable hymn.
Rejection of A Mighty Fortress Is Our God seems justifiable for a Catholic setting because of its close association with Luther (in fact it's sometimes called the Lutheran Anthem), but that's a completely different issue from pop music versus liturgical music, or theological problems with the lyrics. These are issues that the author never really comes to grips with -- the very worst offenders are not Top 40 or jazz tunes transferred to church, but the homegrown horrors produced by Haugen, Haas, and the St. Louis Jebbies.
In other words, the writer completely confused 3 or 4 different issues and doesn't address any of them adequately. And he gets his facts screamingly wrong.
Color me profoundly UNimpressed.
You do NOT need a microphone in our church. Our director is constantly reminding us that a well developed tone will (as he puts it) "just sweep down the nave < whoosh! > and bounce off the back wall". And it does. I don't have a big voice, but it can be heard all the way up front without a mike.
>>If it’s objectionable purely because Cat Stevens sang it, we’re gonna have to get rid of the National Anthem because Roseanne Barr butchered it . . . this is just a silly objection to a very unobjectionable hymn.<<
I find it objectionable because we have four songs to sing at Holy Mass.
When someone without a historical music background (most of us) hear it, we think of Cat Stevens. It’s not Catholic, it’s pop and it has nothing to do with the Holy Mass.
It amazes me that everyone says Catholics don’t sing. WE sing at my parish. And do you know why we sing? Because we play the same songs. The Historically Catholics songs. We don’t sing “The Lord of the Dance”, “The King of Glory” or “Morning has Broken”.
If people truly want the congregation to participate in singing (which I doubt many times when the “Music Minister” is soloing away at parishes I visit), play something they know. Stop worrying about the choir being bored with singing the same thing. It’s not about them anyway.
Well, no, it's not about them, but if the choir does the same thing over and over again, it gets sloppy and there's no growth, spiritual, musical or any other way. Not to mention, it really does bore the choir to tears. That's not to say that a standard repertoire isn't a good idea, just be sure there's variety. In my choir, we switch Mass parts by season, and do a collection of antiphons in Advent and Lent. They've been the same the last few years, but as they only come up once in the annual cycle, it's not so bad. We do two anthems a week as well, but this is the Mother Ship, as it were, or the "big house", so Holy Mass is a big more formal.
Now, if the 'performers' are giving a tune a pop sound, that's their problem, not the tune's. I just can't see rejecting an old melody and theologically unobjectionable words because a modern pop singer got hold of them after the copyright lapsed. "Christian Rock" singers mess with old hymns all the time, that shouldn't cause them to be rejected.
And you can't have it both ways. If the people won't sing because they don't know the music, they sure as heck know "Morning Has Broken", so they ought to sing. And whoever the 'praise band' is can tone it down and let the organ play a simple, reverent accompaniment. It gives the melody a whole different cast.
Now when it comes to actual bad music -- banal pop melodies and words written by worshippers in "The Church of Me", I'm with you all the way. Get 'em out of there.
But let's not confuse our categories.
1. There are bad hymns because they are in and of themselves bad, words and music. Let's get rid of those FIRST -- the "Eagles Wings" and "Here I Am Lord" and all that abominable junk.
2. There are hymns that are objectionable not in and of themselves, but because of various associations - "Morning Has Broken" with Cat Stevens, "A Mighty Fortress" with Luther. Can't do much about the latter since ol' Martin wrote the thing, but rather than rejecting a hymn just because some person of questionable morals or religious views performed it, perhaps a change in setting or presentation would be adequate.
3. Obviously, Protestant hymns with words that are problematic for Catholics should go. "Amazing Grace" is one of the worst offenders, but there are plenty of others. I've heard some astoundingly Baptist hymns in church . . . and a bunch of Wesley (the Methodist Brothers) stuff too.
We need to prioritize, though. My personal preference in hymns is for the old stuff out of the early German hymnals, preferably with translations by Catherine Winkworth, who was a genius in turning German into English without missing either the rhymes, the rhythm, or the meaning, or the good old Anglican standbys out of "Hymns A&M", which generally present no theological problems.
But we've got a long way to go before we start picking and choosing among the hymns that are (1) good melodies; (2) good words. I'll wait!
His point was more along the lines of being vocal about music to which he objects and it disappearing.
>>Not to mention, it really does bore the choir to tears. <<
Well, if the choir is bored, perhaps they should realize that they are there, not to entertain nor be the focus of the mass, but like everyone else, to relive the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
That’s what we are there for, lest we forget.
The analogy I used last week was with my former Episcopal rector, who of course knew good music (I think good musical taste is taught them in seminary) but knew absolutely nothing about dance.
He invited a "liturgical" "dancer" (she wasn't either) to perform (and that is the right word, it wasn't worship) one Sunday. She was AWFUL - could never have gotten a gig anywhere but in a church where the rector had two left feet.
I was pretty severe to the rector, in a humorous way. I don't usually get after the man in charge, but it was SO bad it demanded instant action, it bordered on scandalous. A bunch of other people got after him too (this was a fairly artistic parish, and many were instantly aware that Father had been conned). Thankfully he never invited her back.
But more musically inclined people need to gently inform the rector when the music gets over the edge. It can be done a lot more tactfully than I did it.
Fortunately our rector has good musical taste, and so does the deacon in charge of the music department (he was a music major at LSU).
As for carpet -- tear it out and put in stone or tile!
Does this mean they are supposed to suffer? Just askin'.