Thursday, November 29, 2007

Let there be peeeeeece on uuuurrrrrth....

Jesus says to those who seek him,
I will never pass you by:
Raise the stone and you shall find me
Cleave the wood, and there am I.

(- G Dearmer)


The subject of gaggy lyrics in the hymns chosen in Catholic churches is all over the internet. There's even an entire website dedicated to two of the greatest offending composers: The Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas. The best part of the site is the parodies, including:

Gather Us In

Here in this place, a bad song is starting,
Now will the altar turn into a stage.
All that is holy is slowly departing,
Making a way for the coming New Age.

Gather us in, though we are like captives.
But to miss Mass on Sunday, that would be wrong.
But Lord hear our plea, regarding M. Haugen:
Give him the courage to put down that bong.

The Church has two thousand YEARS of music to fall back on, but too many of our "liturgical directors" choose music from one of several categories:

1. folksy, twangy, three regular chords plus a major seventh for the thrill. There's usually a place for a really exciting guitar strum solo, and these songs never sound good on a church organ. Example: They'll Know We are Christians By Our Love
2. artistic, with at least three time signature changes so that nobody gets the rhythm straight. Men usually sulk silently after their second loud mistake and wait until the song is over. Women wrinkle their foreheads in the Earnest Singing Look and sing more and more quietly as they wander among the uneven patterns. Example: "For You Are My God" (the St. Louis Jesuit version - link is NOT complimentary)
3. wonderful old hymns, but with revised lyrics. This especially gripes me when the revision reflects a reduced opinion of sacraments. Example: Praise to the Lord, the Almighty.

Original lyrics:
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty,
the King of creation!
O my soul, praise him,
for he is your health and salvation!
Let all who hear
Now to his altar draw near,
Join in profound adoration!

Today's Kontemporary KatholiK lyrics replace the last two lines with
Now to his temple draw near,
Join us in glad adoration!

A small point, I suppose, but why, why, why????? I know why, actually; because somebody, somewhere in the 1960's decided that we were stupid and being too exclusive. Here we are, the most educated generation in the most educated country on earth, in a church with the most complete historical theological trail of scholars, and apparently we can't be trusted to be profound. And we'd better get rid of that altar, too, or our Protestant friends will be offended. Like they even care.....

So yay for Pope Benedict XVI. Quietly beautifying and re-beautifying the liturgy, encouraging greater use of Latin, especially for the parts of the Mass that are prayed together (how wonderful it would be to go to a foreign country and be able to pray the Eucharistic section of the Mass together with the local speakers in a common tongue!). The media, boneheads that they are, say that the Pope is "forcing" a change. Nonsense. His very brief speech is linked below. These days, anybody, parent, teacher, police officer, minister, who encourages a change in behavior is accused of forcing someone, abusing their "rights."

He's only asking for a more careful choice of music. He spoke briefly earlier this month to the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music (us Catholics got an Institute for EVERYTHING, let me tell you!). Last June, when he quietly reinstated the music director of the Sistine Chapel, who had been displaced because he was reluctant to use the more modern music preferred by Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict spoke at more length about it, and the money quote that ruffled the too-easily ruffled hair of journalists was "An authentic updating of sacred music can take place only in the lineage of the great tradition of the past, of Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony.”

Bad, bad Pope. Gosh, I can't wait for more of this bad to come my parish's way. To move the drum kit and guitars away from the altar, back to the choir loft, or at least onto the floor with the pews at a level with us, not the altar. To get rid of the badly-written, hard-to-sing songs that make US God, instead of loving children of our Father. To sing songs that our predecessors sang hundreds of years ago, nearly a thousand years ago. We can only increase our knowledge of our heritage, our communion with those who have gone before us, our reverence in worship.

NOTABLE CAVEAT: There ARE contemporary church songs that fill the bill, and my blogsister's church is really excellent at performing and composing these, even using a band way off to one side, so I will let her choose a couple of wonderful examples. But MY parish, loaded with enviable musical performance talent, still veers between one annual selection of Ave Verum Corpus and multiple choices of Let There Be Peace On Earth - the distance between those two is enough to snap your neck. We never sing Marian hymns in May, we don't sing the good old tear-jerkers ("Let all Mortal Flesh Keep Silence" or "O Sacred Head Surrounded") in Lent; we are truly cheated of a unifying and inspiring experience.

Mass is Mass is Mass, after all. Our music is only a type of prayer and secondary to those prayers we pray together in union with the whole Church, the prayer of the priest, to which we join ourselves without words, during the Consecration. The weekday silent Masses I attend are profoundly holy.

But garbage in, garbage out, and eliminating the worst offenders in modern music will narrow our focus and place it where it belongs: upon Jesus, Victim and Priest, the Lamb of God, upon His Altar in His Church.

I say again: yay for Pope Benedict! Long may he wave!


TS said...

Terrence B. has a funny parody of "We Blather Together" in the comment section of this post.

Therese Z said...

It's akin to having "Comet will make your face turn green" placed ahead of the normal whistling in the Colonel Bogey march (see Wikipedia entry for more parodies!) in your memory stacks.

Will I think of it as "we gather together to watch cheesy movies" from now on?

My church doesn't sing that for some odd reason, but we do sing the "harvest home" one - Come Ye Thankful People Come. I think of Tom Tryon every time....



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