Universalis, your very own breviary in pixels...

Monday, 5 November 2007

Just so long as he knows which music is the doo-fer

Father Dwight Longenecker asks, What's a Hymn For?
http://gkupsidedown.blogspot.com/2007/11/whats-hymn-for.html
I'm having some problems with music in Catholic America. Part of it is my problem. I spent fifteen years in the Anglican Church with the New English Hymnal--which is probably the finest hymnbook ever published in the English language. Musically and liturgically it was the best that traditional Anglicanism had to offer....
Apart from a few islands of decent church music the Catholic church in England was a wasteland.I am discovering that in the USA it is not much better....
Who on earth is writing these hymns, publishing these hymns and choosing to buy, prepare and perform these hymns? Doesn't anybody know what a hymn is for?Surely a hymn is first, and foremost part of our worship. That means the words are words that we use to address our praise, adoration and worship of God. So much of the stuff I come across isn't that at all. Instead it is sentimental language in which God talks to us to reassure us, make us feel better and comfort or inspire us. So..."Be not afraid...for I am always with you...Come follow me.. etc"
This may be a pleasant enough devotional song to remind us of God's promises, and there may be times when it is appropriate to sing such songs, but Mass is not one of those times. We're not really at Mass to sing God's comforting words to ourselves. We're there to worship Him....
Another problem are hymns that simply put Scripture verses to music. "I am the bread of life...he who comes to me shall not hunger...etc" Again, the music may be pleasant and the words of Scripture are undeniably wonderful and true, but it simply isn't a hymn. The words are the words of Jesus about himself.
They are not words of praise, worship and adoration addressed to God....
too many hymn writers seem to have little understanding of either Scripture, the symbols and types of the faith or the theology of the faith. The great old hymns that have stood the test of time were written from the authors' deep immersion in the great themes of Scripture, the great stories of the Old Testament and the great theological concepts that inspire and instruct us as we sing. The newer stuff tends to be dumbed down, sentimental and weak.....
it seems to me that the underlying problem with the contemporary hymns is an almost universal lack of understanding in the modern American Catholic Church about what Mass is in the first place. If it is a gathering of friendly Christian people around the table of fellowship in order to get strength and encouragement from one another as we all think about Jesus, why then the contemporary hymns fit the bill very nicely, but then, so would quite a few snippets of music I can think of like--"My favorite things" from The Sound of Music.
However, if the Mass is meant to take us to the threshold of heaven; if it is meant to be a glimpse of glory and a participation in the worship of the spheres of heaven itself, why then the sentimental, sweet and comforting songs just won't do. They wont' do not because they are bad or untrue, but because they are not good and true enough. Worship that takes us to the threshold of glory needs to be, well...glorious.

And after all this, he says
...not all parishes can manage to have a grand organ, a paid organist and a fine choir. True, and that's why the church recommends Gregorian Chant. With a little effort and just a little expense a small group of singers can learn Gregorian Chant which beatifies the liturgy simply and give is the transcendental glory that our worship deserves, and to tell you the truth, once you develop a taste for Gregorian chant--it's pretty comforting too.

as if the CHANT were the Acceptable Substitute for those who can't manage the Real Thing, hymnody.
Took the wrong path and arrived at the correct destination anyway, I guess (all roads lead to...?)
(Incidentally, don't get me wrong, I love hymnody. LOVE it. I think good hymn singing should be praised and promoted, just not at the expense of the Propers.)

1 comment:

Sir Monocle said...

I like this man. Great insight and perspective from a priest. Wish there were many more like him. Thank you for sharing this one.

Like the news, only important...

Loading...