I wrote about the words of hymns. Now about the music:
Why do we feel the need to imitate worldly music in church? Even if this were to be a good thing (and there is no reason why it should be) we do it so badly. The much loved Eagles’ Wings sounds like a bad Barry Manilow number. The other trite stuff is written in a pastiche style which imitates Broadway or Bob Dylan or Joan Baez.
Many of the worship songs were written as either arranged choral numbers or ballads to be sung by a soloist with a guitar. ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” is a perfectly nice ballad sung by a hip folk singer with a guitar, but the rhythms and phrasing are pretty much impossible to be sung by a congregation.
The music for a hymn is a unique art form in itself. A good hymn tune could be nothing else but a good hymn tune. It is written by an expert for congregational singing. Much contemporary Catholic music could be (with changed words) an advertising ditty, a folk song from Sesame Street or a tune from a third rate musical show.
A good hymn has a thumping rhythm and a simple, but memorable tune. It can be sung happily by the simplest of people. “Now Thank We All our God, With Hearts and Hands and Voices.” Now there’s a hymn that works.
Arguments against such hymns: 1) “It’s old.” This is a red herring. ‘Old’ or ‘New’ is irrelevant. We should ask instead whether it is good or bad. The only thing necessarily good about an ‘old’ hymn is that it is more likely to have stood the test of time. 2) The young people don’t like it. Another little red fish. Age has nothing to do with it. Some young people like new hymns and some don’t. Some old people like new hymns and some don’t. Some young people like old hymns and some old people like old hymns. What the young don’t want (in my experience) is being patronized and told that new hymns are ‘for them’. They especially cringe when they go to Mass and the only ones singing the ‘new hymns’ which are ‘for the young’ are their parents and other plump middle aged folks. 3) the words are too hard for the young to understand. According to this argument we should scrap Chaucer and Shakespeare and give the kids comic book versions of the classics. Forget Algebra and Calculus. Let’s keep them adding apples and subtracting the candy that Billy gave to Johnny. 4) These old hymns are Anglican or Methodist. Another red herring. So what if they come from another tradition? Evaluate them according to whether they are good or bad not who wrote them, but if this did matter has anyone stopped to check the denominational pedigree of Marty Haugen? Liberal Lutheran. What about the much loved Amazing Grace? Methodist. How Great Thou Art? Baptist.
so – Father are you saying you don’t like “We Are the World” to be sung at Mass?(tee-hee)
Fr. Frank Anderson MSC (‘Eagles Wings’ – the collection of songs a opposed to the song) was speaking at a local mass promoting a mini-mission in the parish. The person arranging the music for mass had selected a complete medley of Fr. Anderson’s songs with the final recessional being ‘I will be Yahweh who walks with you’. As per direction from the diocesan office, the congregation was reminded to substitute ‘The Lord’ for ‘Yahweh’. According to the musician, Fr Anderson was offended and lectured her after Mass for having the gall to change his song.Funny thing is, I haven’t seen her pick a single Fr. Anderson song since…..
Always puttin out the Laughs! That had me smiling.I don’t appreciate the focus on “US” in alot of new hymns and worship music. Great Hymns and spiritual songs focus on giving God his due. Although humans can barely achieve giving Him what He deserves… at least the words and our thoughts should be vertical instead of horizontal. This does not mean that a song cannot emphasize “Great things He hath done”… because not only is He worthy simply because He is, but on top of that He has reached down into our lowly existence and loved us with so great a love.Amen to the note on where it comes from. Truth and goodness are the same all way around. I will never let go to the great songs of faith that were given to me from such a young age.Even in the midst of our poor attempts at worship (and song) May He accept it as an offering! Praise God from whom all blessings flow!-g-
Ahh, you’ve discussed my favorite hobbyhorse. I’ll try to be brief. When ever some blog or forum tries to establish lists of “Worst hymns”, most people choose things with theologically suspect lyrics like “Ashes”. I always choose Schutte’s “Here I am Lord” because it is programmed in so many parishes and specifically because the lyrics are (on the whole) unobjectionable. In other words, the music itself is subversive–It’s the sound of secular therapeutic culture, and therapy of course is all about self.
As a former perpetrator of bad liturgical music, I have repented much over the past years. I love good rockin’ praise and worship songs – at the right time and place. I love the Latin hymns that pull us towards intimacy with God which is what we are acheiving through recieving the Eucharist. My consequence for sleeping late on Sunday is having to attend the “Mission Impossible Mass.” Yes, music that harks to our secular culture does tend to lend to secular images in some of our impressionable minds! I would prefer to be drawn to Heaven instead…. http://littlestepsalongtheway.blogspot.com/
Here’s me wittering on about the insufferable BBC and you raising the standard for the occasional program it makes worth seeing. Well as if to drop the Sword of Damocles on my neck they have produced a cracker, Baroque!: From St Peter’s To St Paul’s. You can see it on iPlayer for the next week here. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00j4d3g/Baroque!_From_St_Peters_to_St_Pauls_Episode_1/It’s an hour long but well worth it, bloody BBC!
3) the words are too hard for the young to understand. According to this argument we should scrap Chaucer and Shakespeare and give the kids comic book versions of the classics. Forget Algebra and Calculus. Let’s keep them adding apples and subtracting the candy that Billy gave to Johnny…. unfortunately, this is precisely what is happening in education, in Britain at any rate.
Amazing Grace wa written by an Anglican, John Newton
Thank you for this posting father. I can’t call the new music hymns. I consider a hymn to be a prayer that is sung. The new music consists of religiously-themed “popular” songs. As I attempt to sing along at Mass, I hear that music that bears too much similarity to that of Disney movies and television programs. The musical highlight(in a spiritual sense) at my parish is when the priest chants a prayer in the preparation of the eucharist.
I’ve often questioned why “Christian music” is 90% of the time musically inferior to “secular music.” In the beginning crappy guitar riffs, you can tell the difference. Blech!
My husband did a short presentation to a 4th grade CCD class today on liturgical music. He started to talk about how we choose the hymns for Mass when a little girl asked, “What’s a hymn?” :O
I always think of Disney movie songs at mass. It’s hard for me not to put on my Aladdin voice!