Saturday, February 03, 2007

Mass Hymns

It's been about three months since I took on the position of cantor at our church. I was slightly reluctant to do so, as I prefer a good choir, but there really isn't any chance for a choir, as the church is so small, and help was needed. And so, I took the job, resolving most firmly to be careful what I did. In other words, I'm not going to have the microphone so close that people can't hear themselves sing for the loudness of my voice. I'll give the help, but I'm not going to be the soloist.

On account of this job the subject of the hymns, which has always been a touchy subject with me, has grown even more so. In the old days if a song came up that I felt was rather theologically unsound, I simply wouldn't sing it. Now I have to sing what comes up, so I notice everything more than I did before.

The thing that has always annoyed me the most are the hymns for Communion. We have, unfortunately, the hymnals from the Oregon Catholic Press, and I shudder when flipping through the section dedicated to Communion. Some of them are thelogically sound, but sound very cheesy and seem more about praising ourselves than the God we just received.

I am the Bread of Life is one that drives me absolutely mad. The tune, for one thing, is completely... banal, for lack of a better word. And perhaps I'm the only one, but I always felt that it was rather odd for us to be singing such a song at such a time. I realise, of course, that we're quoting Christ's word, but sometimes it just feels like I'm singing that I am the Bread of Life. And I'm not.

This evening at two vigil Masses I'll be singing for, we're doing Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent, which is a good hymn. "Christ our God to earth descendeth, our full homage to demand." That's the impression that should be given. We're there to worship God, not to sing about the wonders of ourselves.

Some of the songs are dreadfully frightening. One hymn proclaims that "we are the bread of life, you and I are the bread of life." I've heard on occasion people questioning whether or not it's true. "Are we the bread of life?" they ask. And that is, again, dreadfully frightening. Thank goodness I have never had to sing that song. If it ever came up, I'd have to put my foot down.

Hymns like the previously mentioned are so wild that I knew right from the start that they were. But there were others that I didn't notice until I became cantor and had to study the pieces so I could sing them well. These were hymns that did sound very cheesy, but I put up with them because other than that, I didn't see anything really wrong. And what's sad is that the writers of the song didn't see anything wrong, either. (Aside... a basic course in theology might be a wise thing for those who intend to write hymns for mass [aside of ths aside... though I wouldn't mind if there was never a new hymn... we have a wealth of tradition already, and I don't know if anything more beautiful could be penned]).

One hymn that I often sang as part of the choir at a nearby church began with: "Precious Body, Precious Blood, here in bread and wine." The music certainly couldn't be classified as sacred music, but the words did seem all right... until I started to think about them.

Frankly put, it's heresy, by none other than Luther. It's called "consubstantiation," which means that Christ is present with the bread and wine. But the fact of the matter is that Christ' Body and Blood are not "here in bread and wine." The teaching of the Church is "transubstantiation." The bread and wine cease to be, and only the accidents remain, or, as you might say, the appearance, taste, etc. of bread and wine. But the bread and wine do not.

One could say it's just a little slip, and doesn't make a difference, but considering the fact a large percentage of people in the average congregation believe in consubstantiation, without even realising it's a heresy, it's rather frightening to think that songs like this are going around spreading that belief.

I'll have to mull it over and decide whether it's worth bringing up sometime to the various people in our music ministry. Not in a confrontational way, of course, but as an item of interest. And continue praying that I can somehow influence them to switch from OCP to Adoremus!

And it would also be nice if some good priest would be willing to center his homily around the teachings on the Eucharist. Moving away from the very kind and gentle homilies doesn't necessarily mean constant homilies on various mortal sins (though it would be nice once in awhile). There's a middle ground. The Eucharist, Purgatory, and other matters of doctrine and dogma. Catholics are generally lacking in education on such matters, and it would be an admirable opportunity to clear up some of the confusions.


lissla lissar said...

I feel your pain. My husband and I are joining the Church at Easter. We were Anglican, and the music at our Catholic parish is generally painful. It's the thing I miss most about being Anglican. We used to sing the Tantum Ergo Sacramentum, and St. Patrick's Breastplate, and all sorts of other great hymns.

We're thinking that sitting through yet another praise chorus with guitar and tambourine means less time in Purgatory.

Aisa said...

I'm really glad that I read this post. It totally opened up to me a whole new train of thoughts.

I guess before, the things I found fault with in Church music were coming from the people; the tempo being too fast to the point of (I felt), not exactly irreverent, but it took away from the beauty of the song.. and so on.

But I never really thought too much about lyrics, I mean, unless they were the type like "Were You There" that made one shiver.

I always loved "Supper of the Lord" and I never analyzed it like that before..


Hey, Clare, would you like to join this group that's trying to get out a Catholic Teen magazine? We've gotten one issue out, and we're starting small, but we've got really big dreams for it.

Kate and Dev and Asher are in the group, along with two other Catholic Homeschoolers that aren't on 4real. Would you consider it, please?