Have you ever paid attention to “the voice” of a song? Ask yourself, “Who is speaking to whom?” Then what is the main content of the song? What is being spoken about? The following song, entitled “The Servant Song” has been recommended by our modern liturgy magazine for Masses on several occasions in the last couple of months:
Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let me be your servant too
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load
I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the the peace you long to hear.
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born to all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony
The “voice” being heard in this song is the voice of a parishioner in the pew. That is “who is speaking”. To whom is the parishioner speaking? To another parishioner. Analyze the “you” and “me” of this song – which occur in almost every single line – and you realize that we in the pews are singing to each other. About what are we singing? About what we will do for each other and what we will be for each other. Yes, it talks about holding the “Christ light”, and it speaks of something (somewhat cryptic) of the harmony in heaven connected to “all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony”. But it is you and I in the pews talking to each other about how we will serve each other. It is not wrong on occasion to talk about serving each other. But the Mass has a fourfold purpose regarding our relationship with the Lord: adoration, thanksgiving, petition and atonement. This song does not really fit into any of those categories. There is plenty of opportunity outside of the Mass to talk about what we are to each other and how we will serve one another. (The homily spoken by the priest certainly can serve the purpose of encouraging service towards others, empowered by grace from the Mass.) Hymns are devotional songs that are supposed to increase and enhance our devotion to the Lord. This song effectively turns the congregation in on itself to talk about what we will do for each other and who we will be for each other. The song says almost nothing to God or about God or from God. For that reason I would say it is a very weak song for the Mass.
Still a song with a melody people like, this song has usefulness, but not primarily in the Mass. I could see it used in a prayer meeting before a “YES” project where youth are going out to serve the community. I could envision the song perhaps being used at a wedding to echo the vows the bride and groom have just made to one another, as a sort of meditation on the service-love their vows entail towards one another. But only rarely can I envision this song being very useful in the Mass. Yet our modern liturgy guide has recommended it on several occasions recently, as if it should be a regular in our repertoire.
Compare the song above with the lyrics of “God We Praise You”. (Two verses of God we praise you made it into the missalettes for this year; all four verses made it into the Lumen Christi Hymnal.):
God, we praise you! God, we bless you!
God, we name you sovereign Lord!
Mighty King whom angels worship, Father, by your church adored:
all creation shows your glory, heaven and earth draw near your throne
singing “Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts, and God alone!”
True apostles, faithful prophets, saints who set their world ablaze,
martyrs, once unknown, unheeded, join one growing song of praise,
while your church on earth confesses one majestic Trinity:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God, our hope eternally.
[Two more stanzas, each as solid as these first two, are omitted here for the sake of space.]
The voice in this song is clearly that of God’s people in unison; and they are speaking directly to Him! And the topic of the song is God’s majesty, which is adored by all those on earth and in heaven. This is a very strong song that fits perfectly into the fourfold purpose of the Mass. I remember that one of the things that struck me most about music in the charismatic renewal in college, compared with what I had gotten used to in Mass growing up, was that the Mass songs were not very much directed towards the Lord, nor were they sometimes even about Him; whereas the charismatic renewal songs were. Was this part of the reason I grew up not realizing I was supposed to be worshiping God in the Mass?
So this is one of the ways I consider the strength of a song, and a collection of songs. As a pastor, my concern is that the words I put into my parishioners’ hands to pray and sing be worthy, i.e., solidly from the Heart of the Church and beautiful. The words we pray and sing effect our faith profoundly, whether or not we are aware of it. Remember the saying about the liturgy: “The law of prayer is the law of belief”, i.e., how we pray transforms how we believe.
Here is the vision from the Introduction for the Lumen Christi Hymnal that I am proposing and have already presented to our music leaders (This is the hymnal for which we received the Auguste Schaefer Liturgical Grant from the Diocese. In the near future I will be showing you samples.):
“The Lumen Christi Hymnal has a clear and noble purpose: to put into the hands of Catholics a core repertoire of time-tested, stable, reliable, theologically sound hymns that are suitable for liturgical and devotional use, and to open up before them the Church’s rich patrimony of hymnody for the Liturgy of the Hours, all in an economical, beautiful, permanent, dignified volume, which bespeaks the beauty of the faith and the dignity of the sacred liturgy…. The first part contains the established repertoire of traditional hymnody that Catholics in the United States have come to know and love. The texts, translations and tunes are familiar to most Catholics, and every effort was made to avoid texs that in recent years have been flattened by gender neutrality, watered-down theology, and trivialized alterations and modifications.”
Somewhat along these lines, I heard an interview of Cardinal Raymond Burke on “Kresta in the Afternoon” on Tuesday, July 26th, during the second hour of that show. Cardinal Burke is the most pre-eminent voice of the Catholic hierarchy in our country. As part of a longer discussion, he briefly spoke about the musical changes he experienced in the liturgy as Vatican II was being implemented. If you go to “www.avemariaradio.net” and look under the “programs” tab for “Kresta in the Afternoon” you will find the audio archives tab; and then you can look for the second hour from July 26th. The interview happens twenty minutes into the show. The Cardinal does a fine job sharing his experience of some of the confusion that happened in the years following the Vatican II Council, and a vision for moving forward.
Many thanks to all those who helped with the Vacation Bible School. I was able to attend the closing night’s ceremony, and it was full of life.
Thanks also to those who helped organize and execute the YDisciple kick-off to introduce new members. Special thanks to Mike and Brenda Riebersal who allowed us to use their place, the old Klinger’s Beach. The event was very enjoyable for all. The setting couldn’t have been more perfect.
I would love to see all of our high school youth in a YDsiciple group. [Which means I would need more adults to step forward and lead groups for us. Parents of high school students can help me identify and invite such adults to mentor their children as group leaders. I do the training of the leaders.] Even if you could not make the kick-off event, you are still welcome to be part of a group. Please call Theresa Conley in the office ASAP to express your interest. The first session for newcomers starts this weekend already.
Have a blessed week!
In cordibus Iesu et Mariae,