Sunday, September 03, 2006

St. Cecilia, Pray for Us

I love my parish, I really of my favorite things is the music. Yes, I'm admittedly a music snob. I just don't like the fluffy Haugen/Haas stuff, it doesn't elevate my thoughts heavenward, it usually just distracts me. This site about sums up my thoughts on the matter. (Disclaimer: this does not mean I think people who like it are evil or somehow less-than, it's just my preference.) At my parish, we're so lucky to have a beautiful professional choir, a talented organist, and a wonderful director of music. At the noon mass, we regularly hear gregorian chant, Haydn, Bach, Palestrina, and even some Mozart. *Blissful sigh* that is nothing less than divine. The hymns are traditional, accompanied by organ only, the congregation actually sings along with the choir, and sometimes I'm even able to break out in harmony, especially if it's a song we sung back in my CoC days. (That's one of the very few things I miss about the Church of Christ...four part harmony written in the hymnals!) It's definitely my cup of tea!

Today, we ended up going to the Sunday evening mass. We go every once in a while when we sleep in on Sunday morning. The music there is very nice too. There's a great classical guitarist who is very good, and usually one cantor who also sings some solos during mass. It's a quiet mass, and very peaceful. Unlike the noon mass, people tend to be a bit more shy about singing. After all, there's no choir and organ to back them up, so it's understandable. Which brings me to my small rant...

There we were, waiting to line up for communion, when the guitarist and the soloist suddenly start playing "On Eagle's Wings," a song that, in my opinion, is more suited for some cheesy broadway play than mass. But it's ok...I grin and bear it. After all, we've heard the guitarist and soloist do "Lord of the Dance" on more than one occasion before. The guitarist and soloist are not overwhelming, so I close my eyes and try to think about Christ with the broadway-sounding tune softly playing in the background, when suddenly I hear....people around me SINGING! "And He will liiiift you up, on eeeeagles' wings..." Wha?? People don't normally sing along with the soloist at this mass during communion, especially when the only hymnal page numbers on display were for the processional and recessional hymns...and on top of that, this song isn't even IN the hymnal we use at our parish!! Why are people singing now when they barely sing the other hymns at all at this mass? After that song was over, "Be Not Afraid" was up next. This one I don't like because of the lyrics, which are written in the first person perspective of God, so that we sing God's part. (See here for more about that.) Again, the song isn't even in our hymnals, and again, people around me were belting it out. I was baffled.

Now, don't get me wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with these people singing along, even though I don't particularly find the songs uplifting...what bothers me is that, in comparison, during the beautiful traditional hymns, for which we have hymnals right in front of us, they were nearly silent. Why? The lyrics from these old hymns are filled with words of such beauty and reverence and obviously Catholic beliefs. The melodies are simple and beautiful and one would think, familiar. is not so. Not to the current generation of mass-goers. Sadly, traditional hymns are rarely played at many parishes. Modern songs dominate the liturgy, songs which are fluffy and annoyingly catchy in the way that pop songs and broadway tunes can know, those songs that get stuck in your head whether you want them to or not. Some of these are songs which are not even always compatible with Catholic teaching, for instance, songs that speak of the Eucharist as if it's merely symbolic. (See here for more about that.) So, it seems the catchiness often overrides the content nowadays. In a word, it seems sadly superficial. And these are the only songs people seem to know well enough to sing by heart.

I suppose some of my angst on this matter comes from my CoC background. I grew up in a church that knew how to sing and sing well. Hymns were always sung in four part harmony, and so it was already hard for me to let go of my beloved alto line and stick to the Catholic unison melody. But I can stand that if at least the hymns are meaningful and thoughtful and lift my thoughts heavenward. If they're none of those things, though, it makes me wonder, what's the point? I can sing a content-light catchy tune anytime, while I'm driving down the road, while I'm cleaning my house. But hymns are supposed to be more than that...aren't they? They're supposed to praise the Lord our God and lift our minds heavenward. Perhaps the modern tunes can acheive that for some...but admittedly, I have a hard time understanding how. Nevertheless, I don't blame the people in the pews for liking the catchy tunes, that's understandable. I do blame liturgical directors and music directors, though, who refuse to consider playing anything that might not "entertain" the masses enough. People will never learn to appreciate what they are never exposed to, and by dismissing all the music from the long history of the Catholic Church, save catchy tunes from the last 40 years or so, they are depriving Catholics of so much.

Well, I suppose that's enough blabbing about that. I must say again that I feel extremely blessed to be a part of such a wonderful parish, which provides beautiful, content-rich and divinely inspiring liturgical music that often moves me to tears. Thanks be to God!


anne said...

Welcome to the Church Stephanie! I couldn't agree more with your comments in this post. As a lifelong Catholic born in 1962, I have just the dimmest memories of chanted high masses and the singing of beautiful hymns ("Holy God We Praise Thy Name","Lord, I Am Not Worthy", etc.) By the time I graduated from Catholic grade school in 1976, we sang "Morning Has Broken" at our graduation Mass - yikes! I miss the beauty/reverence that I barely knew. I think things are sloooowly getting better, but I still get discouraged when I see things like our new youth minister asking for conga players for a "rockin praise and worship team" (as an aside, I really hate that term. It may well fit in a protestant context, I don't know, but at the Mass we are ALL supposed to pray and sing - why do we need a "worship team"? I really think the blurring of lines by using evangelical terminology is really dangerous and will often be counter-productive. The evangelicals do "worship team" much better - it fits their theology better, their bands are more polished, etc. If Catholic kids are being led to think that is what "makes" worship, and are not lead to the incomparable mystery/beauty of the holy sacrifice of the Mass (in a significant way by sacred music), they will be ripe for snatching when Young Life is proposed by evangelical friends, IMHO. It is a way better product than any entertainment driven Catholic youth ministry). Anyway, thanks for letting me rant! I hope to charitably (and, please God, convincingly) raise these concerns with our enthusiastic new youth minister. But we aren't Catholic because the Church is perfect, but because its true, right? I am so grateful God brought you home to His Church. God bless!

Stephanie said...

Hi Anne! I agreed with everything you said, good luck with that new youth minister!! I know a lot of people my age who are longing to get back to the traditional beauty and reverence of times past, and I do think you're right that things are sloooowly getting better. Thanks for stopping by, God bless!!

Julie said...

I agree with you! One of the many wonderful things that have come out of the Catholic Church is the beautiful music in praise of God.
And we completed Mass Sunday with "America the Beautiful."
I was growing up in the 60s and 70s, and I remember singing "Morning Has Broken!" And Kumbaya, and "Blowing in the Wind."

Stephanie said...

"Blowing in the Wind??" As in, Bob Dylan? lol!! Wow...that rivals the time we heard "Imagine" played during communion at a Life Teen mass. At least it was just instrumental, no lyrics, but still!

Thanks for visiting, Julie! :-)

Cheryl S. said...

Mom was thrilled on the last Sunday that she was visiting me - we finally sang a hymn that she remembered singing growing up (Catholic); it was "Holy, Holy, Holy".

.."Imagine"??? Even though it has those "Imagine there's no heaven" and "no religion" lines? Yeesh. Even if it was instrumental.

Thomas J. said...

It is interesting that you have written about this Stephaine, as I was thinking about this topic recently. As a former member of the c of C, AND a musician, one of the things that I was very excited upon my departure form that denomination was the possibility of using my musical talents in a worship context. I visited a number of churches after leaving the c of C, most of them community protestant churches with contemporary "praise and worship" music (a term that I dislike as well). After a while of attenting these churches, and even participating in a musical program or two, i found that the music, while it did not bother me from a moral or doctrinal standpoint, offended my sensibilites as a MUSICIAN. I felt that it was very much "dumbed down" music that appealed to the lowest common denominator of lyrical content and musical ability.

One might respond that "not everyone is a musician", and that is true, however, I have been to a WHOLE lot of little hole in the wall churches of Christ with some AWESOME singing services involving only mediocre talent. I alsmot feel as if in regards to the musical part of the service, people are looking for simplicity rather than quality (all the while wearing high dollar dresses and suits in the name of "giving your best to God"--Go figure)

I don't know. . .Maybe like you, I have some old c of C prejudices to overcome, but i don't so. I think it has more to do with wanting more than simplicity in regards to the way my brain works. I want things to move to a higher level, and Bach Partitas, etc, certainly DO make the old brain work a little bit more than some reduntant, pop-laden drivel.

Lori said...

Hey, Stephanie! It's LoriAgnes from the Board. I followed the link in your siggie to your blog to see what you were up to. :-)

I just wanted to give you a little hope that some of what you characterize as fluffy music really does move people. I love, love, LOVE the song, "On Eagle's Wings." I also really enjoy a lot of Haugen and Haas stuff, BUT I also love more classical pieces. I mean, how can you go wrong with something like "Panis Angelicus"? :-)

Anyway, I just wanted to share the perspective that there are probably a lot of people who like both and appreciate the place of both in worship. Now, obviously, stuff that has lyrics that are heretical is one thing...but I also think a lot of examples are taken out of context. But that's just me.

I would like to see some more traditional pieces in my parish (we do a lot of more modern pieces with a few traditional ones tossed in), but the music is still beautiful and often moves me to tears...just as you have often said the music at your parish does!

And I think part of the reason I feel this way is because my dad is a music teacher as well as the music director at his parish. (He grew up going to pre-Vatican II Masses...his idea of music is often all Latin, all the time.) Anyway, when he tries to add in more classical pieces...shoooweee. You should hear the atrocious things people have said to him! Literally saying TO HIS FACE that he doesn't care about drawing people into Mass and his idea of music sucks. So, he does what he can...uses traditional stuff for prelude and postlude music and goes with what the priest and congregation wants for other parts. :-(

So, I don't know what the answer is. These are the musings of a woman who is bored as all get out... :-)

Stephanie said...

.."Imagine"??? Even though it has those "Imagine there's no heaven" and "no religion" lines? Yeesh. Even if it was instrumental.

Yep! Crazy, huh?

Hehe, yeah, "Holy, holy, holy" is one of those I get to sing my old CoC alto line with, lol.

Stephanie said...

Hey Thomas!(I almost typed GP, lol)

i found that the music, while it did not bother me from a moral or doctrinal standpoint, offended my sensibilites as a MUSICIAN. I felt that it was very much "dumbed down" music that appealed to the lowest common denominator of lyrical content and musical ability.

You summed up my own feelings well! Thanks for taking the time to comment! :-)

Stephanie said...

Hi Lori! Thanks for your comments, come and cure your boredom here anytime, lol.

I understand it moves a lot of people...but so does "Aquarius" from Hair. Like I said, I'm an admitted music snob, lol, I can't help it!! It just kind of makes me sad that people don't even know most of the traditional music, and that many don't seem to appreciate it at all. And I admit, I tend to look at people who don't care for traditional music the same way I see people who think classical music is "boring" and that the best song in the world is the latest pop hit fluff on the radio. I just tend to feel like they're missing out on something, and I feel like it's largely the fault of music directors and liturgical directors who rarely play any of the myriad of beautiful music the Church has at its disposal. I mean, proportionately, there should be a LOT more traditional music played than modern music, as there's much more of it. But in a lot of parishes, it's the exact opposite.

Anyway...I'm also just a bored woman musing, lol. Thanks for visiting!

Todd said...

It's a two-faceted kind of thing. Not only do parishes need good music. But they need it done well, too.

I suspect that traditional music is suspect in Catholicism because many of us have the experience of it not being done well. Plainsong certainly has a lot of bad mojo to overcome in the eyes of many Catholics because it has been done so horribly.

I can't get too excited about the so-called "Voice of God" songs. Many of them were not written for the congregation, but for choir or soloists on verses. The antiphons for entrance and communion provided in the Roman Missal often have God's words presented in the first person.

My sense is that the argument against them has lost a lot of steam in the past several years. Assuming a parish music repertoire is not filled with them, I don't see a difficulty.

Stephanie said...

It's a two-faceted kind of thing. Not only do parishes need good music. But they need it done well, too.

I suspect that traditional music is suspect in Catholicism because many of us have the experience of it not being done well. Plainsong certainly has a lot of bad mojo to overcome in the eyes of many Catholics because it has been done so horribly.

You know, this thought popped into my head earlier today...I think you make an excellent point!

Cheryl S. said...

"but so does "Aquarius" from Hair."

I will now have that song in my head all night.

Thank you ever so much.

Actually, I will sheepishly admit that I *like* that song...hee! I don't expect to hear it in church *ever*, though.

...well, unless it's a place that uses the Aquarian Gospel (I wish I were kidding. There is such a thing. I posted some about it in my LiveJournal. It's...erm...ever-so-interesting. Makes my head spin.)

Stephanie said...

Lol! You're welcome, Cheryl!! ;-D

Hey, I think the song is catchy myself! I don't find it moving or spiritually uplifting, lol, but I bet there are some people who do. But that doesn't mean I don't think the tune is catchy! See? It's one of those broadway tunes that gets easily stuck in your head, lol!

Aquarian gospel, huh? Interesting...

Cheryl S. said...


You'd think it was from the late 60s/early 70s if you read it without looking at the copyright date. And you'd swear the author was on something at the time.

Which may well be true, but the author wasn't writing this in the 60s/70s. More like 1907.

Truly nothing new under the sun.

Stephanie said...

Crazy stuff!