"And how about 'Whatsoever You Do'?"

This tells you all you need to know about modern liturgy.

One of the members of my parish choir recently moved to Florida, and was looking for a job as a leader of song at a parish down there. She’s accustomed to singing, regularly, things like “Ave Verum,” “Panis Angelicus,” “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Along with the usual seasonal chestnuts like “Once in Royal David’s City” and “Aurora Coelum Purpurat” and “Pange Lingua Gloriosi”. You know. Stuff like that.

She got in touch with a few parishes in her new neighborhood. She eventually found one that needed a singer, and even ended up chanting the “Exultet” at the Easter Vigil.

But she reports an interesting experience during her job search.  Pastors and music directors  all had the same question:

“Do you know ‘Here I Am, Lord’?”

  • Kathleen

    aaagh. I call that “The Barney Song”.

  • http://balancingtheledger.blogspot.com/ Joe

    Greg

    Put me on the list of those who love all the songs you listed- including ” Hear I am Lord”.

    “Whatsoever You Do”…not in the same league

    joe

  • RP Burke

    I’m working on a survey of parish musicians for our diocese, and one issue is how to define musical genres. To many Catholics, Here I Am Lord and the St. Louis Jesuits constitute “traditional” music.

  • Annie

    Can I ask someone, in all sincerity, to explain this to me? Is there a sound liturgical basis for dismissing ‘Here I am Lord’?

    I have experienced both types of music – having grown up in a Cathedral parish I’ve certainly heard and sung many of the hymns listed. Panis Angelicus is one of my favourites.

    I have also grown up with exposure at school, and in our parish to Here I am, On Eagles Wings, and yes, Whatsoever you do… and find that they have their place.

    The more musically complex and dare I say it ‘high falluting’ hymns while beautiful when executed well – are rather out of reach for the average parishioner in the pews – when they’re played with organs and highly skilled cantors — they can be awe inspiring to listen to — and that is a good thing – however, when it comes to the act of communal worship each Sunday – shouldn’t there be room for something that feels a lot more accessible to the average person to join in and sing their praises too?

    I know many people who are intimidated by the grandeur of some of the aforementioned hymns — and the modern folk hymns are something they’re more comfortable joining in with – surely that can’t be a bad thing?

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    Annie, it’s just personal taste. Different strokes and all that. Personally, I love “Hear I Am Lord” and a lot of the Dan Schutte/St. Louis Jesuits hymns.

  • Deacon Bill

    Oh, c’mon, Deacon Greg, really? “All you need to know about modern liturgy?”

    Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong pianist/organist, studying both from second grade through college. I started playing the pipe organ for our parish while still in grade school, BEFORE Vatican II, so what I’m about to write comes from that perspective.

    Sure, the music your choir sings “regularly” is beautiful and certainly a wonderful part of our liturgical tradition. But while “musical performance” is an important component of liturgical music ministry, it’s primary purpose is to encourage the “full, conscious and active” participation of all the faithful. I’m NOT suggesting that listening to wonderful music beautifully performed is antithetical to that norm; not in the least. On the other hand, it is not only the choir who should be involved musically.

    That means that outside of Brooklyn, out here in the boondocks, we have our share of hard-working people too (including pastors) who are trying to do their best at working with volunteer singers who don’t always have the kind of time or other factors to rise to the kind of repertoire with which you are blessed.

    Furthermore, those songs which early entered into the immediate post-Vatican II need for vernacular music, have now become “standards” and popular with many PRECISELY because they are perceived as singable and familiar with many assemblies. These are not insignificant considerations.

    Should our music constantly improve? Of course it should! Should our liturgical ministers expand their repertoire to include good NEW music as well as older classic pieces? Naturally?

    But to denigrate the state of contemporary liturgy simply because one of your former choir members encountered some of us rubes in the hinterlands is a bit of the stretch, don’t you think?

    God bless,

    Bill

    PS Oh, back to full disclosure. Down in the boondocks of Washington, DC, “Here I Am, Lord” was sung at my ordination. Sounded pretty good, too, and appropriate.

  • naturgesetz

    There are “things” that, IMO, are theologically unsound. “Sing a New Church” comes to mind.

    There are highly singable hymns with tunes composed mainly in the 18th and 19th Centuries, mostly from Protestant sources, but theologically acceptable.

    There are post-Vatican hymns, often with catchy tunes, which essentially quote or paraphrase sacred scripture. “Whatsoever You Do” certainly fits thais category, as does “Here I am, Lord.” In some cases, an objection is raised when the people speak the words of the Lord in the first person (“And I will raise you up,” or “I, the Lord of sea and sky.”) I’m not sure how valid the objection is. After all, those singing don’t think they are God, they think they’re quoting him.

    There are hymns which are best left to choirs and soloists.

    It seems to me that there should be room for all good hymnody that is theologically sound. That which gets the people singing is important, and so is that which lets them delight in aural beauty.

  • brother jeff

    the Barney song….lol

  • RoyCo

    In Florida? Where? “It’s a small world, after all?”

  • http://christopherblosser.blogspot.com Christopher

    “Can I ask someone, in all sincerity, to explain this to me? Is there a sound liturgical basis for dismissing ‘Here I am Lord’?”

    Not sure about liturgically. I have to say experientially speaking, it does make me feel like I’m “participating” more in a Broadway musical than a liturgy.

  • cathyf

    Nice summary, naturgesetz. I always wonder if the people reacting to the words of scripture in song like vampires to garlic have any idea that they are ridiculing the Holy Writ.

    As for the God-in-the-first-person objection, well I guess we know one thing about the people who have this complaint — they don’t pray Compline. See Psalm 91, vs 14-16. A good number of the God-in-the-first-person songs of modern vintage come from Isaiah, where again they are accurate renderings of what is in the source Scripture. (You can see the arc of the St. Louis Jesuits’ seminary education by the dates on their songs. A fellow choir member from college referred to this as The Isaiah Syndrome.)

  • richard kuebbing

    America magazine had an article a while back about the St Louis Jesuits, and how well their music was crafted and received. There were two snippy letters which they published, which trashed all the SLJ music.

    I have been singing in choir for 6 decades. I enjoy singing at liturgical functions all music that is good music whith appropriate lyrics.

    One of the choirs in Pgh I sang with, before it was merged out of existence, had issued a special song book for the SLJ music because it was not in the missalettes. They would not be denied.

    Music that reaches the heart is good music.

    as an aside, at the vigil, the lector leader had two lector do the GN 1 reading, each voice doing alternate days, with a bell sound in between. Worked wonderfully. The voices were an older male and a younger female for texture.

    For a number of years, while I was on an RCIA team, I did the GN 1 reading with another woman. I am a bas and she had a high pitched, strong but less than full voice. I broke the reading into a commentor part and a “God” part.

    I did the commentator part. Noone objected.

    off 2 work

  • Maureen

    The point here is that you would expect pastors to be interested in paying good money for familiarity with musically excellent and difficult pieces, or for the entire body of Gregorian antiphons, or even possibly for some obscure work from the musical corpus of the St. Louis Jesuits or the Soeur Sourire.

    You would not expect them to ask about some song that everybody in the entire American Catholic universe knows (whether they want to or not), because you don’t pay good money for something you can get for free.

  • Maureen

    Well, actually the point is that the pastors can’t think of anything else musical besides the old chestnut everybody knows, and which they can get for free; so obviously the pastors don’t actually think much about music and never learned anything about liturgical music at the seminary, either.

    Or you could take it as a sign that they don’t actually know why they should pay for music; it’s just something you do, which is why music budgets are the first thing to go.

  • Cathy J

    A question to Deacon Bill, who seems to dismiss the ability of a Catholic congregation to learn anything more complicated than “Here I am Lord” ( or “On Eagle’s Wings, etc.”): why can the Lutherans do it? My husband (a Lutheran), on the occasions when he attends services with us, is constantly frustrated that Catholics settle for such cheap (his word) hymnody–and that they are incapable or unwilling to sing more than 2 verses of whatever hymn is being sung–even when doing just the 2 verses leaves you in the middle of a phrase! An ordinary Lutheran congregation can and does sing all 5 verses–in harmony, no less.
    Whoever above pointed out that the 18th and 19th century Lutheran and Episcopal hymns are both singable and theologically sound hit the nail on the head. A tip: if the song seems to call for swaying, clapping, or sounds like it would go with carousel horses or a dancing monkey, then it’s not for Mass.

  • RP Burke

    A reply to Richard Kuebbing.

    I was one of the letter writers, and I was supportive of the SLJ’s work, to the extent it dragged the popular-music movement of its day — largely sappy, sentimental stuff with only a tangential relationship to Catholic thinking, never mind Catholic worship — to a focus on scripture.

    But the SLJ’s got “popular” and so “popular” was deemed successful, no matter what the bishops said about musical or liturgical judgments. The downward spiral is evident everywhere. Our parish uses some of the most dreadfully cheap trash I’ve ever heard, “Up From the Waters” by the ubiquitous hack Marty Haugen, for the sprinkling at the Easter Vigil. It replaced “Come to the Water,” a well-constructed, scriptural SLJ song. For an old classicist like me, that returning to an SLJ song would be a major improvement shows just how bad things are out there.

  • HMS

    This post has moved me to take this trip down memory lane.

    (I love the Latin hymns and the Scripturally-based hymns of the St. Louis Jesuits as well as those of the Bernadette Farrell. Nostalgia aside, I am not sure if I would like to have these hymns part of our liturgies today.)

    1. Hymn for First Communion: Jesus, Jesus, Come to Me

    Jesus, Jesus, come to me,
    All my longing is for Thee.
    Of all friends, the best Thou art,
    Make of me Thy counterpart. (counterpart? Is that part of a seven year old’s vocabulary? Well, I sang it.)

    2. Hymn on the Sacred Heart (my father’s favorite): Like a Strong and Raging Fire, written by Eleanor Donnelly 1838-1917

    Like a strong and raging fire
    Ina narrow furnace pent
    Glows the Sacred Heart’s desire
    In the Holy Sacrament.

    3. May Procession Hymn Mary: Bring Flow’rs of the Fairest

    Bring flow’rs of the fairest,
    Bring flow’rs of the rarest,
    From garden and woodland
    And hillside and vale;
    Our full hearts are swelling,
    Our Glad voices telling
    The praise of the loveliest
    Rose of the vale.

    Refrain:
    O Mary! we crown thee with blossoms today,
    Queen of the Angels, Queen of the May… .

    4. Hymn for St. Patrick’ s Day: Hibernia’s Champion Saint all Hail (1869)

    Hibernia’s champion saint all hail
    With fadeless glory crowned
    The offspring of your ardent zeal
    Today your praise shall sound.

    Refrain:
    Great and glorious St. Patrick
    Pray for that dear country,
    (the land of our fathers)
    Great and glorious St. Patrick,
    Hearken to the prayers of thy children.

    5. Celebration to Honor the pope: Long Live The Pope

    Long live the Pope!
    His praises sound
    Again and yet again:
    His rule is over space and time:
    His throne the heart of men:
    All hail! The Shepherd Pope of Rome,
    The theme of loving song:
    Let all the earth his glory sing
    And heav’n the strain prolong.

    6. And here is one that I never knew until I heard my father and uncle (a priest), both in their fifties at the time, sing it: Goodnight, Sweet Jesus

  • Deacon Bill

    Dear Cathy J,

    Thanks for your comment. I’m sorry if I gave the impression that I didn’t think Catholics were capable or interested in improving the quality of the music at liturgy! That was certainly NOT my intent.

    I was responding to what I felt was a far too generalization in Deacon Greg’s original posting that somehow this incident “tells you everything you need to know about the state of the modern liturgy” when it clearly does not. There are MANY elements in the liturgy, and having a community that does not have a significant Latin repertoire is not an indication that their overall liturgy is somehow deficient. Liturgical musicians sometimes fall into two camps: those who are so focused on performance, as if every Mass was a live performance at the Met, and then those who are so focused on group participation that they only offer the silliest of musical selections. I’m suggesting a middle course.

    I was simply concerned that the original post seemed overly sweeping and condemnatory in its conclusion.

    God bless,

    Deacon Bill

  • Deacon Don

    Although I appreciate all good liturgical music, I come down firmly on the “Here I Am Lord” side for two main reasons.

    The first is that we have individuals and families from 63 countries represented in our parish, with strikingly different histories of music in liturgy. Having something that is on easy to acquire (musically) common ground and that all can participate in is very important because this is prayer, not performance.

    The second is personal. Many years ago I heard that voice calling through long nights of anguish and despair. It took almost thirty years to journey from that place to this, and all the while Daniel Schutte’s simple promise to the Lord, sappy and sentimental though it may be, continued to touch my heart and hold a simply promise of hope. Still does. And I continue to go where the Lord leads me.

  • Deacon Greg Kandra

    FWIW, I think there’s a lot of ground to cover between “Ave Verum” and “Here I Am, Lord.”

    And I agree with you, Bill: there’s a middle course that more parishes should try to navigate.

    Personally, I’d like to hear more things like “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and “All Creatures of Our God and King,” eminently singable, great old hymns that do more than — to coin a phrase — gather us in. They tend to linger in the ear, mind and heart. On reflection, I guess it’s stuff that is theologically more vertical than horizontal (which is funny, because I’m usually a horizontal kind of guy…especially after Easter, when all I want to do is nap…)

    Dcn. G.

  • Annie

    Thank you for the insight – Deacon Greg and others. I just felt from this post and others I’ve touched on in the Catholic Blogosphere at times – that there seems to me to be a tendency towards elitism, for want of a better word, in how the liturgy is celebrated, including the hymns.

  • Cathy J

    To Deacon Bill–fair enough, I’ll take you at your word. But I stil think (along with Maureen, above) that well done music seems to be so far down the priority list of many parishes that we would be better off with a spoken Mass–the usual 7 a.m. Sunday Mass, say–than what is too frequently offered. (And I say this as someone who likes to sing.)

  • Deacon Don

    Cathy J brings to mind one issue that can affect the quality and development of liturgical music in parishes. I know locally some parishes are able to have a full time music director while others (including mine) will have four or five different groupings of people providing music for Masses. This makes for a very mixed musical diet indeed, but we thank the Lord for what we can afford.

  • Deacon Don

    I should have mentioned in the previous post that none of the people providing the music receive anything because the resources are not there.


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