Two Hymns I Will Not Sing

I love to sing at Mass.  Recalling an adage attributed to St. Augustine, I believe that he who sings, prays twice.

From my vantage point in the third row, I want Jesus–waiting and listening from up there in the tabernacle–to hear my prayer; and so I sing loudly.

(This is a problem when I’m surrounded by tight-lipped pewsitters.  I once carried a tune well; but following a throat infection years ago, I’m wont to drop a full octave here and there, especially on “D” notes.  It’s embarrassing to me, and painful to all within earshot.  So c’mon, neighbors!  There’s safety in numbers.  Join in, and we’ll ALL look good!)

*     *     *     *     *

Too often, Catholics are like this at Mass–sitting passively, listening to the cantor.

Anyway, this is why I sing:  To honor God. 

NOT to make a political point.

That means I want to sing songs which are prayers.  Not songs about community (We Are the Church) or songs about patriotism (My Country, ‘Tis of Thee) or songs in which the composer’s well-crafted lyrics have been thwarted by feminist reworking to obscure the “maleness” of God.

Recently, I’ve been stubbornly silent when a couple of songs have been dusted off and inserted into the Sunday liturgy.  Here are two songs which I heartily decline to sing, and why:

1.  A Place at the Table

Oh ho!  You think you can fool me, saving the good stuff until the second stanza.  That’s where you want me to join in a thinly-veiled feminist hissy-fit about the all-male priesthood and women’s ordination and stuff.  That’s where you ask me to sing,

For woman and man, a place at the table
Revising the roles, deciding the share
With wisdom and grace, dividing the power
For woman and man, a system that’s fair.

Uh…. nope, can’t do.  Zip’s the lips, I say.  Here is where I instead insert a real prayer, not a whiny political posturing–whispering a “Hail Mary” to the Most Highly Esteemed Woman of All Time.

According to her biography, Shirley Erena Murray, the lyricist who penned the words to that most irreverent of songs, is “Methodist by upbringing, and ecumenical by persuasion, she has spent most of her life as a Presbyterian.”  No offense to Christian believers of other faiths, but Ms. Murray seems not to have absorbed the reverence and the aura of worship and respect which characterize the Catholic Mass, where the Son of God is present on the altar, Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity.   The Catholic liturgy is a place for gazing upon our Creator, asking His help in our daily lives, according to Him the worship and the reverence that is His due.  It is NOT the place for squeezing in your favorite feminist campaign slogan.

And then there’s this:

2.  Sing a New Church Into Being

Less strident than “A Place at the Table”, it nonetheless makes its political points–twisting the knife, scolding the hapless clergy and congregation, inferring that the “old Church” just wasn’t good enough.  Suggesting that men and women are equal in THIS song, for THIS writer, but not for the rest of the poor uninformed clergy and worshippers who have somehow, all these years, failed at egalitarianism (if they ever even tried).

Summoned by the God who made us
Rich in our diversity
Gathered in the name of Jesus
Richer still in unity

Let us bring the gifts that differ
And in splendid varied ways
Sing a new church into being
One in faith and love and praise

Radiant risen from the water
Robed in holiness and light
Male and female in God’s image
Male and female, God’s delight

So I rebel.  The walk up the aisle to receive Communion becomes a test:  Will I focus on Jesus as He offers Himself to me?  Or will I seethe, angry about being forced to join the vociferous protesters on behalf of Church reform and women’s rights?

Sometimes I win, sometimes I lose.

*     *     *     *     *

The claim is sometimes made that Vatican II called for liturgical reform, bringing the Mass to the people with greater clarity, hymns and prayers in the vernacular, a focus on people’s concerns.

But however well-intentioned the reformers who would denude the traditional hymns of their great mystery and pomp, there is much to be said for preserving the great pre-Vatican hymns:  prayerful hymns like “Holy God, We Praise Thy Name” and “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and “Come Holy Ghost.”  In those songs, we knew that God was God, and we were not.

Vatican II’s oft-ignored guideline for liturgical reform, Sacrosanctum Concilium, gave pride of place to choral music and to Gregorian chant.  And the Holy See’s 1967 Instruction on music in the liturgy, Musicam Sacram, highlighted the important role of the choir in the sacred liturgy.

Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s oft-ignored guideline for liturgical reform, stated that greater importance was to be given to choirs. The Holy See’s Instruction on music in the liturgy, Musicam Sacram (1967), clearly spelled out the role of the choir in the sacred liturgy. (The word “cantor” never appeared until later, when the responsorial psalm was restored, and then there was need for “cantor of the psalm”.)

- See more at: http://www.adoremus.org/0506LucyCarroll.html#sthash.DPWx42zG.dpu

Sacrosanctum Concilium, Vatican II’s oft-ignored guideline for liturgical reform, stated that greater importance was to be given to choirs. The Holy See’s Instruction on music in the liturgy, Musicam Sacram (1967), clearly spelled out the role of the choir in the sacred liturgy. (The word “cantor” never appeared until later, when the responsorial psalm was restored, and then there was need for “cantor of the psalm”.)

- See more at: http://www.adoremus.org/0506LucyCarroll.html#sthash.DPWx42zG.dpuf

For woman and man, a place at the table
Revising the roles, deciding the share
With wisdom and grace, dividing the power
For woman and man, a system that’s fair
Read more at http://www.lyrics.com/place-at-the-table-lyrics-lori-true.html#gHtjTmuIjTpyDS3U.99

  • Tom

    Excellent!

  • DeaconsBench

    I feel like I’m from another planet. I’ve never heard either of those songs. Ever.

    • James

      Same here. Our bad music is merely lyrically inane and musically unsingable. Lots of Marty Haugen.

    • Ryan

      I’ve only been in the Church for a little less than two years but I’ve heard #2 too many times to remember. Other “hymns” as well. But what do you expect from a location where a religious community that runs a couple parishes here still uses the “old” english translation of the Mass – and not only uses it, but makes it a point to SHOUT the “old” responses.

    • Gail Finke

      Lucky you!!!!

  • ABST27

    wow. I have never even heard of these songs. Consider myself blessed. What triflings to include in Masses!

  • Gail Finke

    Love this. I have never heard the first song (for which I am truly thankful) but the second one is sadly familiar. I have gotten used to just shutting my mouth during half the songs at my parish, but I like the idea of saying a Hail Mary better… it’s hard to think while the insistent, intrusive, “oh we are such bad oppressors, but also rich in diversity and gifts to our wonderful selves” songs, but the nice thing about a rote prayer is that you can say it while you’re distracted.

  • KLM

    Excellent choices! Might I also suggest “Lord of Dance”? I literally want to cry whenever I hear it. I”m sorry, but we’re all singing about the passion of the Christ as though it were an Irish drinking song? Ugh…
    I danced on the Sabbath & I cured the lame
    The holy people said it was a shame!
    They whipped & they stripped & they hung me high
    And they left me there on a cross to die!

    Dance then, wherever you may be
    I am the Lord of the Dance, said He!
    And I’ll lead you all, wherever you may be
    And I’ll lead you all in the Dance, said He!
    (…lead you all in the Dance, said He!)

    • James

      That’s a shame, because Copland’s Appalachian Spring is quite a beautiful piece of music.

      • Gail Finke

        I kind of like “Lord of the Dance” — at a concert or a campfire. It’s not a liturgical song. How about “God has chosen me”?? OOOOO I hate that song, and any song that uses the word “oppression” in it:
        1. God has chosen me, God has chosen me
        to bring good news to the poor.
        God has chosen me, God has chosen me
        to bring new sight to those searching for light:
        God has chosen me, chosen me:

        Refrain
        And to tell the world that God’s kingdom is near,
        to remove oppression and breakdown fear,
        yes, God’s time is near, God’s time is near,
        God’s time is near, God’s time is near.

        2. God has chosen me, God has chosen me
        to set alight a new fire.
        God has chosen me, God has chosen me
        to bring to birth a new kingdom on earth:
        God has chosen me, chosen me:

        3. God is calling me, God is calling me
        in all whose cry is unheard.
        God is calling me, God is calling me
        to raise up the voice with no power or choice:
        God is calling me, calling me…

        you can hear it here: http://www.spiritandsong.com/compositions/7776

        • James

          I’ve never heard that song before in my life.

          • Gail Finke

            You are so lucky!!!!! We trot it out every few weeks.

    • Patti Day

      Truly hideous

  • http://sfomom.blogspot.com/ Barb S

    Never heard the first and agree with you on the second. But I have to wonder why we’re not paying Catholics to write Catholic hymns–the lyrics, anyway.

    • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

      Good point. Why do we have to hear so many Protestant hymns? Some aren’t bad, but we have our own tradition.

    • Norman Arminger

      Any song that has “lyrics” instead of an actual Scriptural or liturgical text should be thrown out immediately. We aren’t supposed to be just singing songs at Mass. The Church actually has music assigned to every Mass of the year, but it all gets ignored because it’s chant. We should be singing the Mass itself.

      • http://sfomom.blogspot.com/ Barb S

        I disagree with your point about the “lyrics.” If the Church followed that rule, you could never sing “Tantum Ergo” or “All Creatures of our God and King.”

  • Ann Margaret Lewis

    I’d not heard of the first one…but the second one, yes, I’ve heard of
    it. I was given it to sing as a cantor once. I told the organist I
    wouldn’t sing it, as I was perfectly happy with the old church. He
    said, “You know, you make me feel like a bad Catholic.” I replied, “Not
    bad, just one who doesn’t think all the time. You can join the club
    because you are not alone. I just happened to have my caffeine this morning.” He gave me a different song to do.

    Cantors
    – stand up and fight. Look these music directors in the eye and tell
    ‘em what’s right. They can’t force you to sing something you know is
    wrong.

    • Johanne Newell

      Hey Ann, I agree on “Gather Us In”, but another poster gave me a different perspective (scroll down). What specifically about the song do you find to be offensive?

  • Ann Margaret Lewis

    I’d add a #3 – I won’t sing Gather Us In, either. Just sayin’.

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    I never heard of those “hymns” either.

  • Rae Marie

    You make very god points here. These hymns are awful. However I don’t believe very many people are interested in following the authentic Vatican II. Too many agendas in the Church. It really seems there is an effort in many parishes to “hide” more prayerful, beautiful hymns and that is sad. I wonder when true reform will happen, like the one which was actually intended?

  • http://pegponderingagain.com/ Peg Demetris

    I agree about the “Country” music and one song I can’t stand is “Lord of the dance”… In writing the lyrics to “Lord Of The Dance” in 1963, Sydney Carter was inspired partly by Jesus, but also partly by a statue of Shiva as Nataraja

  • Johanne Newell

    Happy to say that I’ve never heard of those songs. Have you seen the third verse of “Gather us In”? I completely balk at “not in some heaven, light-years away.” Horrific.

    • irena mangone

      Just a point not all the newer hymns are horrible . And I still love the older ones I think we need to mix and match a bit of each keep everyone happy I also love the praise and worship hymns in the Catholic Charismatic Renewal

  • KyPerson

    I’ve never heard the first one, and the second one only once. I’ve heard Lord of the Dance only a couple of times, but that was too much.

    They may have been Protestant, but Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley knew how to write a good hymn.

  • http://decentfilms.com/ SDG

    Holy freaking smokes. You can’t be serious. Those are not real songs. This is a parody. Right? RIGHT?

    • http://decentfilms.com/ SDG

      I literally would not attend Mass at a church where that first song was sung. There is no way in hell I would expose my kids to that week after week.

  • cajaquarius

    Maybe I have been out of the Church too long to figure out the issue here but I am not seeing where songs like “Gather Us In” and the like deviate from Catholic tradition (I remember that one but not the others so won’t address them). One person mentioned “Not in some heaven, light years away” as the line issue but what is the issue? I maybe an ex Catholic but I was still Confirmed and was under the impression that the Eucharist was the transubstantiation of Christ made flesh in the Sacramental bread and wine. If this is the case, then isn’t this line well in line with Catholic tradition (eg God is now present in the Eucharist, right in that moment, not distant like the Protestant idea of God)?

    Even as a Catholic in my younger days, I found this legalism and these arguments over the gender of God to be tiresome. The wisdom and power of Christ as a figure is not predicated on whether God is a man, a woman, or whatever so what is the point of arguing and these protests? I could never understand the bureaucratic aspect of Catholicism.

    • Dan

      it’s not bureaucratic, We call God “Father”, He is not a man or a women he is “Father”. He told us who is he is. Thats not bureaucratic, it’s listening!

      • cajaquarius

        In the Jewish dialect, “Father” is the word given to any originator of a people or project. Abraham was the Father of the Jewish people, for example. One of many Fathers who shepherded them through the old mythos of their people (Moses and Noah could be considered for this title as well).

        It is less a denotation of gender, thus if one wants to think of God as genderless (an it) or as feminine (as some hold the Holy Spirit as the Maternal aspect of God) I don’t see how that is problematic or at odds with God, really.

        • oregon nurse

          I admit I’m no expert on ancient languages but I’m not as sure as you that Jesus didn’t have at least a gender role in mind when He gave the apostles the perfect prayer, Our Father … or when He prayed to His Abba. I think it is the notion of the traditional male role the words evoke that offends so many feminists, not the gender language itself.

          I believe the concept of a male as father, absolute authority, both loving and fearsome protector is exactly how Jesus meant to teach us to relate to God from our earthly human perspective. We should come to God as little children come to their fathers. (How sad we’ve lost so much of what that means in our society and maybe that has a lot to do with our loss of God too).

          I believe that God the Father is actually genderless, pure Being encompassing all, but I know Jesus is definitely male for once and for all time or the doctrine of the resurrection of the body would be untrue. I believe I will still be female in heaven, although what earthly significance of my gender will still remain in heaven I have no idea.

          • cajaquarius

            I can see where you are coming from. While your view maybe right I have always suspected that God as Father was less a matter of Paternal Father and more a matter of Father like Abraham. He is originator of the Universe, the Earth, Man, the Jews, the Gentiles, and everything. Also, the primacy given to women by Christ Himself and the New Testament seems to indicate an inherent subversion of many standard gender roles in the Old Testament and in the Jewish perspective. For example, it was his female disciples who stayed when the remaining male disciples fled and hid in fear during Christ’s crucifixion (interesting since it is men who are usually portrayed as brave where, in this instance, the women were brave and the men cowered). Then again, it was the women who Christ first appeared to when resurrected and not any of the eleven remaining apostles (who went so far as to doubt the women and had to go to the tomb to see for themselves). The latter is especially amusing when you consider how chided St Thomas often is for Doubting when these men needed to be humbled for their own doubts earlier when they doubted the resurrection of Christ simply because it was women who had witnessed it.

            I can see the merit in your view. However, while God does encompass the traditional male role He also encompasses the traditional female role in many ways too. He forgives sin, has patience, and shows a tender sort of love for His progeny that isn’t indicative of men, generally. Men are supposed to be fierce, hardened, warriors and hunters who control and protect. He also created and birthed the Universe (not in a womb, but the creation and harboring of life is something that is the domain of female). I am not arguing that you are wrong, merely illustrating my perspective. I could be wrong myself. I tend to view gender as something not entirely set in terms of role; many men are quite maternal and some women are quite strong and fierce as any man and so on. This does tend to color my views and faith, for better or worse, so I tend to forget that for some people gender roles are considered inherent rather than taught.

          • oregon nurse

            Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I can see better where you’re coming from now as well.

          • cajaquarius

            Oh of course. Thank you for the respectful discourse.

          • Sheila Warner

            Also, remember that Jesus compared himself with a mother hen when he was lamenting over Jerusalem’s rejection of his as Messiah. Also, in the OT, God is presented as female when saying that even if a mother abandoned her young, he never would. God has no gender. The Bible was written by men in patriarchal cultures, which is why God is a he. Jesus was a man, so that also reinforces the “He”. But the Holy Spirit is absolutely feminine in her qualities-advocate, teacher, guide, comforter, etc.. All characteristics seen as female. Very nurturing.

          • cajaquarius

            I do tend to favor that view of God myself, though my experience of males in my life was a sociopath step father who sometimes beat me unconscious so my view of male gender can be called biased or skewed. If it weren’t for Big Brothers Big Sisters helping me out by showing me a decent male role model who knows where I would be now? Still, I like that you have taken into consideration the history of when the Bible was written – always important to remember, these stories were written by actual people in actual times. An intelligent approach.

    • Johanne Newell

      You are right, God is truly present through transubstantiation, so I don’t take issue with the idea that Heaven is very close at the Mass. It’s the wording. Two issues.

      One problem: “some Heaven”. How irreverent is that??? We don’t believe in “some Heaven” any more than we believe in “some God”. I just find it to be grossly irreverent.

      The other issue: “light-years-away”. I guess I understood this differently than you. I thought the author was saying that Heaven *is* light-years away. The distance to heaven, of course, is not measured in physical units.

      But, I guess you’re giving me a different perspective. If the author is trying to refer to the idea of a false heaven, or a false idea of heaven, the idea that heaven is so very far away (which of course is false), then he could use the phrase “some heaven” to emphasize that idea is so far from reality that it’s not even the heaven we believe in.
      Thanks :) I think I’ll give the author the benefit of the doubt, and look at it with that perspective. And maybe I won’t choke the next time I hear it ;)

      • cajaquarius

        Ah I see. The song says “Not in some heaven light years away” so I suspect it is saying the exact opposite of what you suspected: that heaven is not in the sky, on some magic mountain, or the like but right there at the mass itself. The irreverence is for the idea that Heaven is some place that one can build a tower or stairway to reach. I always heard/read it less as irreverent but more as a reference to the Tower of Babel and that sort of idea that a person can reach heaven by merit of working towards that end (rather than by merit of letting God work through them and allowing them in). I could be wrong though.

  • irena mangone

    I have not heard of these either. Not in Australia or England and most certainly not in Polish language masses .it must be an American phenomenon

  • ElinorDashwood

    Ignore everyone else at Mass. It’s what I do, and it works great.

  • David L Alexander

    “For woman and man, a place at the table
    Revising the roles, deciding the share
    With wisdom and grace, dividing the power
    For woman and man, a system that’s fair.”

    No kidding, these are really words to a hymn? They’re actually in a hymnal somewhere?

  • kathyschiffer

    So many people hadn’t heard “A Place at the Table” that I’m linking to the lyrics here. And oh my! Perhaps the first line, “For everyone born…” is also reason to reject the song. Is she deliberately excluding the unborn? I don’t know. http://www.lyrics.com/place-at-the-table-lyrics-lori-true.html

  • Cotswoldsrose

    I haven’t heard these songs, either, but I understand why you decline to sing them. Wow. I don’t have a problem with patriotic or community songs, though, as long as they are placed appropriately within the liturgical year and praise God through them. I think hymns and worship songs of all types (except the ones you won’t sing, about which I agree) have their place. Some are meant to convey doctrine, others are meant to praise, others are meant to help us enter into meditative worship…it just depends. I grew up an evangelical Protestant, and the Protestant tradition is very rich in wonderful hymns and worship songs, so I bemoan the lack of great hymns and songs in the Catholic Church–at least post-Vatican ones. I haven’t heard a lot of the old ones, unfortunately, which I’ve heard are better.

  • Jean Heimann

    I am happy to have never heard either of those hymns. If I had, I would also refuse to sing them.

  • Fr. Paul Hartley

    Ever since I was in the seminary (1978-1981) songs like you mentioned and some other “oldies and moldies” since then have been afflicting me wherever I happened to be assigned as pastor. But to get the musicians to re-think some of this or to battle the children of the ’60′s who still seem to control the song choices is like climbing Mt. Everest, so I do my best to suggest other (read better) options. When some song irritates me, it is quite obvious I’m not singing along, and believe it or not, there are folks in the pew that notice. Little by little this junk music will be put into the dustbin where it belongs

  • Sheila Warner

    My parish doesn’t use those hymns. I am a Catholic convert, and I am delighted when we sing one of my favorite Protestant hymns, such as “How Great Thou Art”. It’s been nearly 10 years for me as a Catholic, and I still don’t know the words to most of the songs we sing. Some of them I really like (“All Are Welcome”, “Bread of Finest Wheat”, but some are pretty forgettable. I can’t list them because they are…forgotten! I try to think about God and His goodness in bringing me into the Catholic faith no matter what song is chosen. Like you, I want to approach the Eucharist with an attitude of worship, not seething. I like this post.

  • K P Burgess

    After reading the above, I am more than ever convinced that smoke is still wafting through Our Holy Mother Church (and I don’t mean Incense!). All I can say is “Veni Sancte Spiritus”.


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