Nick Alexander “The Catholic Weird Al” weighs in on the Liturgical Music Front
A few months ago I wrote to Crisis Magazine in defense of modern Catholic worship
music, knowing full well that there’s a lot that can be improved. (It’s at
–the March 2002 issue).
I understand that there are indeed major problems with modern liturgical music–namely
much of it is self-centered, self-congratulatory, unsingable, performance-oriented,
and too self-conscious of issues that seemed a little more important thirty
years ago (racism, multi-culturalism, the need for mixed language songs). Granted,
there’s also the issue of being gender inclusive, which I don’t think would
be so much of a problem is we kept singing about/to GOD rather than to us.
Rest assured, I think we’re on the same wavelength, or at least I hope we are.
That said, I think there’s some fantastic songs in the hymnal, but they’re
simply not being unearthed by lazy choir directors and under-paid organists,
who are far more concerned that they sing the same ten songs from the missallette,
over and again. OCP and GIA may offer seminars, write articles, publish recommendations,
but I don’t see these people (unworthy of the title–musician) making any effort.
I must also recognize that the popular praise and worship songs of today are
not being mimicked by much of Catholic hymnody, (save for a few exceptions),
but I do not know why. I would gather that over 75% of the popular praise and
worship songs are written from a man-to-God perspective, in worship, or thanksgiving,
or petition. Catholic songs, (or the well-known Catholic songs) are not that
at all–except, largely the hymns. Which is why people naturally gravitate
towards the Adoremus society, I suppose.
But there are wonderful exceptions. I’m particularly fond of “Jesus Heal Us”
(Haas) or “Lead Me Lord” or the chorus of “Let All Creation Bend the Knee” or
“Lift Up Your Hearts” or “Spirit Come” (Norbet) or “Open My Eyes” (Manibusan)–none
of these are the dreaded God-to-man version, or gender inclusive, or racial-equality-agenda’d
Perhaps you’re not familiar with all these songs. Chances are, they’re all
languishing in some dark corner in the hymnals you use. I think you’ll be pleasantly
surprised. (Of course, anything is better than “Anthem”).
I must confess I’ve never heard any of these. But then I’m not a big liturgical music fan. Typically, it’s a form of penance (except at Christmas) and you can go to parishes anywhere in the country and hear the same 12 songs. My parish (the magnificent Blessed Sacrament in Seattle) is a remarkable exception because we have a choir lead by a woman who loathes Anthem even more than me and who knows how to do great hymns.