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!)
* * * * *
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 worshiyp 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.
This article was originally published on Patheos.
Image: By The Photographer (Own work)