In time for April 1, the National Catholic Register published a story titled, "Bishops Plan to Make New Hymn Rules." True to the occasion, the story made it clear the Bishops aren't planning to make any rules about anything, and that they are not doing that with all deliberate speed. The Dossier has obtained a draft of the story.[**] Changes from the published version have been indicated by blue text. For those not in the know, this story is part of an interminable installment series published in various Catholic media titled, "U.S. Bishops . . . . Stall . . . . Stall . . . . Stall . . . Forever . . . . Stall . . . . Stall . . . Stall . . . . on . . . Stall . . . Stall . . . Stall . . . Liturgiam . . . Stall . . . . Stall . . . . Stall . . . . Authenticam."
NEW ROME WASHINGTON — At the beginning of this Lenten season, some Catholics in the United States were singing the hymn "Ashes" and announcing, "We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew."
Although some might be inclined to dismiss the words as poetic license, insensitive hyper-Traditionalists who have their head in the pre-Vatican II sand others argue that it is Christ who creates us anew, and that the line is symptomatic of problems with many of the worship songs that have become part of Catholic hymnody in the years since the 1960s.
The ever-vigilant, ever-vigorous U.S. bishops agree it is time to take action about a look at what Catholics have been singing. A nother subcommittee headed by Oakland, Calif., Bishop Allen Vigneron is crafting a set of actual rules you have to follow composition guidelines to encourage ensure the Church hymns conform to Church teaching.
Msgr. Anthony Sherman, associate director of the bishops' secretariat for liturgy, said the work was undertaken in response to the 2001 instruction three years ago from the Holy See, Liturgiam Authenticam, on the use of vernacular languages in books of the Roman liturgy.
The document from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments urges "the greatest prudence and attention" in the preparation of liturgical books, saying et cum spiritu tuo they should reflect sound doctrine, use exact wording et cum spiritu tuo and be free from all ideological influence et cum spiritu tuo. It also calls on bishops' conferences to provide "for the publication of a directory or repertory of texts intended for liturgical singing" within five years.
Rather than do what Rome told them to do issue a repertory, Msgr. Sherman said it is more likely the bishops will within the next ten years try to provide a set of principles to Church composers which can be easily circumvented by anyone with sufficient wit to argue about whether "limo" is a word you can use in Scrabble.
Although he believes there is much good music in use in U.S. parishes, Msgr. Sherman acknowledges that much some of it is heretical crap falls short.
For example, he said, "there are some hymns which say ‘God' is simply a metaphor for we, us, ourselves, the Church" "there are some hymns that you could look at and say there is too much emphasis on what we are doing and not enough on God's action in our life or on God's grace that uses our instrumentality to achieve things."
Dr. Susan Treacy, professor of music at Franciscan Guerilla University of Steubenville, Ohio, and an editor of Ignatius Press' subversive Adoremus hymnal, said the hymn "Ashes" is just one of a number of current texts that contradict Church teaching. Another, she said, is "For the Healing of the Nations," which, in addressing God, makes a reference to "dogmas that obscure your plan." Well they do, if God is us, and if we are eager to see womyn priests marry gay people.
"Dogma shows us God's plan and frees us in doing so," Treacy said. "That's an undeniable fact, which no educated person can deny." "That, at least, is what the Catholic Church teaches." And it's true for us.
Treacy said what Catholics sing is important because "even if we're not consciously thinking about it at the time, we remember what we say, what the words say, and they get programmed into us." "Why, even the belief that truth is a function of voluntarism can get programmed into us."
Msgr. Felix Losito, who keeps a close watch on the texts sung by parishioners at Holy Rosary Church in Reading, Pa., added that hymns can serve as tools of instruction, which is why he insisted that a particular hymn casting the Eucharist as a symbol no longer be used in the parish.
"They'll start singing the words and start believing the Eucharist is just a symbol. They'll say it's in the hymn," he said. But, as USCC documents point out, they can use that hymn in Protestant Churches, and that's an important ecumenical step!
Treacy said the hymns in use in the Church since the Second Vatican Council fall into four categories: good, beautiful older hymns from the Catholic tradition, such as "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name"; those from the classic Protestant tradition, such as "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" Isn't anyone concerned about programming people to take Martin Luther's piety as a model for their own by singing the Battle Hymn of the Reformation?; traditional gospel songs, which make white suburban parishioners feel earthy, close to the people, more real somehow such as "Precious Lord, Take My Hand"; and those by Catholic and Protestant composers in the junky popular-music style based on soft effeminate pseudo-pop rock, commercialized folk muzak music or Broadway tunes "Euuuuuuuuu --- uucharist where the substance is really really changed!" and there's always Rogers & Hammerstein's Bali Hai, which can be used just by changing the name to Jesus Christ -- the rest fits right in with modern liturgical music.[**]
She finds classic hymns preferable not only because they are easier to sing well, that rules ‘em out right there, can't have men singing hymns but also because the lyrics are more doctrinally secure, provided they have not been "updated" by liturgists and committees ripping lines from Ankhenaton's hyms to Aton
Treacy cited "Holy God, We Praise Thy Name" as an example of a classic hymn that works. Because, minor programming glitches aside, she knows good liturgical music and has great taste!
"That is a great hymn," she said. Amen. No, no, not Ammon, Amen "The tune is easy to remember and easy to learn. It's exciting and joyful, and yet the text is the English version of the Te Deum and a song of praise to God." and not to us, we, ourselves, the Church. "That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth . . ." hmmmm . . . maybe the Mad Monk of Wittenberg's not that bad a choice after all . . . .
Robert Batastini, vice president and senior editor of GAIA Publications and a lay member of the bishops' hymn sub-sub-sub-subcommittee, said a good hymn should be biblically and liturgically based having at least one article or pronoun found in the bible or the liturgy, addressed more or less to God however conceived so it constitutes worship and consists of good poetry written by someone with genuine literary skill as opposed to good poetry written by someone who's dead and whose work can't be copyrighted. One can find such music in GIA hymnals, which include the most widely sung music in the church today, and plenty of it. Classic hymns, psalms galore, music by the most widely sung composers of our time, e.g., Haugen, Haas, Joncas, Proulx, Schutte, Dufford, and so many others; outstanding European composers, e.g., Berthier (Taizé), Bell (Iona), Walker, Farrell, Inwood, and indigenous music from around the world. You'll never run out of new music! "Wonderful -- that's the Church's idea of liturgy," Batastini said, "always having to sing hymns you're hearing for the very first time."
What Catholics sing today, he said, is "all over the place" in terms of quality. Like the aforementioned "Ashes,"; "Anthem," ("We are called, we are chosen, / we are Christ for one another / we are harvest, we are hunger / we are question, we are creed"); "Gather Us In," (God's life isn't found "in the dark of buildings confining / Not in some heaven, light years away / But here in this place . . ."); "I Myself Am the Bread of Life" (which says otherwise, that "you and I are the bread of life / taken and blessed, broken and shared by Christ / that the world may live") -- all available in the high-quality, durable hymnals offered by GIA Publications, Inc.
"I think there's some very, very fine stuff and some trash," he said, "some stuff really not worthy of anybody's time." But I publish almost all of it, because you'll see oceans of Lemonade on Mars before anybody implements Liturgiam Authenticam in this country. But Batastini said because of the sheer size of the repertoire, any attempt to revise GIA hymnals review it would be nearly impossible and so incomplete and expensive as to be worthless When asked if that was why Liturgiam Authenticam just asked for an established repertoir, rather than a perpetually-running hymn-O-meter that reviews every musical jot and tittle churned out by GIA, Batastini replied, "Hey, who's paying attention to Liturgiam Authenticam? After all we are called, we are chosen . . . we are question, we are creed. Magisterial guidnce isn't to be found in the dark of buildings confining, or in some heaven, light years away, but here in this place, 3211 4th Street, N.E., Washington, DC 20017-1194."
Batastini said a list of fuzzy, optional guidelines with samples of good and bad hymns and explanations as to why each is considered acceptable or unacceptable Oh sure -- anybody wanna bet that something GIA puts out will end up in the "bad" category? is a more practical alternative than what Rome told the Bishops to do. The bishops' committee, he said, also could devise a list of 100 core hymns that every Catholic in the United States should know, the providing continuity as Catholics move from parish to parish. "And the list could be updated," he said, "as new compositions make their way into the repertoir." He added, "you know what's funny? When the Vatican tells us to come up with a list of core hymns to be sung at liturgy, it's impractical and impossible. But when we try to make an optional list which has no practical effect, we can do it in fifteen minutes."
"Going through the potential repertoire of hymns for Christian worship would be like trying to count the grains of salt in a saltshaker. … "I could see where a committee evaluating hymns could spend a day arguing over one hymn," he said. "There are hundreds of thousands." "And that's our story for the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discpline of the Sacraments, and we're sticking to it. If they really push it, fine, we'll publish that list of 100 great hymns on our website as a suggested resource for parishes. Thus do we rise again from the ashes of magisterial interference to create ourselves anew!"
[**] Yes, this is a parody and not a real draft!!
[***] Don't believe me? Here's the lyrics to Bali Hai:
Most people live on a lonely island
Lost in the middle of a foggy sea
Most people long for another island
One where they know they would like to be
Bali Ha'i, may call you.
Any night, any day
In your heart you'll hear it call you
Come away, come away
Bali Ha'i, will whisper
On the wind of the sea
"Here am I your special island,"
"Come to me, Come to me"
Your own special hopes
Your own special dreams
Bloom on the hill side
And shine near the streams
If you try you'll find me
Where the sky meets the sea
Here am I your special island
Come to me, Come to me
Someday you'll see me
Floating in the sunshine
My head sticking out from a low flying cloud
You'll hear me call you
Singing through the sunshine
Sweet and clear as can be
Come to me
Here am I
Come to me
If you try you'll find me
Where the sky meets the sea
Here am I your special island
Come to me, Come to me