Missed this from early November, (hmm…. what is it that could have had me distracted? can’t remember,) by Father Dwight Longenecker, blogging at Patheos.
He is, because of his background, perhaps a little hymnocentric, but he makes some good points. (And he gets to the right place eventually, though not, perhaps, for the right reason.)
Since moving here ten years ago I’m still having some problems with music. Part of it is my problem. I spent fifteen years in the Anglican Church with the New English Hymnal–which is probably the finest hymnbook ever published in the English language. Musically and liturgically it was the best that traditional Anglicanism had to offer.
…My problem is that I am actually unfamiliar with most of the music in American Catholic Churches because I have lived abroad for so long.
However, what I do experience is not encouraging. Who on earth is writing these hymns, publishing these hymns and choosing to buy, prepare and perform these hymns? Doesn’t anybody know what a hymn is for?
Surely a hymn is first, and foremost part of our worship. That means the words are words that we use to address our praise, adoration and worship of God. So much of the stuff I come across isn’t that at all. Instead it is sentimental language in which God talks to us to reassure us, make us feel better and comfort or inspire us. So…”Be not afraid…for I am always with you…Come follow me.. etc” This may be a pleasant enough devotional song to remind us of God’s promises, and there may be times when it is appropriate to sing such songs, but Mass is not one of those times. We’re not really at Mass to sing God’s comforting words to ourselves. We’re there to worship Him….the Mass is meant to take us to the threshold of heaven; if it is meant to be a glimpse of glory and a participation in the worship of the spheres of heaven itself, why then the sentimental, sweet and comforting songs just won’t do. They wont’ do not because they are bad or untrue, but because they are not good and true enough. Worship that takes us to the threshold of glory needs to be, well…glorious….not all parishes can manage to have a grand organ, a paid organist and a fine choir. True, and that’s why the church recommends Gregorian Chant.