Sunday, September 25, 2011

What was Wrong with the Old Church?

Our "Gathering" hymn this morning...Our new director kindly picks songs from the new book that have familiar melodies, but the lyrics and the thoughts they evoke are completely foreign:

Sing a New Church (sung to “Nettleton,” the melody for “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”)
~Delores Dufner, OSB

Summoned by the God who made us
rich in our diversity
Gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity.

Refrain: 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.

Trust the goodness of creation;
trust the Spirit strong within.
Dare to dream the vision promised,
sprung from seed of what has been.

Bring the hopes of every nation;
bring the art of every race.
Weave a song of peace and justice;
let it sound through time and space.

Draw together at one table,
all the human family;
shape a circle ever wider
and a people ever free
© Oregon Catholic Press

This is well worth a read about what's wrong with these lyrics.  Here's an essential couple of paragraphs if you don't want to click over:

To appreciate the damage done by such hymns, we must first call to mind two essential aspects of the Mass: presence and dialogue. First of all, what distinguishes the Mass from all other forms of worship is the re-presentation of Christ's sacrifice. The Mass does not merely recall or reenact Christ's redemptive act but in fact makes present the mystery of faith, the passion, death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1366). 
Second, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and indeed throughout the Mass makes possible a real dialogue between God and man; it creates an active conversation. The remembrance of someone does not lead to dialogue with that person; only to reminiscing. The presence of Christ in the Mass, however, inspires us to speak to Him as only the beloved can speak to the Lover. Thus the Mass is a dialogue between Christ and the Church, between God and man, in which God speaks His lines and we speak ours. He speaks to us through the readings and (we hope) the homily, while we respond to Him through the prayers of the priest, our personal prayers, and the hymns. 
Accordingly, active participation at Mass requires the faithful to acknowledge the presence of Christ and enter the dialogue, taking the words of the Bride as their own. They embody the Bride, and their Mass parts -- the KyrieGloriaSanctus, and Agnus Dei ­ express her desire for union with the Bridegroom. Other texts used at Mass should reflect and deepen this sentiment. The dialogue reaches its culmination at the Consecration, when the Bridegroom speaks His definitive words of love and thus becomes really present to His Bride in the Eucharist. 
Given the lyrics of much contemporary liturgical music, however, we must ask what has become of this dialogue and our ability to enter it. Many hymns have us sing only about ourselves and to ourselves, even going so far as to usurp God's part. Such words fail to convey the true meaning of the Mass as a dialogue between Christ and the Church. The offending lyrics come in two varieties: in the first, we sing to one another and about one another, but do not include God in the conversation; and in the second, we sing God's parts.  (emphasis mine)
Sing a New Church is sung to the tune of Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.  Look at the difference in the lyrics---totally centered on God and His grace instead of ourselves!

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Sorrowing I shall be in spirit,
Till released from flesh and sin,
Yet from what I do inherit,
Here Thy praises I’ll begin;
Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;
How His kindness yet pursues me
Mortal tongue can never tell,
Clothed in flesh, till death shall loose me
I cannot proclaim it well.

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

O that day when freed from sinning,
I shall see Thy lovely face;
Clothed then in blood washed linen
How I’ll sing Thy sovereign grace;
Come, my Lord, no longer tarry,
Take my ransomed soul away;
Send thine angels now to carry
Me to realms of endless day.

Again, I ask, what was wrong with the Church that Christ founded, and why do we have to sing a new church into being that's all about us?


  1. I am very much a hymn snob. Anything written after 1950 (and even that is really too late) is almost always awful. The music at our church is not too bad but for some reason the Communion hymns are almost always awful. I happen to think Communion should be completely silent but that's me. I think any part of the Mass in which we should be silently praying it should be silent.

  2. total hymn snob here and i agree that there are issues with the new words. (the older hymn is one of my favorites.)


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