Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

31 August 2013

Disparity of Cult

On this Labor Day weekend I helped to distribute Holy Communion at the 4:15pm Vigil Mass. A surge of nostalgia and comfort came upon me during the first notes of the Communion Hymn, "Come To Me" by former Benedictine monk Gregory Norbet. As a church organist I enjoyed playing and singing this hymn, for the lyrics are entirely biblical, if paraphrased. I was surprised to hear that the author has supplied more verses than the first, which had been the only one in the "PMB" (the various editions of the People's Mass Book, some of which are still used in our diocese).

I experience no small relief when I hear liturgical music that is entirely biblical, as opposed to the self-centered palaver that started hitting the shelves at about the same time as the aforementioned PMB. Numerous friends, priests and laity alike, have taken significant strides toward Catholic musical renewal in their parishes with the re-introduction (whether total or--pardon the pun--gradual) of Gregorian Chant. The Second Vatican Council's Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy reaffirmed that chant and organ are the primary forms of liturgical music. But whatever instrument or text we use to lift our voices to Almighty God, it is far better to praise Him than to praise ourselves.

After the Communion Hymn, our organist broke into her four-measure introduction to God Bless America, by Irving Berlin. The cantor began singing, but most of the assembly waited to chime in until "land that I love" or so. While I was heading into the sacristy to purify the sacred vessels, I began to harmonize along with the organ arrangement. Our people certainly did justice to this patriotic anthem.
A parishioner gently made an observation to me as I greeted people in a side vestibule. "Father, I couldn't help but notice how everyone sang so loud when the organist played God--"

I knew where she was headed, because it often occurs to me as well.

"--but they don't participate nearly as fully in the hymns, do they?" I responded, to a nodding head.

This is one of those weekends in which American worshippers of all faiths will belt out the patriotic songs played in their services. A lot of justifiable roof-raising!

But for some reason we have to get all solemn for the psal-ums (pronounced as my late father and other Coal Region natives sometimes pronounce film, improperly adding a schwa to make it a two-syllable word--the technical term is "epenthesis")!  Solemn as in unnecessarily reticent.

"Well, everybody knows 'America the Beautiful,' but not everybody knows 'O Bread of Life.'" "Well, if they're Catholic, why not?"

Patriotic songs honor our country, and yes, they honor the God to whom we look for protection and guidance; but sacred songs glorify God, the Mysteries of Faith, Our Lady, and all the rest, often (ideally) using the Lord's own words!

Why can't we sing them with equal gusto? Do we worship our country more than our God? I would imagine not, but it is a question worth considering. It encourages us to guard against the temptation to reduce patriotism to something we pull off the shelf on civil holidays or in times of national distress. We can keep God at arm's length as easily as anyone or anything else. A vapid civil religion suffices for many people, but it cannot suffice for faithful Catholics, especially as we hear the call to subject even our love of country to our love of God and divine values.

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