When we got into our, um, conversation last week about good vs. bad liturgy, people from both sides of the spectrum chimed in with what they thought would be the remedy, and I appreciate that, I really do, but I’m not looking to go to any “extreme.” In fact, I’m actually quite happy b0uncing back and forth between contemporary and classic, progressive and traditional. It was never a matter of needing one type of perfect liturgy or a perfect liturgical element but rather a matter of just wanting to participate in Mass and feel like I was getting what I need to deepen my relationship with God. I happen to be one of those people who can get that equally well from the often-dreaded “On Eagle’s Wings” or the old-school Latin “Agnus Dei.” In fact, I prefer a blend, which is precisely my problem. Again. I don’t fit into anyone’s “camp.”
Sometimes I think about the music I’ll want at my own funeral Mass. Yeah, must be the Irish coming out in me. And that kind of sums up my approach to liturgical music: Give me good music that moves me through it’s haunting beauty, like “Panis Angelicus” for instance, or something singable that doesn’t make me pass out from needing to reach notes too high for dogs to hear, like “Table of Plenty.” That’s correct. I just requested “Panis Angelicus” and “Table of Plenty” in the same breath. And you thought last week’s blog post was a problem.
I would like to suggest churches throw away the weird, impossible-to-sing but seemingly liturgically correct songs in favor of something classic or simple or just plain beautiful. And dare I even suggest that maybe we start listening to what’s going on in Christian music circles in general — not just Catholic circles — to hear the really great new spiritual music that’s out there. Some of it is jaw-droppingly inspiring. I’ve got a whole playlist of it, if you want to come over and listen. Stuff that brings me to tears every time I hear it, and other stuff that fills me with a come-and-get-me-God kind of conviction. Good stuff. Unfortunately, most Catholics are still struggling with that last verse of “Lord You Give the Great Commission,” so they never get to Laura Story’s “Blessings.”
And although this will send some progressive or contemporary folks into convulsions, how about we pull out one of those really basic old standards from days gone by. The ones even little kids can sing because they’re so easy; the ones older Catholics can sing because they’re engrained in our DNA: “Holy God We Praise Thy Name,” “Hail Holy Queen,” “Immaculate Mary,” “Praise to the Lord.” I dare you. Put one of those into rotation next week and stand back and be amazed at how many people will suddenly start singing. Why? Because they know the songs, because they don’t have to be opera divas to hit the notes, and because sometimes it’s just nice to belt out “How Great Thou Art.”
Folks like me aren’t asking for perfection. What we’re asking for is something real, something that makes sense to our hearts and souls, something that doesn’t make us want to wear ear plugs to Mass.
If you choose a song with five verses of allegedly profound words and no melody, expect people to stand there with mouths closed. And, guess what? If their mouths are closed in frustration, there’s a good chance their hearts will close just a little too, and soon you’ve got a church full of people looking at their watches instead of looking at their God.