The Church Needs Powerful Music

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“Sing unto the LORD with the harp; with the harp, and the voice of a psalm.  With trumpets and sound of cornet make a joyful noise before the LORD, the King.” Psalm 98:5,6 (KJV)

Here’s the link to the Youtube video below

My wife and I have been watching Ken Burns “Country Music” the last two weeks and after the closing of the fourth episode—video above—she remarked  “this is the kind of music the Church needs.”

Yes, the Church does need music as powerful as country, but it doesn’t need more old-time Gospel hymns.  “I’ll Fly Away” moves me to tears when I hear or play it, but it would not be appropriate for a Mass.   What we need is hymns with lyrics that aren’t banal, melodies that you can remember when you leave the Church.

The St. Louis Jesuits and their followers have filled hymnal books (OCP) with songs that are born of unwed folk and church music.  There are a few I  play on the bowed psaltery Sunday afternoons—As I Have Done for You, Be Not Afraid, O Beauty Ever Ancient—but most by the St. Louis Jesuits and their imitators do not inspire me to sing or reflect on the mysteries of  our Lord and Savior.

There are pre-Vatican II hymns in the hymnals, even those from OCP.  So, if the priest selects the hymns, he can find those that congregation want to sing and that carry a message—Old 100th, Jerusalem, My Happy Home…   This is the case for the small country church my wife and I have been attending nowadays.

So, perhaps one solution to the problem of elevator music hymns is to require  seminarians to attend music appreciation classes.  But then, can one “teach” musical taste?

Another solution might be to use hymns from the Anglican Ordinariate usage, where no concessions have been made to PC considerations of inclusiveness or sexism.   Here’s one such:  O Promised One of Israel (Forest Green).

Also hymns should not be such as to exclude male singers.  I recall that 18 years ago, when I was taking up the bass clarinet for our church instrumental group, I got an old hymnal book, pre-Vatican II, because  it had the bass and tenor parts given.  Wrong key!  The hymns after Vatican II had been raised an interval or two, F to G, C to D (to make female voices predominate?) I myself can’t sing that upper E flat  or E, so I shift down an octave (usually unsuccessfully) or give up.

Finally, hymns that can be sung by the congregation and cause soulful inspiration can bring people back to the Church.  Gospel music has been the strength of poor Appalachian and black churches.   Catholic gospel music might do the same.


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