"On Eagle's Wings" controversy
  • jmtm
    Posts: 7
    Hello all!

    I'm a Catholic college student writing an article for my music seminar class which is aimed towards understanding the controversy surrounding the hymn "On Eagle's Wings". Based on my experience (which includes reading some other discussions on this forum), it seems like Catholics either love or hate this hymn; there's no in between. I, too, have very strong feelings about this hymn with which plenty of people disagree. My goal with this article is to come to some understanding of both sides of this debate, because I don't believe our family of faith should be so divided by music.

    I'm looking to interview anyone who would like to discuss their views of and experiences with "On Eagle's Wings". I'm happy to read responses to this discussion/participate myself to gain a better understanding of general opinions, but I will not be conducting formal interviews on this site. For anyone who would like to do an individual interview, please email me (Jean) at jmtm9101@gmail.com, and we can work something out. Feel free to ask other questions here if you're not sure. I am happy to give more details on the story if that's helpful.

    God bless!
  • The effect of this music on serious musicians is one of dismay, if not hilarity, that anyone could be drawn in by anything quite so banal, tasteless, and schmaltzy, let alone actually like it. Picture it in the same category as the Prologue of St John's gospel as set to, say, 'Climb Every Mountain'. Unlike some forms of rock which can with certitude be labelled 'musical pornography', OEW is not soulless musical pornography, it nonetheless falls somewhere near where Kinkaid's saccharine endeavours do when placed beside a Michelangelo (or or even the engaging documentary work of one such as Norman Rockwell). And, it makes pie in the sky of the sacred words to which it has been thoughtlessly wedded. Perhaps what is needed here is an annulment.

    Of course, we are aware that one man's bad taste is another woman's delight. This is alike to us liking of a picture in a museum but not really understanding its screts until the docent opens them for to us.

    So, how does one decide (quite aside from a musician's educated observation) into which camp a given music falls?

    We are, perhaps, in the position of what the Supreme Court justice once said in a case involving pornography, namely, 'we can't define it but we know it when we see it'.
  • Welcome to the forum!

    I have several issues with OEW. First I think that the style of music isn't appropriate for the mass. It is way to sentimental. Plus it sounds more like contemporary choral music (I have nothing against that, by the way). But sacred music should be instantly recognized as specifically sacred and not secular. The test I like is if a random person off the street heard the music without the words, what would he think about it. That hypothetical response should tell you a lot.

    Second, as a piece of music, it is just bad. It is incredibly difficult to sing because there are a lot of really weird jumps in the melody along with tricky rhythms. Consider that the introduction (and the piano part coming out of the refrain into each verse) ends on a D Major chord, and the melody starts on a C#. That's just bad writing.

    The one good thing about it is that the text comes from the psalms.

    Just to give you some reasonable expectations, I will say that most of the people here are probably going to dislike the song.
  • I can't figure out how to link here to the article I posted on the subject some moons ago, but the article is called Why we need new music: the demonic inspiration for On Eagle's Wings, saved somewhere hereabouts.
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,730
    Fundamentally it is a secular style of music, and in the mind of the Church as unwanted at Mass as the 19th century operatic style.
    The St Louis Jesuits were a bunch of young scholastics trying to encourage their teenage students to listen to, and thus assimilate, the psalms. They were not initially intending them for Mass. The Church's need for vernacular psalms at Mass just happened to arise at the moment they became available, and not much else was available from Catholic sources. Of course secular crooners, in this updated form, were popular and well paid, many young parishoners with the ability were delighted to offer their services to the Church. BUT it was not what the Church officially wanted then, or now.
  • Hi, I for one like "On Eagle's Wings" for many reasons. As a professional musician with advanced degrees and study at some of the US major musical institutions, I don't find it any better or worse than many of the hymns I grew up with that appear in the St Basil, St Gregory, or The Catholic hymnals of old.It meets people where they are, brings them ( and honestly, me) great comfort at difficult times of their lives, and uses a contemporary idiom to achieve this. Music is not solely intellectual but it is emotional. There is a story about Pierre Bernac that he told his students, and I paraphrase, good music making requires the mind (points to the head), heart (points to the heart, and sensuality (pointing to the genitals.). More importantly, music is not a one size fits all proposition. If that were the case we might be only listening to Wozzeack day and night. The Church is clearly defined as the People of God. Other references to "Church" point to an ecclesiology that is flawed. Where the People of God gather, as Christ clearly taught, God is clearly in their midst; the God who includes Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moves us to open our hearts. The Holy Spirit is notoriously open and seems to take little heed of documents and their interpreters who are bound by narrow limits that cut people off from the fullness of the Love that is of God. I will always prefer entering into the moment of grace that can come from music like "On Eagle's Wings" rather than the likes of "Bring Flowers of the Rarest," "Hail Queen of Heaven the Ocean Star," "O Lord I am Not Worthy," and ... I will not go on.
  • It starts out, "You who," like a chocolatey beverage. I know that's not a profound musical or theological criticism, but I can't get past it.
  • .It meets people where they are, brings them ( and honestly, me) great comfort at difficult times of their lives, and uses a contemporary idiom to achieve this.
    Which is definitely true for some, but has no bearing on appropriateness for a liturgical context—just like concert audiences don't really care that Fauré's Requiem doesn't include the full text and isn't as licit as Duruflé's.
    There is a story about Pierre Bernac that he told his students, and I paraphrase, good music making requires the mind (points to the head), heart (points to the heart, and sensuality (pointing to the genitals.).
    Bernac was a superlative interpreter of mélodie, not Catholic liturgical music. The two call for fundamentally different ideas—obviously the Benedictus doesn't call for the same "sensuality" (as you put it) as Chanson d'amour or Phidylé.
    More importantly, music is not a one size fits all proposition. If that were the case we might be only listening to Wozzeack day and night. The Church is clearly defined as the People of God. Other references to "Church" point to an ecclesiology that is flawed. Where the People of God gather, as Christ clearly taught, God is clearly in their midst; the God who includes Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
    This seems like a rather Protestant view of the Church to me, honestly.
  • What I find tragic about all the debates regarding “On Eagle’s Wings” is how people act as if, in its entirety, music AND text, it is a contemporary confection. Remember folks, it IS the text of Psalm 91, which Holy Mother Church directs us to pray at Sunday Compline. While the artistic merits, or lack thereof, are fair game, why don’t we promote the idea (considering how popular it seems to be at funerals - “teachable moments” to be sure) of coming up with better musical settings of the text. I’d like to think a passionate competition to do so could be effected with ease.

    Gaudete in Domino Semper!
  • Carol
    Posts: 695
    I think the PIPs (people in the pews) are drawn to the chorus which is fairly singable and speaks to the comfort God provides. The chorus makes people feel good because it talks about what "God can do for you" (as an old UPS commercial said). What could be better than the idea that God will "make you to shine like the sun and hold you in the palm of His hand"? It is an incomplete picture of what it means to be a Catholic Christian. Kind of like a greeting card for a wedding than the lifetime commitment and sacrifice of marriage.

    On the other hand, I do know people respond to this song, especially in times of distress such as during a funeral. We use it at funerals when it's requested, but I can't get the Yoohoo thing out of my head- so thanks a lot fellas!
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  • RMSawicki,

    I'll raise you the Tract for the first Sunday of Lent!

    This, however, raises a point which has been mentioned previously: the devil himself can quote Scripture, and does so (the chutzpah!) in the presence of Our Lord in an attempt to get the truth to serve a lie.

    Imagine if someone used this morning's Gospel (it's Ember Friday) to argue that there should be more prostitutes active in the Church. Now you have the argument of On Eagle's Wings.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    I have never like paraphrased scripture and find it lacking. I gladly threw out such and went for approved texts. There are enough psalm settings out there that no one really has to use anything other than approved texts. "Beagle's Wings" as it is sometimes known, is badly written vocal music and nearly impossible to sing well, unless you are blessed with near professional quality singers. The words don't seem to align well with the music and the average congregation mangles it. The rhythm is quirky and beyond the abilities of amateur singers. It is one of those treacly songs like "Amazing Grace" which congregations latch on to. I never understood the popularity of either.
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  • MarkB
    Posts: 683
    I stumbled upon this probably unauthorized revision of "On Eagle's Wings" that has removed the "offensive" masculine references from the lyrics and substituted "inclusive" language. It's textually incongruent as a result:
    https://bol.foxping.com/pdf/On Eagles Wings Joncas.pdf

    Edit: I have to take back my claim that the "inclusive language" version of OEW is unauthorized. An octavo version of the song published by OCP has suggested inclusive language lyrics that closely match the homemade engraving linked to above. See the notes at the end of the OCP octavo here and the screen grab below:
    http://cdn.ocp.org/shared/pdf/preview/10410-z.pdf

    image

    I had never seen the "inclusive language" version before because I'd never looked at the octavo; only hymnal versions that all retain the original lyrics.

    What's especially revealing in OCP's revised lyrics is that "the Lord" is replaced by "our God" twice in the first verse. So OCP and Joncas consider "Lord" to be an offensive, masculine term or expression?
    2202 x 1071 - 391K
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  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    I will strafe your house with F-16s
    Blow you into kingdom come.
    Make you to shine like the sun
    And blast you into the land beyond.


    The devil made me do it. Not sorry.

    So OCP and Joncas consider "Lord" to be an offensive, masculine term or expression?


    Interesting! Did either offer an explanation?
  • Bring Flower to the Fairest...
    I would (and do) put this song in the same box as the item under discussion on this thread. Along with most Marian songs, which for the most part are equally pie eyed emotionialistic and maudlin groans of manufactured heart throbs. OEW is far from the only worthless music in the Catholic repertory, it is just one of the more recent and shameless to be imposed upon us. Its place is at around a camp fire.
  • Chris Garton-Zavesky:

    Well-pointed out. Preach it, brother!

    Gaudete in Domino Semper!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,577
    MJO

    How about IN the campfire?
    Thanked by 1M. Jackson Osborn
  • I honestly think the controversy is vastly overstated.

    With the caveat that my experience is anecdotal, not data: The song is firmly lodged into the funeral repertoire by now (it's requested at around 75% of the funerals I play), but at least around here (northern IL) it's rarely done at weekend Masses. I never schedule it at weekend Masses, myself.

    It's a piece that people want to hear but not sing themselves, so it's worked its way out of the weekend repertoire, since we want to encourage singing.

    I don't think the handwringing's worth it. There's always a natural churn in terms of what hymns are popular and stay popular. Look at a late '60s hymnal, and virtually none of it's used today. It's just better to do my thing, and do it well, which will hopefully have more of an effect than complaining on the Internet or yelling at people for liking things.

    So OCP and Joncas consider "Lord" to be an offensive, masculine term or expression?


    Probably not, since they haven't eliminated the original words used in hymnals. (GIA is the one who does a lot more in terms of gender-neutral language.) But keep in mind OCP sells to parishes of all types. So some parishes doubtless asked for an alternative version to the original language, and now those two or three parishes have it if they want it.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    The song is firmly lodged into the funeral repertoire by now (it's requested at around 75% of the funerals I play)


    It definitely has become funeral music and has moved away from being a congregational song. In my area of early Scottish settlers, we also get many requests for "Amazing Grace" with bagpipes, as well. Some funerals have both OEW and AG. "How Great Thou Art" rounds out the funeral literature. I did slip in the Faure Pie Jesu whenever possible.
    Thanked by 1Carol
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,730
    Yes agreed, round the camp fire. It is a good and holy thing to sing religious songs round the camp fire. The singing of popular religious songs is to be encouraged, and Popes from Pius X have commended them, but as they say and we agree, not at Mass.
    I see no problem in gathering in church to say the Rosary and sing Marian hmns, though many of them are sickeningly saccherine, we should do more things like that, but not at Mass.
    We can gather, with the right intention, and where two or three are gathered together the Lord is there in the midst of us. The Church encourages us to gather to pray the Office. However offering the Holy Sacrifice is a sacred action, set apart, it requires a priest, and preferably music, and not just any music, sacred music.
  • bhcordovabhcordova
    Posts: 988
    So OCP and Joncas consider "Lord" to be an offensive, masculine term or expression?


    Well, Lord is a masculine term!
  • davido
    Posts: 517
    I have to agree with Tim. I think there are classic works in any genre, and the ones that are most popular are often the best of the genre. Things like OEW, here am I lord, shepherd me o god, are the best of the genre. If you go back and look at collections of similar material, there are some really lousy compositions that lack the charm of these “classics.”

    Now, none of these songs are liturgical music. They are 20th century pop songs of some sort. And that’s why they should be excluded from mass. But I think they are effective pop songs.
  • Richard MixRichard Mix
    Posts: 2,380
    Ach, that unsigned Why we need new music: the demonic inspiration for On Eagle's Wings is just as embarrassing as the song. Can we agree it makes slightly more modest demands of nonprofessionals than The Star-spangled Banner and that, as TimTheEnchanter points out, it's the work's success that many of us find so galling?
    I used to have a Methodist Pastor who would make my skin crawl by enthusing over the beautiful songs the Catholics sing, and OEW would have had to be on the menu even more often if the hymnal had printed more than the refrain alone!

    Speaking of music with ambituses of an eleventh or twelfth, we recently bade farewell to an assistant priest who liked to interpolate hymns into his sermons. Last month he began "And I will raise you up" in G-flat major or so, in his middle register, swallowing very quickly before the last phrase. It made some of us wide awake.
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  • It will forever be beyond me how people can tolerate such self evident twaddle and, indeed, perform it with a straight face.

    The Judge John Hodgman podcast (a "People's Court"-style podcast, but with petty, usually non-monetary, certainly non-actual-court-of-law disputes) has a guiding principle in its rulings that I've found fairly useful in dealing with others (and especially when I was teaching):

    People like what they like. You can’t force someone to like something. You can expose them to a piece of work, but if they don’t like it, that’s the way it is. You can’t talk them out of it.


    See, here's the thing. Where MJO saw something terrible, the congregation clearly experienced something wonderful that brought them together in song, which is one of the things (albeit not the most important thing) that we want to do with sacred music. We need to recognize that and accept it, and not complain about it.

    Do your Church music and do it well. And let others enjoy the way they do their Church music.
  • Ach, that unsigned Why we need new music: the demonic inspiration for On Eagle's Wings is just as embarrassing as the song. Can we agree it makes slightly more modest demands of nonprofessionals than The Star-spangled Banner and that, as TimTheEnchanter points out, it's the work's success that many of us find so galling?
    Yes, the article attempting to assign some sort of theoretical basis to its claims of demonic inspiration is insane. There are some incredibly dumb "observations" that could just as easily be applied to standard hymns or works in the repertoire. Two examples:
    The song is in the key of D major. This being the case, the weakest pitch in the scale, C#, is the half-step below D, and is known in traditional theory as the "leading" tone, precisely because it leads back to the tonic, the D in this case. It has no strength by itself, but only in that to which it leads. (Perhaps the analogy to Saint John the Baptist is apt: it is strong because it leads to the right place, not because it is, by itself, the stopping place.) Joncas, rather than respecting this reality, makes the leading tone lead away from the tonic on 4 of the 5 times the pitch occurs, on accented beats, in the verses.
    Deliberate subversion or suspension of tonality is as old as dirt and has nothing to do with "respecting reality" - you could say exactly the same thing about Vierne's Berceuse. The author continues digging a hole:
    In fairness, there is one sense in which this C#, the leading tone, does “resolve” properly, does have the possibility of bringing the ear (and thus the soul) to a place of rest. If the C# is seen as a suspended note, such that the tri-tone (G to C# in the accompaniment) on the downbeat is the result of a kind of “stretching”, then the proper resolution is downward, from C# to B. Unfortunately, however, the suspension is not prepared properly, which means that although there is a dissonance which resolves, the dissonance itself comes, ex nihilo, without any warning or consonant interval prior to it. Tri-tones and suspensions can move a piece effectively, even beautifully, forward, but only when they are used judiciously. By any reasonable measure, the beginning of a melody on a suspension is arguably suited for a Broadway musical, but not for service to the Most Holy Trinity.
    This reads like the work of either someone who prefers to pretend that there were no legitimate musical developments past the year 1750 or believes all of musical history can be encapsulated in a first-year theory course. Now, you may wish to argue that such features make a composition unsingable by an untrained congregation; I agree. But to link them to "Broadway" and insist that they, in an of themselves without context, are unsuited for worship is patently absurd.
    The melodic structure of each verse descends from on high, just as one might imagine one descending from the parapet of the temple, and then leaps back up to the higher register. If the intended audience were a bird, soaring on the thermal air currents, this might have some merit – and it is perhaps the intent of the composer to make the melody sound like a swooping bird – but given that the psalm itself in no wise presents this as a logical conclusion, the next most reasonable conclusion, Scripturally speaking, is that of one diving from the temple, which was the Devil's temptation: prove you're who you say you are by throwing yourself off the temple. Christ rejected the temptation and, for that reason, surely the follower of Christ should follow His example.

    Like this hymn?
    image
    Or this hymn?
    image
    I have an idea in my head of who wrote this, and he is known for this kind of "theoretizing" which is inappropriate in its application and would unduly exclude legitimate aspects of the repertoire if indiscriminately applied. You would be very hard pressed to take any structural musical element out of context and insist that it is inappropriate in worship - observation of Langlais and Messiaen creating sublime works of piety out of the most esoteric elements should prove this to anyone. It is best to simply identify OEW as what it is - an overly-popular, poorly-written yet rather inoffensive song that is unsingable for most congregations - rather than trying to overly intellectualize a critique. The music of the St. Louis Jesuits was not innovative, after all, but theoretically threadbare. What was "innovative" about it was its introduction into the Mass, of all places - an issue that is entirely contextual.
  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    There are songs that get my goat. This is not one of them, and its popularity is not something about which I would choose to nurse resentment. It was, btw, intended to be sung so that congregations only sang the refrain/chorus - the vv were intended to be sung by musicians, who presumably could nail the opening note properly.
    Thanked by 2Andrew_Malton Carol
  • GambaGamba
    Posts: 350
    Jean,

    I trust you are aware that Fr. Joncas did not write this song to serve as a piece of liturgical music. He wrote it for his own and his confreres’ personal, non-liturgical, devotional use, after hearing that a close friend’s father had died. https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2017/12/28/eagles-wings-simple-origin-song-makes-world-cry

    I am of many opinions about it.

    1) As a folk-style ballad to be sung at a gathering of friends, to the accompaniment of one or several guitars, it is excellent.
    2) As it is often interpreted (by an unskilled singer, with the accompaniment of an unskilled organist playing exactly what’s in the OCP accompaniment book on a decrepit electronic organ), it is miserable and drives me to drink.
    3) It is obviously a musically and textually inferior replacement for any of the proper chants of the funeral Mass; it is always taking the place of something better.
    4) It can be halfway salvaged and made into a workable piece of music by a trained singer who is comfortable interpreting romantic lieder and other art songs, and an organist who can craft an idiomatic accompaniment with more colorful harmonies.
    5) Obviously it means a whole lot to many people and it’s not worth it to me to fight with a grieving family about it, if I can’t sell them on just singing the funeral Mass as it is in the books.
  • I think that if more Catholics had an opportunity for private musical devotions, they would feel less inclined to push everything they wanted into Mass. I have no more issue with a devotional singing club providing community performances of St. Louis repertoire than I would with a local symphony orchestra performing Beethoven's Missa solemnis—both can be spiritually moving and devout experiences that nonetheless are not really suited for liturgy.

    I view this as another side effect of the belief that Mass is the only public gathering that should matter to modern Catholics.
  • Schönbergian:

    Thanks for choosing to display the 1940 Hymnal version of Sine Nomine - the “right way to play it” according to my late (+1993) “first master”. ;-)

    Gaudete in Domino Semper!
  • Jani
    Posts: 405
    Thanks to Gamba for posting that link. I did not know the story behind the song, and I’m glad I do now. One sad fact of life is that many of us will never have the opportunity to experience mass with pre-V2 music; lots of places don’t have even a lousy organ, much less a good one, or a choir that is not cobbled together from any willing breathing body on a moments notice. I think I’m going to stop quibbling about these songs and just sing.
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  • I think Gamba and Schonbergian have it correct. Music like this is fine for devotional use, but not mass. I wouldn't even have a problem with a praise band doing this and other similar works for Praise and Worship during adoration. I know a lot of people who find that to help them in prayer, including my girlfriend. I don't personally get anything out of it, but if it helps others grow in their faith, fine.

    However, the fact of the matter is that the Church gave us rules for music at mass (see Musical Sacram and Sacrosanctum Concillium). We need to do music at mass according to those rubrics. I actually have a friend who plays guitar in the praise band at my church; they play for adoration once a month. He once said to me that he loves doing it, but that it's not liturgy. He is right, liturgy has rules, and we have to follow those rules.
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  • Liam
    Posts: 4,374
    Just in case some are unaware, OEW is often sung with organ accompaniment exclusively.

    And the innovation of the songs of the SLJ's was that they included a hefty presence of songs, rather than just antiphons, drawn (some more loosely than others) from vernacular scriptural texts.
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  • Regarding that article, is the entire argument that because it is badly written according to the conventions of music theory, it must be demonic? I know a lot of music that is badly written (including my own attempts at composition) but that doesn't mean it is demonic. That just means the composer needs to spend time understanding the instruments he is writing for and the conventions of music.
  • Jani
    Posts: 405
    Nathan - rules are good. Do we follow them so rigidly that if it comes to OEW for a funeral (or mass) or nothing sung, which is preferable, in your opinion?
  • a_f_hawkins
    Posts: 2,730
    We could perhaps do something in addition to Mass on these occasions. In England we have few, if any, burial gounds attached to Catholic churches, and Cremation has become quite popular among Catholics. That may mean a drive of miles to the Cemetery or Crematorium, and in the Crematorium another short service, an opportunity for the things we are not supposed to do at Mass, for a eulogy and music of a religious/emotional type. [Drifting off topic]
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  • Regarding that article, is the entire argument that because it is badly written according to the conventions of music theory, it must be demonic?
    It's not badly written according to the "conventions of music theory", it's poorly written according to the author's belief of how music must function, which is essentially constrained to the "rules" you would learn in a first-year theory course.

    It is nothing more than a dumb "gotcha" that sounds impressive to readers not in on the charade. OEW is indeed poorly written, but not for the reasoning given in the article.
  • Jani, for a funeral, I would just do the song. Planning a funeral with a grieving family is not the time to argue about principles of sacred music. For the average parish mass, I would do songs of that style for a time (I might forgo OEW due to the singability issues) but with the intention of moving on to better stuff. The role of working in the church, and particularly in liturgy, is to being people deeper into the faith. That means moving from the average to the exemplary in all aspects. We aren't called to be comfortable, we are called to be saints.
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  • TCJ
    Posts: 779
    The best way to avoid OEW for funerals is to stop letting people pick their music. We have done this and it has eliminated most of the problems. Some families are genuinely thankful for not having to make more decisions at such a time, many are indifferent, and we've only had one complaint in three years.
  • jmtm
    Posts: 7
    I figured this would get a ton of responses. Thank you all for your comments, I am sincerely fascinated and this is great insight.

    I'll be completely honest, I am a huge fan of this hymn and the entire Breaking Bread hymnal. I knew I would be a minority on this forum and that's precisely why I chose to post here. :) Based on what I've read above, I've got my own insight I'd like to share and hear your responses.

    First, I am hearing a lot of argument for traditional music. While I am not belittling it at all, sometimes it feels like we're ignoring Vatican II and the church teaching on sacred music which was "updated". Gregorian chant and traditional instrumentation are to be given "preference", but modernized music was also encouraged so as to increase laity participation. Not all of the interpretations of Vatican II were reverent; I don't think many argue that. But I don't believe these hymns to be some of those irreverent interpretations. Musicam Sacrum says "The following come under the title of sacred music here: Gregorian chant, sacred polyphony in its various forms both ancient and modern, sacred music for the organ and other approved instruments, and sacred popular music, be it liturgical or simply religious." My issue with this statement is that they didn't define "approved instruments", so that's been left to opinions, causing even more problems. However, based on this document/statement, does sacred music really not include hymns like "Eagle's Wings" and even praise and worship songs like "What a Beautiful Name"?

    I have noticed over the years that we speak in a very condescending tone when we present our opinions. It often comes across as judgmental, even though Christ warned us against this. I once dated a young man from a very traditional Catholic family. Long story short, I never had a relationship with his family because I wasn't "Catholic enough". This was based in the fact that I had never been to a Latin Mass. I simply wasn't given a chance because I wasn't traditional enough (but tradition does not automatically equate to holiness). I hear a similar take on this subject. In this case, "Eagle's Wings" is not given a chance, so to speak, and considered irreverent because it sounds different. The intense disapproval can be extremely detrimental to a person's spiritual wellbeing, and we are called to build each other up. I would encourage everyone (myself included) to reflect on how we talk about these various styles of sacred music. You never know how your words and tone will affect a fellow brother or sister in Christ. Similarly, I think we can all agree that the Holy Spirit touches our hearts in different ways. Some deepen faith through Gregorian chant and others through "Eagle's Wings". Would your view of "Eagle's Wings" change if you could see if/how it brings people to the Church and closer to Christ?

    I think the argument that this hymn is too complex for a congregation to sing is fascinating! Maybe it's because I grew up with it and am also a musician, but I never thought of it as too musically complex (except for those quarter note triplets...my favorite rhythm but they're tricky to get right). I find that hymns in, say, the Vatican II hymnal are complicated and confusing. The text is worded in a way in which we don't typically converse, and I don't understand why the time signatures were left out (don't even get me started on that:). It's interesting to me that I'm hearing many church musicians say that "Eagle's Wings" is too complex. Have you heard of this from congregations? Have people complained that it's too hard to sing?

    So, it's clear to me that most of you don't like "Eagle's Wings" at all. I know instrumentation is a big deal for me. I can appreciate Latin hymns played with piano accompaniment more than with organ. So, would "Eagle's Wings" played with organ accompaniment be more appealing/reverent in your opinion, rather than with piano? Also, just out of curiosity, what would you consider "approved instruments" for the Mass?

    Looking forward to any responses you'd like to share!






  • Jani
    Posts: 405
    I personally like the song and find it fun to sing- but I don’t think the criticisms from those who are a lot more knowledgeable than I - are unjust. Unless I’m terribly wrong, I believe one underlying concern is that there has been a dumbing-down in Church music that could be detrimental in the long run, not to mention, the scores of people who’ve never gotten to hear really good music.

    One thing that I’m quite certain of is this: music that invokes such a strong emotional response is not sufficient to maintain faith - if faith isn’t already strongly present, what might happen when one is met with something less inspirational in and of itself? When I visit our cathedral and hear the marvelous organ and choir, the joy and hope I feel is very different from the emotionally charged response I had to “Be Not Afraid” for years after the death of my mother. If I hadn’t been already grounded in the faith, that wouldn’t have been enough to keep me interested. I hope this makes sense.
  • Chrism
    Posts: 810
    The Temptation in the Desert (Matthew 4) shows how Psalm 91, even in its orthodox and received text, is open to different interpretations. The one, voiced by Satan, implies in a sort of warm comforting way that God will never abandon anyone, even if that person commits the sin against the Holy Spirit of presumption. The Latin Church traditionally sings Psalm 91 on the first Sunday of Lent, when the Gospel of the Temptation is read, to "throw the words back in the face of Satan".

    So I guess the question is, is the sense of OEW the orthodox sense? That the faithful will be rewarded by God's protection? Does OEW evoke some other sense, i.e. that regardless of one's continuing in sin, God won't let anything bad happen to us?

    To my ear, I hear the latter when I hear OEW. The maudlin tune, the sweet syrup of comfort, makes me feel a "don't worry, be happy" emotion. Not worrying is good, being happy is good, but there is a condition - I must dwell in the shelter of the Lord. OEW's "you who" instead of the Psalm's "he who" also seems to presume more about the audience.

    I can't make a definitive judgment on OEW, there's not enough evidence to convict it beyond a reasonable doubt. But I can say subjectively that this is how I respond to the song, and why it makes me uncomfortable when I sing it or hear it sung.
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    I am used to not being popular and this likely will not help. I didn't use OEW for congregational use but only for funerals. I generally thought it in poor form to argue with others over the bodies of their deceased relatives.

    The mass is the public worship of the church. The church has the right and responsibility to set rules for that worship.

    The mass is not about you and your feelings. It never was and never will be. It doesn't matter what you like or dislike.

    Since Vatican II many have decided the directives of the council on music are, "do as you please." Nothing in the documents of the council say anything of the sort. In fact, the musical requirements specified by the council are quite specific. Lax authority and leadership have allowed those directives to be ignored in practice.

    OEW is just one of many pieces of music I don't find worthy for the public worship of the church. However, that music may be be fine for prayer services and devotions. That's where it belongs.
  • I think it is important to clarify that "modern" does not mean "pop music". There is plenty of beautiful, orthodox, musically interesting and truly modern sacred music out there which I would never object to hearing during Mass. See the music that was used when ABP Cordileone said Mass at the Basilica in D.C. a few years ago. Baroque music was modern at one point, as was polyphony. There is nothing wrong with that sort of development. What we have with Eagle's Wings is not the fulfillment of Sacrosanctum Concillium's request for modern liturgical music, but rather the application of scriptural text to a dated pop-folk style. This is the case with much (most?) mainstream hymnody written in the last 50 years. Yes, this problem existed before 1962 as well, but not quite to the same degree. Rejecting Eagles's Wings is not an act of defiance against Vatican II.
    Thanked by 3Jani mattebery CharlesW
  • Charles,

    How were your comments going to make you less popular, exactly? I find myself agreeing with nearly everything you have written.
    Thanked by 2CharlesW Jani
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279
    Well, Chris, I don't often say politically correct things. It's a tradition that started when I was four. I had issues with some of the music that infiltrated the mass in the sixties. I still don't care about that boat Michael was supposedly rowing ashore. I thought he was on drugs.
  • CCoozeCCooze
    Posts: 1,172
    rules are good. Do we follow them so rigidly that if it comes to OEW for a funeral (or mass) or nothing sung, which is preferable, in your opinion?
    This question wasn't directed at me, but I'd rather live in sacred silence than hear OEW at any type of liturgical function, and even (especially) adoration.

    I love music.
    I love sacred music.
    I don't have to have (especially sub-par) music in the background of everything in order to function or "actively participate," though.


    modernized music was also encouraged so as to increase laity participation
    I think there's a difference between making sacred music more accessible (fewer polyphonic or "difficult" Ordinary settings can go a long way, you just have to give the PiPs a chance) to encourage audible participation and creating new, oftentimes sappy if not irreverent or could-be-interpreted-as-heretical compositions to be forced on people as a "valid" interpretation of a document.

    I don't like the song.
  • CharlesW, it's not often I agree with you, but
    I generally thought it in poor form to argue with others over the bodies of their deceased relatives.

    Is absolutely spot on. It's horrendous form. Especially for families whose connection with the church is tenuous at best.



    The mass is the public worship of the church. The church has the right and responsibility to set rules for that worship.

    That sounds like a good argument for converting more funerals into a funeral service without Mass - which the aging priesthood is going to do anyway over the next few years. Once it's outside Mass, OEW is just fine.





    @jmtm, thank you for starting the thread. One aspect which I think is overlooked is the levels of spiritual maturity and musical training. When I was a lot younger and knew a lot less about music than the tiny amount I know now - I found traditional sacred music between cloying and poisonous, instead my spirit was fed by OEW and similar, they were how I prayed and worshiped. Now I'm older and have learned more, I'm veering towards the opposite. IMHO, neither is right, they are simply stages of human development.
    Thanked by 1John_F_Church
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 11,279

    That sounds like a good argument for converting more funerals into a funeral service without Mass


    I agree. One of the trends I have disliked in more recent years is folding everything into the mass. The individual sacraments have lost some of their identity by becoming parts of the mass. They seem stronger and more significant when they stand on their own.
    Thanked by 1Chrism
  • Jmtm, I agree that there could be some argument by what Musical Sacram meant when it said that other sacred songs could be allowed. The issue here lies in how the documents were implemented. They said that you could bring in other music (not polyphony and chant), but you had to keep doing polyphony and chant. However, everyone brought in the other music and threw chant out the window. Now, a lot of the excesses of the 1970's have been curtailed. But I think we still have farther to go to get to what Vatican II actually said to do.

    We also have to be mindful, as Jani pointed out, not to dumb down the faith. I think this is possibly the biggest issue in bringing people into the church and keeping the younger generations (I write that but I'm in that generation at 22). I know Bishop Barron has talked a lot about this issue. I think that it can extend beyond philosophy and theology into the realm of music. We have to be careful to keep the music at mass theologically deep and not just emotional. And I think that not just text, but also style have an impact on this. See Chrism's example above. That isn't to say that a more contemporary style couldn't accomplish this, but I think OEW fails at being theologically deep in style and ends up being more emotional. To give a counter example, I think you could argue Blest Are They would be a good example of one that is successful at being theologically deeper (aside from the issues with it's composer).