It is NOT all about me. Sort of.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325
    There is an argument about hymns that says: Most of our songs are all about "me." Therefore they are improper for worship.

    I believe that this argument is valid, but only to a degree. If hymns are in fact ALL about me, they are not worship. But, Catholic hymns (and propers) ordinarily do contain self-interested statements and/or pleas. We ask for help of all kinds, and for forgiveness. We ask to be drawn into the Trinitarian life--in other words, to be elevated above the limits of our own nature.

    In other words, our prayers are not self-forgetful. They are self-transcendent, and God-directed. But they are in fact self-interested.

    (I believe a quick scan of the Introit antiphons of Ordinary Time will confirm this opinion.)
  • Agreed. I think the complaints of "me-centered" hymnody have mostly to do with the "look how wonderful we are; isn't God lucky to have us?" type. First person is not, in and of itself, a bad thing. It's the combination of Vox Dei and narcissism.
  • Exactly. There are a couple of different categories:

    (1) Pure praise: "O God, you are great."
    (2) Prayer (in the strict sense): "O God, please grant me X."
    (3) Narcissism masking as praise: "O God, good job making me awesome!"

    I've seen people tote up the I's, me's, we's, and us'es in a hymn and declare it too "people centered," "horizontal," etc. for worship. But a similar tally taken on most of the psalms will give pretty equivalent results, so either (a) that's not a very good measure of how "people centered" a song is, or (b) being people-centered is not perforce as bad as folks think. The problem that my (highly uneducated) eye sees in comparing the hymnody of, say, 100 years ago to the hymnody of the last 20 years (especially) is a shift from hymns of types (1) and (2) to hymns of types (2) and (3).
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    I agree with Andrew and Mark
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,405
    I don't think the me-centered stuff is all about "look how wonderful we are"...

    Take the infamous example of the Song of the Body of Christ:

    We come to share our story, we come to break the bread, we come to know our rising from the dead.

    Now, first of all- I always assumed that "our story" referred to our collective single story (the History of Salvation), not our individual stories.
    The song is not incorrect or intentionally narcissistic: Those are, in fact, three things we have gathered together to do.

    The problem lies in that it is descriptive, rather than functional.
    Instead of actually sharing our story, actually breaking bread, and actually knowing our rising- we become concerned with explaining those rituals. This replaces an opportunity to enter into a mystery with an opportunity to learn about the doorway.

    The Protestant version of this is the prayer that goes:
    "I just want to come before you now and thank you for blah blah..."
    Hmm? You want to? Why don't you just go ahead and do so, then?

    We Are Called (a personal favorite, actually) has a similar problem. It informs us of our call, instead of actually calling us.
    Anthem (We are called, we are chosen, we are Christ for one another) does the same thing. It tells us who we are (or who we should be), but doesn't provide the real help of making us into that.

    In a way, it seeks to translate the uncomprehendable into language that can be understood.
    But that has the same effect as using your oven's User Manual to cook your brownies.

    I think this "instructive" focus can be useful and helpful, but it's a really bad place to hang out forever.
    And, perhaps, like learning a language- instruction might be much less helpful than tossing someone into a foreign land and forcing them to figure it out. (And, of course, children need no instruction on the matter).
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    I agree with Adam too.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325
    The idea of self-interest really came home to me during a lecture given by a young professor, comparing a hymn to a Hindu goddess and a hymn to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The professor pointed out the many similarities: her exalted beauty, her place among the stars of the firmament, etc. But the professor did not catch what I feel is the essential distinction. The hymn to the Hindu goddess simply exalted her. The hymn to the Blessed Virgin both exalted her and asked for a share in her glory.
  • It informs us of our call, instead of actually calling us.

    That's an excellent point, Adam. In creative writing, they say "Show, don't tell." Don't write "He was very tall," write "He loomed over the others."

    The problem you identify about saying that we're sharing a story rather than sharing a story also relates to something I have been thinking about lately, which is that weak-willed, mealy-mouthed, wishy-washy hymns oughtn't to be viewed as wrong, but rather as missed opportunities. There are plenty of hymns say say pretty much nothing in five verses and a refrain, and what I've seen from quite a few people is the temptation to go through line-by-line and try to "prove" that the hymn is not fit for liturgy by showing that it is incorrect in some way. This rarely works, since even hymns with troublesome-looking statements ("not in some heaven light-years away") can almost always be read in way that's entirely faithful to Catholic belief.

    The problem is usually that an opportunity has been missed. Why say nothing special, when you could have said something? Why say "here we are to worship God," when you could have worshipped God? Why say something that might be misinterpreted and draw people away from an authentic Catholic understanding, when you could have said something solid that could never be misunderstood? And so on. The issue is that this relies on people having the same priorities: if someone thinks it is more important to affirm the community, then they will not have a problem with a hymn that amounts to "We are a firm community of God-worshippers," and they will not think any opportunity has been missed in the first place. Of course, it is very difficult to get others to adopt your evaluation and ordering of priorities, so people do not attempt this very often.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325
    "It tells us who we are (or who we should be), but doesn't provide the real help of making us into that....But that has the same effect as using your oven's User Manual to cook your brownies."

    This strikes me as one of the most important liturgical insights of our times (besides being a very amusing analogy).

    I'm very serious. Most "we are called" language suffers from this impotence.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,405
    this strikes me as one of the most important liturgical insights of our times (besides being a very amusing analogy).

    Just remember: you heard it hear first!
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,405
    And- while we're talking about boastful, me-centered language...

    I would like to point out (in fact, I'm actually going to do so...)
    You should be glad you have me around- it takes someone who actually likes this sort of music to be able to really get at what's wrong with it.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325
    One thing that I believe you're pointing towards is the limit of the model of "the paschal mystery" as the meaning of the liturgy.

    This is true, but can be misinterpreted. "The paschal mystery" could be misunderstood to be my personal growth. My personal consciousness' liberation. My faith development beyond the (alleged) boringness of doctrine.
  • I think there are subtle degrees of distinction to the "why we're gathered here"(arggh) catalog of songs/hymns.
    A major portion of the OCP "Gathering" section of songs have texts inwhich the author imposes presumptive attributes as common to all people assembled. GUI and Thomson's "In this place" I assign to that category. I'm not personally comfortable with such texts. The epitome tune, much excoriated now, though it was universally acclaimed at its debut over two decades ago, is "Anthem." Besides the Pelagian issues raised in critiques, Conry's fascination with Kurt Weill theatrics informed the "in your face" absolutism of its lyrics.
    I'm kind of remorseful that the nebulous theology of Oosterhuis' "What is this place" has fallen out of favor it seems due to various reasons. Same thing for a number of Brian Wren texts. I appreciate poetry that is oblique and ephemeral rather than obvious and pedantic. But we're in a different era now. Alstott's "Gather us together" clearly falls into Mark's #2 assignment.
    Adam, I'd be interested in whether you've encountered Joncas' "We gather here to worship" text in OCP yet? For me, it steps up the discourse a significant notch from the other similar text ideas in other material.
    BTW, you ain't the only one here who "likes" some of this "stuff."
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,405
    Paradoxically, this "individual's point of view and understanding is so important" stuff has the opposite effect of that:

    If I experience "pure" liturgy (by which I mean,Say the Black, Do the Red- no additions, deletions, or emendations... Proper texts... regardless of music style):
    I have the opportunity to "interpret it" in my mind any way I want to. It comes to me, and I will filter it through my own experience, understanding, and relationship with God.

    On the other hand, if I am subjected to someone else's interpretation of the event, by way of songs that tell me what is going on, prayers that inform me of their own meaning, and so forth,
    I am robbed of that option, and instead given one, single view of the mystery.
    Even if that one single view is accurate, it is still quite limited (as a photograph to a vista).

    This is part of the reason that I think true "theological liberals" and people who encourage free thinking should in fact be champions of Liturgical Orthodoxy.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,405
    Adam, I'd be interested in whether you've encountered Joncas' "We gather here to worship" text in OCP yet? For me, it steps up the discourse a significant notch from the other similar text ideas in other material.
    BTW, you ain't the only one here who "likes" some of this "stuff."

    I have not. I'll look into it.
    And I know that's true... I just have an over-developed sense of pride in my role of "Jungle Cruise Tourguide"

    Also- I think Kurt Weill is an interesting point:
    Those guys (KW and Brecht etc) came out and told you what was going on precisely to provide emotional distance. They wanted you to think about the play, not be drawn into it.

    On the other hand, the CCM folks do the same thing for the opposite reason.

  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325

    I don't see how a text can be worship if it doesn't even mention God.
  • Adam WoodAdam Wood
    Posts: 6,405
    I just looked up Joncas' "We gather here to worship"

    Not, um... awful?

    But I reject out of hand any text that rhymes "life" and "strife."
    The next line is "knife," and suddenly you have an 8th-grader's angsty emo poem about how much he hates growing up in the suburbs.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,537
    "We come to share our story, we come to break the bread, we come to know our rising from the dead."

    As Adam indicates, it's not a song about God, but a song about liturgy. The prime actor is not God, but the assembly, and God disappears to become merely implicit, or even less.

    Omer Westendorf's ripoff of "We Gather Together" is similarly very self-conscious:

    "We gather together to sing the Lord's praises,
    to worship the Father through Jesus His Son;
    In this celebration, all sing with jubilation,
    we are his holy people whose freedom he won.

    "We greet our Lord present within our assembly
    we hear His good news announced clearly to all,..."

    This doesn't quite drive God out, but it is, as one wag put it, a song about rubrics.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    Very interesting point... songs sung ABOUT liturgy, instead of BEING liturgy. Another point to add to my criteria for choosing a good hymn.
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    You're on to something, but the issue is not "self-interest" per se. How much more self-interested, in a certain sense, can you get than the Psalms? And, isn't the proper end of our lives -- our eternal salvation -- inherently self-interested?
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    I mean, if you get right down to it, the Kyrie is the most self-interested prayer ever--"Lord, have mercy." Mercy on who? well, us, of course. But at the same time the Kyrie is a direct, rather than indirect, supplication to God, and it is packed with an extraordinary amount of theological meaning.

    I wouldn't really say the Kyrie is "about me" or "about us" or something like that. It's self-interested, but the object of attention is still the Lord. Does that make sense? I don't think the folks complaining about those kinds of hymns ever meant self-interest, but rather where the attention is actually being drawn.
  • Maureen
    Posts: 662
    Weeeeeeeellll, aaaaaactually the Psalms' standard Christian interpretation from the days of the Fathers, is that they are all about Christ. Because Christ is praying all the Psalms to the Father for us, and because the Psalms are by David (who was a type of Him, since He's of David's house).

    Sooooo, basically your Psalms are God incorporating the human experience and singing to God, and we're sorta looking over His shoulder. :)
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    Good, Jam. I tend to think myself that the issue may be where the attention is actually being drawn. As Catholics -- believing in the Incarnation -- shouldn't it be approximately midway between God and Man? But, as in all authentic relationships, isn't this midpoint dynamic constantly shifting between the two parties to the relationship? If so, then in a single liturgy -- even a single verse -- one word? -- or in a single hymn within that liturgy, I would expect manifestations of the same dynamics. I believe I have seen the same within the best liturgical music of the past and present.
  • rob
    Posts: 147

    I certainly don't disagree that the Psalms are about Christ. But, per my earllier comment, if they are about Christ then they are also about us.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,537
    [The Kyrie is] self-interested, but the object of attention is still the Lord. Does that make sense?

    Absolutely! These words, Kyrie eleison, are so expressive of the right relation of the soul to God, they are a cause of joy for those who sing, and I can only expect that they are pleasing to Him who receives them.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    I have a subscription to CCLI, which is probably the top Praise and Worship website for contemporary church music. It is interesting after this conversation, but the top song is "Mighty to Save"

    Here are the words:

    Mighty To Save

    Chorus 1
    He can move the mountains
    My God is mighty to save
    He is mighty to save
    Author of salvation
    He rose and conquered the grave
    Jesus conquered the grave

    Verse 1
    Everyone needs compassion
    Love that's never failing
    Let mercy fall on me
    Everyone needs forgiveness
    The kindness of a Saviour
    The hope of nations

    Verse 2
    So take me as You find me
    All my fears and failures
    Fill my life again
    I give my life to follow
    Everything I believe in
    Now I surrender

    Misc 1
    Shine your light
    And let the whole world see
    We're singing for the glory
    Of the risen King Jesus
    Shine your light
    And let the whole world see
    We're singing for the glory
    Of the risen King


    Quite a mixed bag concerning what we were discussing here. IMBW, but this theology seems to me that we are telling God what we need and what we need God to do. Am I wrong?
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    Not wrong, sir, but again raising the question in a particular context. The challenge is this: can you readily demonstrate the falsity or error of this hymn by reference to any of its specific language? If not, what is it that is suspect or objectionable? (And, I readily admit, it sounds to me neither "liturgical" nor "Catholic".)
  • JamJam
    Posts: 636
    Is "he is mighty to save" even proper English grammar?!
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310

    I totally agree with you

    It is neither liturgical or Catholic
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    Having between us this agreement, is it possible to articulate what we mean by "liturgical" and "Catholic"? I, personally, have found it difficult, often resorting to the words of the U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stewart (albeit in an altogether different context): "I know it, when I see [hear?] it."
  • Maureen
    Posts: 662
    "He is mighty to save" is odd and poetic English grammar, but it's certainly grammatical. Nobody complains about "Eternal Father, Strong to Save", do they?

    And... yep, there it is in the KJV. Isaiah 63:1.
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    Amen, Maureen.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    The KJV is not Catholic either.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    OK... I am going out on a limb here. (have been out on a lot of limbs in my lifetime)

    Now, I will grant you that God is Mighty and is the Father of Salvation.

    However, this is my perspective as a dyed in the wool RC: And I am only saying this as a 'member' of this RC forum and the RC Church. I am NOT an official representative of the CMAA, so they have nothing to do with my comments.

    The text of this piece reminds me of those Christians standing a distance from the Church (and when I say Church, because I am Roman Catholic, I mean just that) singing about what is actually happening during the RC liturgy. So in that regard, it is an appropriate text for those of other denominations to be singing... just not a text of a song that is appropriate for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. You can be looking on the feast that people are enjoying or you can be partaking in it. That is the difference.

    With that said, I must also clarify that I was a member of the non-Catholic ecumenical movement of Christians for 20 years or so. I was like Paul on the horse, running around and condemning Catholics for their "dead religious practices". But God (and the Virgin Mary herself) knocked me off my horse. Now I promote nothing but the true faith of the Catholic Church and guard her sacraments, the Virgin Mother and the Holy Sacrifice (who is Jesus in the Flesh).

    Therefore, I will make no apologies for my statements. It is what it is.

    (The Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible is down at the moment, so I cannot give you the translation of the RC Church for Isaiah until it goes up again. Sorry.) The NAB is just not that good a translation from the Latin.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    Latin Vulgate translation

    Isaiah 63:1

    Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bosra, this beautiful one in his robe, walking in the greatness of his strength. I, that speak justice, and am a defender to save.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,537
    A performance of the song can be viewed at this link.

    One observation about the text is that it leads (verse two) to express a personal conversion and surrender to God. Evangelical Christianity emphasizes the importance of an explicit act of conversion as far and away the most important event in life, to the extent that sacraments, including even baptism, become unnecessary. To some Evangelicals, if you don't have a story of personal crisis and conversion, they may not think you've really become a believer.

    So the movement of this song is to recognize one's status as a sinner (presented almost offhandedly in verse one), and to surrender one's life to God (verse two). The purpose of the song is to lead people through that recognition and surrender. The contrasting refrain praises God's might to bring about salvation from sin and to give eternal life, and that gives the motivating power for the conversion.

    So while the song is somewhat about God, its real aim is to get people thinking about their own spiritual state, to the point where they turn to God if they haven't done so already.

    For those who have already surrendered to God, the song becomes a grateful little re-enactment of their personal conversion: a sort of liturgy in itself, not bringing the Institution of the Eucharist or the Atonement on Calvary into present time, but bringing one's personal conversion into present time and reaffirming it.

    We might tentatively posit a rule of thumb: if a song's text is an act of personal conversion, it's Evangelical and not Catholic.

    My impression is that there is little like this in Catholic hymnody (i.e., Office hymns). On the other hand, some of the Mass propers (Introits? Offertories?) express motifs of crisis, repentance, and rescue. Compare and contrast. :-)
  • Chrism
    Posts: 773
    The poetry underlying "Mighty to Save" seems like a (really bad) example of the postmodernist genre.

    In any event, I think that we are bound in conscience to choose good art over bad for the liturgy, even though such a judgment can only be made in the mind of the beholder.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 8,537
    For what it's worth, bad poetry may be standard for pop music. My nephew, the front man for a grunge band, tells me that he deliberately writes bad poetry for song lyrics, because he was less satisfied with the results when he wrote better poetry.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325
    I think your nephew has a good point, though I'd hate to see it affect the hymnals.

    Just as an aside, I'm not crazy about the expression "my God" (or "our God"). Is there another??? I realize there are biblical precedents for the expression "our God," but I think they are ordinarily found near biblical affirmations that there are no other gods, that the gods of the heathens are nothing.

    Perhaps these formulations are usually made for metrical reasons alone--which is never an adequate reason, imho.
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Speaking in the most general terms and echoing Chonak a little, I find that Catholicism emphasizes a more continuous conversion--or turning to God--than Evangelicals, who tend to emphasize a single lightning-strike moment. If we think of the Carmelite writings of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, for example, then we can see how "conversion" is a series of ups and downs: two steps forward, one step back. The Bible, on the other hand, certainly has its moments of immediate crisis and conversion!

    In the case of the conversion song above, I find songwriting conventions determining the content of the song as much as, if not more so, than any individual creativity or expression. For the purposes of writing a song, the single moment of crisis is a more seductive model than a life of faith filled with small struggles and victories. It falls easily within the standard plot for the AABA, or "popular," song form: exposition, conflict, climax, denouement/catharsis. In this song, the "climax" point (the bridge) places the narrative voice in a transformative space. Instead of a return of "A," or "what happens after," the bridge is repeated. This repeated modulatory bridge creates a kind of frenzy and denies the release found in peace and fulfillment. In doing so, it ignites the listener to act with God by shining light on the world, by evangelizing. In a way, then, the form and the function go hand in hand.

    But consider this: think of how many country songs fit this same model, but without the specific religious context: verses 1 and 2 tell the story of a son's troubled relationship with his father; the bridge illustrates some kind of purification process--an awakening; and verse 3 flashes forward to a point where the son is now hiself father who identifies more closely with his own. Modulate to IV in the bridge, bring it back to I, and then modulate up a half- or whole-step to Verse 3 and you have a musical narrative that supports the lyrical narrative.

    Style aside, the cliché of it all makes me want to wretch.
  • I'm not quite sure, Doug et al, how we got from "It's not all about me" songs used at true liturgies to "Mighty to save" Hillsong lovefests, which are decidely not liturgy. But I'm much less disturbed about CCM/Hillsong throngs than when I view, by happenstance, the rancid noise practiced by skinhead, neoNS punkbigots at their hate rallies. That makes me want to wretch, not some grungy stadium full of kids who are, at least, emotionally trying to find their way to God and meaning positively. Compared to the racist thug bands, I'd sooner let my grandchildren figure out Lady GaGa.
    But, for my money, this thread has gone beyond the pale, to which Francis alluded, inasmuch as it is a CMAA Forum.
    We'd be better off debating the merits of the Benzedrine Monks of Santa Monica....."Hey heyyyyyyyy________________We're the Mon.....................ks...."
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Oh, Charles. What a Debbie Downer!

    I agree that there is a vast difference between "It's all about me" Catholic songs and CCM, and that they are all better than pure hate music. Doesn't make them any less cliché!

    And maybe you haven't been to the South much, where the CCM-loving crowd is at times the same crowd at rallies filled with "Homosexuals, Roman Catholics, feminists, atheists, Communists, Islamists, (etc.), are going to Hell" signs.

    Being a Christian doesn't insulate a person from being a hater too.
  • Point taken, Doug. I have been to Fayetteville NC 3 times in the last 5 summers. Doesn't seem much different than LA. That's a real downer.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325
    I'd like to regroup a bit.

    What great revered hymns of olden days handle the God/me balance well? I'm talking phrases and stanzas--how has this been done right?

    (Bonus points for Love Divine, All Loves Excelling)
  • DougS
    Posts: 793
    Stanza 3 of "Lo, how a rose" is beautiful in that respect.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    The most perfect for me is...

    Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
    of His flesh the mystery sing;
    of the Blood, all price exceeding,
    shed by our immortal King,
    destined, for the world's redemption,
    from a noble womb to spring.

    Of a pure and spotless Virgin
    born for us on earth below,
    He, as Man, with man conversing,
    stayed, the seeds of truth to sow;
    then He closed in solemn order
    wondrously His life of woe.

    On the night of that Last Supper,
    seated with His chosen band,
    He the Pascal victim eating,
    first fulfills the Law's command;
    then as Food to His Apostles
    gives Himself with His own hand.

    Word-made-Flesh, the bread of nature
    by His word to Flesh He turns;
    wine into His Blood He changes;
    what though sense no change discerns?
    Only be the heart in earnest,
    faith her lesson quickly learns.

    Down in adoration falling,
    This great Sacrament we hail,
    Over ancient forms of worship
    Newer rites of grace prevail;
    Faith will tell us Christ is present,
    When our human senses fail.

    To the everlasting Father,
    And the Son who made us free
    And the Spirit, God proceeding
    From them Each eternally,
    Be salvation, honor, blessing,
    Might and endless majesty.
    Amen. Alleluia.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    Oh... But it is much more beautiful and timeless in Latin.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 9,310
    Pange, lingua, gloriosi
    Corporis mysterium,
    Sanguinisque pretiosi,
    quem in mundi pretium
    fructus ventris generosi
    Rex effudit Gentium.

    Nobis datus, nobis natus
    ex intacta Virgine,
    et in mundo conversatus,
    sparso verbi semine,
    sui moras incolatus
    miro clausit ordine.

    In supremae nocte coenae
    recumbens cum fratribus
    observata lege plene
    cibis in legalibus,
    cibum turbae duodenae
    se dat suis manibus.

    Verbum caro, panem verum
    verbo carnem efficit:
    fitque sanguis Christi merum,
    et si sensus deficit,
    ad firmandum cor sincerum
    sola fides sufficit.

    Tantum ergo Sacramentum
    veneremur cernui:
    et antiquum documentum
    novo cedat ritui:
    praestet fides supplementum
    sensuum defectui.

    Genitori, Genitoque
    laus et jubilatio,
    salus, honor, virtus quoque
    sit et benedictio:
    Procedenti ab utroque
    compar sit laudatio.
    Amen. Alleluja.
  • Kathy
    Posts: 5,325

    Granted. 5 extra points for piety and Catholicism.

    You can win extra special bonus points for analyzing particular phrases, if you want.
  • Sing, my soul, the King of heaven
    To his feet thy tribute bring....

    While sort of 'me' generated, it is certainly God directed
    and really extols his love, care and greatness.
    As in Francis' example, this is just what 'me' should do.
  • rob
    Posts: 147
    Concur. It is the epitome of the proper relation among "Thou" and "Me."