"Voice of God" hymns
  • Gilbert
    Posts: 106
    The "Voice of God" hymns, where the congregation sings God's part have always bothered me. It just seems like we should be praising God in worship, rather than quoting God, especially when He's talking about Himself. Thomas Day's book "Why Catholics Can't Sing" also criticises the practice, and calls it unprecedented. A friend of mine doesn't see a problem with it, since mostly it's quoting scripture, and the psalms, many times are written from God's perspective. What are yall's views on these types of hymns? Are they really unprecedented, giving the fact that the church has been singing the psalms since the beginning? Is it really a big deal?
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    If Thomas Day really said that, then he has no idea what he is talking about. It actually has precedent.

    For example, just a few weeks ago, our Schola sang the Gregorian Communion, "Ego sum Pastor Bonus."

    In that setting, I think we all realize that it comes from the Bible. No one thinks that we were claiming to be God.

    I think the problem begins when people start making up their own texts from "Voice of God"

    Also, when people have no concept about what the liturgy is all ABOUT and they don't know SCRIPTURE, it can be very confusing to have some cantor at the microphone, looking you in the eyes and making a SHOW of himself or herself, singing questionable or heretical or even secretly erotic texts. That I think is a major problem.

    This is all just my opinion

    Some propers that I find especially interesting are those chosen by the early Church for the feast of St. John the Evangelist. (The Communion, especially) --- out of all they could have taken from St. John the Evangelist, they chose those --- amazing! and cool
  • Gilbert
    Posts: 106
    I really did abridge what Thomas Day wrote, perhaps unfairly. He admits that the chants have quoted scripture, and would quote God; however, he talks about the fact that there was a sort of a distinction, because it was in latin, and gregorian chant, so it was completely different than if you said it yourself. Also I think, there's a different thing going on psychologically, when you hear a Schola singing something, and when you're in the congregation singing it yourself with the entire church.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,191
    I'm completely with Gilbert on this one.

    I've read time and again, "why are we singing love songs about God to each other rather than to God?" Perhaps it's an odd way to put it, but It's spot-on.

    Even Robert Batastini, retired senior VP and editor of GIA had it right on this one. If you take that hoary chestnut, "I Am the Bread of Life," wherein we glorify in ourselves and our ability to "raise you up," whoever "you" is, and change all of the first-person pronouns to second-person pronouns, the text becomes credal. Thus, "I am the bread of life/ those who come to me will not hunger" becomes, "YOU are the bread of life/ WE who come to YOU will not hunger."

    The argument that there are Latin language chant texts that employ first-person pronouns is, I think, a different matter.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I am strictly against "Voice of God" as a disqualifier for music. If your congregation can't figure out who is raising up whom, you have a LOT bigger problems than the music your congregation uses. I found that line of reasoning persuasive when I was about 8. As much as it pains me to agree with him, I think Jeff O has a point as well that we should be wary of putting words into God's mouth. God (Jesus) REALLY DID say to us "I am the Bread of Life" and did promise to "Raise him up". That's something we all need to keep in mind, and a hymn text is a good way to remember it. (I will point out that I don't use that hymn because of the obscene range, and when I do use it I raise the pitch to A Major just out of spite)

    I find the verses of "Here I am Lord" rather good, but the melody, as one commentator put it, sounds less like the voice of a sovereign Lord and more like a hobo rapping on your window for some change. I could go on about other "voice of God" hymns which I don't use, but it will suffice to say that most of these songs disqualify themselves through something other than the active voice of the text.
  • RagueneauRagueneau
    Posts: 2,592
    "As much as it pains me to agree with him, I think Jeff O has a point as well"

    ?? Who is speaking here? I am confused. (just kidding)

    I will assume that when you say, "I found that line of reasoning persuasive when I was about 8," that you no longer find it persuasive. After all, some things I was persuaded of when I was 8 I am still persuaded of, others not. In any event, I just wanted to say, that seems a little of an inflammatory comment, doesn't it?

    For myself, I appreciate that Gilbert made such an intelligent and kind post, and I like the fact that we are all free to voice our thoughts.

    I always learn a lot!
  • CharlesW
    Posts: 9,859
    I think I understand what you mean. I have always disliked hymns that seem too people centered rather than God centered. Some modern hymns are more like social engineering anthems. They seem along the lines of:

    "There will be pie in the sky,
    Pie in the sky for me.
    I'll worship the holy trinity,
    I, myself, and me."

    Sometimes I am not clear on what or who the hymns are worshipping. However, I don't have any problem with quotes from scripture.
  • Gilbert
    Posts: 106
    What are some good "Voice of God" hymns, in the vernacular?
  • This tangential question just occurred to me: Are there any "Voice of God" hymns to be found in the corpus of Latin hymnody? I don't remember ever finding "Ego," in any Latin hymn, with or without the "dicit Dominus."

    Proper antiphons are another story entirely, of course...
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Gilbert: "I heard the Voice of Jesus Say" is one, "I am the Bread of Life" is another (again, ignoring the un-pastoral pitch range), I also recall a communion hymn in We Celebrate with lines something like "Jesus said I am the vine..." which I found effective. Why does it matter what the good ones are? I don't think one should select hymns at all based on who the active voice is. Unless one has a community that has a huge problem with understanding poetic imagery, in which case one should also avoid "I Know My Redeemer Lives" (Job), the Magnificat (Mary), or any psalms (David), lest the congregation slip into collective schizophrenia. Now I've yet to run into a church like that, but if you do, by all means ban the "vox Dei" songs.
  • Aristotle hits on something I have considered, too: yes, the chant propers use the “Vox Dei”, BUT until the 20th century, the thought of a congregation singing the propers was pretty far askance of mainstream liturgical thought. The Roman Mass proper is repertoire that was composed by, and exclusively for, dedicated ministers of music, not entire congregations.

    In other words, it’s a very different thing to hear a choir or cantor sing “Ego sum panis vivus” than to sing it oneself.
  • Gilbert
    Posts: 106
    Well, "I heard the voice of Jesus Say", has that simple phrase in there which is the title of the hymn. Also, "Jesus said I am the vine" is the same way it looks like. "I am the Bread of Life" however, does not. And consequently, that's one that has for a long time bothered me. I really think that maybe that simple qualifier, "Jesus said" or "The Lord said" is important on a subconscious level. Maybe I'm way off. I'm not completely convinced either way, just want to know other folks opinions.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,191
    What is at the core of the controversy, and what must not be forgotten, is the primary purpose of the liturgy, that is, the establishment and maintaining of a "love relationship" with God (Creator) and human kind (Creation). Every element of the liturgy is a way of affirming that relationship, and the dialogue that attends it.

    If we are speaking of Vox Dei texts within the context of the EF, there is no difficulty. As Felipe Gasper rightly points out, there is a distinction not to be missed or overlooked when speaking of a choir or cantor singing within the context of an EF Mass.

    What is at issue here is the use of Vox Dei texts sung in English by the whole congregation within the context of an OF Mass. When we sing "I am the bread of life . . . and I will raise you up," suddenly the very important dialogue between Creator and Creation is broken, disrupted, distorted. It makes no more sense for us to sing the "Voice of God" in these songs any more than it would make sense for us to sing love songs to our self, about our self, while in the presence of the one from whom the love comes.

    Even worse are those texts, albeit scriptural, that place both the "Voice of God" and our response to the Voice all in our own song. "I Have Loved You" is perhaps one of the best examples of this odd construct: "I have loved you with an everlasting love/ I have loved you, and you are mine," which is followed by "Seek the face of the Lord and call on him . . ." The refrain describes God's love for us, but we're singing the "I's" and "you's" in a narcissistic exercise. Then we exhort each other to "seek the face . . ."

    Or, try making any sense of "Here I Am, Lord." This would be a powerful song if rendered in the way it seems to be intended . . . a solo voice singing the verses with the congregation responding to the "call." Instead we're doing the calling and the responding. We're in essence talking to ourselves, making ourselves the God who calls us rather than permitting the dialogue to exist.

    There are a number of really well-written and well-reasoned articles on other sites, including CNP and Adoremus that discuss the theological and liturgical implications of Vox Dei texts, and even the Holy Father has written extensively on this subject.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    I thought of a Latin "Vox Dei" song: Tu es Petrus. And further confusion: who's talking AND who's Petrus?? I was listening to it in the car while moving, maybe I'll put on a pope hat for the rest of the day out of my confusion of the choir telling me I'm the Rock on which the Church will be built.

    I'm sorry, I just think the "God said X" is very plainly implicit in "I am the Bread of Life", "Jesus said to Peter" in "Tu es Petrus" or "God says when he calls" in "Here I am, Lord". For effect, I agree with David that the most effective is a responsorial (preferably with a male voice?) setting. I just don't think a congregational approach, while not the best, is as harmful as many say. If people don't understand allegory, we've got a LOT more than just "Vox Dei" in the Catholic tradition to throw out.
  • Jscola30
    Posts: 116
    The only one I really have a problem with is that one that goes "I myself am the Bread of Life" then again, I'm not sure that qualifies as a Voix Dei song.
  • Jscola30
    Posts: 116
    Gilbert, I probably going to get crucified for suggesting this, but I don't mind Eat this Bread, in the LitPress Celebrating the Eucharist, there's an alternate refrain which is not voice of God.
  • @Gavin:

    Tu es Petrus is a proper antiphon text, rather than part of a hymn. If it is also part of a hymn, I don't recall encountering or singing it.

    Examples of Vox Dei antiphons abound in the Mass:

    IN. Resurrexi/I have arisen
    ANT. Si ego Dominus et magister/If I, Lord and teacher
    ANT. Mandatum novum do vobis/A new commandment I give to you
    CO. Amen dico vobis/Amen I say to you
    CO. Ego sum vitis vera/I am the true vine
    etc.

    (I'm giving these examples for the benefit of others, as I know you're well familiar with them.)

    One reason why I ask if there is even one example of 'voice of God' hymnody in Latin* is to find out if there is a precedent for using the 'divine first-person' in that format. I welcome verification or correction, but I don't believe one exists.

    Which brings me to my useless personal view about the entire matter: If the faithful (choir and/or congregation) are singing a 'voice of God' antiphon in the original Latin, or a good translation whose compositional structure parallels the Latin, then great - as the text is part of the liturgy, the faithful are singing the Mass at that point of the Mass. Everything else that falls outside that well-defined domain is fair game for criticism.**

    *Examples from other rites/sacral languages are also welcome.
    **Example: David Haas' "We Have Been Told," while quoting "Ego sum vitis vera," uses a translation as a verse and not the antiphon and does not parallel the structure of the antiphon. That said, one may rationalize employing this example as an alius cantus aptus.
  • Jan
    Posts: 242
    Never understood why there was any difference btw singing a biblical quote with 'voice of God' and singing a hymn based on the same
    text. Makes no sense to me. Could someone explain?
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,191
    Look, the problem isn't "voice of God" texts per se, the problem is the way they've become a part of a larger distorted picture of what we're to be about when "gathered for worship." The problem is that these "voice of God" texts feed into the notion that WE are somehow God. It feeds into the "touchy-feely" concept of Christ (or God) being somehow present most importantly in the "gathered assembly" rather than God present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, which the Church teaches is the sine qua non of Divine Presence.

    If we continuously sing not just about God to each other, but sing to each other as if we are GOD the very dialogic nature of the action of the liturgy is ripped apart, stood on its head. God is reduced to a passive observer, while the people glorify in their own divinity.
  • francisfrancis
    Posts: 8,101
    Wow, DA... that is a scarey scenario.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Aristotle: I'm curious why you're looking for a hymn exactly. If it's because of the congregational participation, I thought I heard somewhere that the new pope is greeted with "Tu es Petrus!", although I could easily be mistaken.

    David: I have never heard of anyone claiming to be God. You've been around a lot more than I, so I suppose if you say you run into it, I'll take your word for it. I have heard a few mentions of Christ's presence which tended to gloss over the Sacrament - "Oh and of course in the Eucharist" - but that strikes me more as bad preaching than too many "Here I am Lord"s. And if you want "touchy-feely", look at the protestant "praise" music. I recall at a protestant college some friends and I were sitting around bashing the contempo-song book, and I said that all of the songs could substitute for erotic literature, which led to some very horrible and hilarious readings of the lyrics.

    Again, I don't run into people glorying in their own divinity. You might get the noose prepared for me saying this, but this is why we have "Be Not Afraid" every funeral. People like it because they hear God comforting them. Not because the congregation is going to bring their grandma out of purgatory while singing it. People like it because it reminds them of the promises God made to us and to the deceased. I can't think of a specific example, but it's like when someone important gives you words of wisdom and you repeat them. Ok, it's not terribly effective of an example, but I often repeat to myself before playing some of the advice that my first organ teacher would give me - "No excess movement, steady tempo, precisely 1 beat breathing..." Or maybe now that I live on my own in a large city I might repeat to myself while on the streets "be aware of your surroundings, watch out for suspicious people..." I don't see why I can't do the same thing with God's words to me. Why can't I just think of "Be still and know I am God" (for example); why do I have to think "God said through David, Be still..."?
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    And before I get people thinking I'm defending it, let me say in all confidence that not ONE of you hates "Here I am Lord" more than I do. None of you can come close. I have permanent emotional scars because the teachers made my first-grade class do liturgical dance to that song in Mass. I will go so far as to tell people, even for funeral requests, "I refuse to do that song." So this is NOT about those pieces of music that utilize God's voice but the literary technique itself.
  • David AndrewDavid Andrew
    Posts: 1,191
    This is a subject for which I can only express my understanding in my limited little ways for so long before I begin to go in circles.

    May I suggest a reading of some of the wonderful articles over at www.canticanova.com? Another very fine article on this subject is entitled, "Ritus Narcissus: Why Do We Sing Ourselves and Celebrate Ourselves?" by Fr. Paul Scalia. (www.adoremus.org/399Scalia.html)

    In response to your retort that you don't know anyone who "claims" to be God, neither do I. On the other hand, I do know some folk who don't really understand who God really is, or even what the Church has to say about God and how we properly relate to him within the context of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. As the singing of these "voice of God" hymns has been going on for a number of years now, colored by the entirely credible explanation that "these are direct quotes from scripture, therefore they're appropriate for us to sing," I can't say I'm surprised that many folk aren't aware of just how spiritually destructive these texts and the frankly lame ditties to which they're sung truly are.

    Read that Scalia article over at Adoremus Bulletin. It's an eye-opener!
  • @Gavin:

    You are correct in the usage of the "Tu es Petrus" antiphon and motets based on the antiphon text. At least my experience tells me you are correct. (A choir sang the Palestrina setting when Pope Benedict was walking through Cologne Cathedral for the first time during WYD 2005.)

    I'm looking for a 'Voice of God' Latin hymn for the historical precedent. "Voice of God" within the context of hymnody seems to be almost exclusively isolated to vernacular hymnody, with the bulk of it written in the latter part of last century. For me it's more of an academic exercise. Still, it ties in to the hierarchy of musical choices laid down by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal. For me, the congregational participation angle in the Vox Dei isn't bothersome; what is bothersome is remaining firmly and comfortably ensonced in the alius cantus aptus wing of the GIRM complex to the detriment of singing the Mass, voice of God or not.

    In other words, in my reading of the GIRM, Tu es Petrus holds primacy of place at the communion on Feb. 22 (the feast of the Chair of St. Peter) and not "Here I Am, Lord" - although all are welcome to set the vernacular translation of Thou art Peter.
  • @david andrew:

    This comment is maybe not too intelligent or even civil, but I wonder why contemporary composers don't set "voice of God" texts like Matthew 10:34:

    Do not think that I came to send peace upon earth: I came not to send peace, but the sword.


    or Matthew 5:31-32:

    And it hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a bill of divorce. But I say to you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, excepting for the cause of fornication, maketh her to commit adultery: and he that shall marry her that is put away, committeth adultery.


    or Matthew 25:41:

    Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels.


    (Imagine that last one composed in a major key to the popular lyric ballad format. I've already composed a cute melody for it - punctuated with hand-claps - which could be used at children's Masses.)

    St. Matthew's Gospel alone is chock full of juicy quotes like the ones above. They are just as vox Dei as the examples commonly trotted out. Why aren't they set? The mind boggles...

    This is another example of why adherence to the texts of the liturgy, whether in Latin or the vernacular, is important. They were put there for a reason.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    David: Frankly this seems an "agree to disagree" on something utterly pointless. I can think of, besides the appointed texts and "If Ye Love Me" and such, one hymn I would use that is Vox Dei: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say". Most any of the others are too deficient in music to use. So I don't see a huge point in arguing this. Furthermore, I remain unconvinced that this is at all a spiritual danger. There is much more harm to be done by the melody of "Here I am Lord" than the text. I've read most of the articles at Cantica Nova, including the one you refer to, and find them regularly weak. Adoremus is not an organization I support either since I see their works as typically over-polemic. As I've said, show me explicit damage done by these texts and then we'll get somewhere.

    And as always, I blame the priests for people not knowing what liturgy is about. You want spiritual abuse, I recall a priest who was a functional unitarian. His preaching really was harmless, save the occasional bashing of the Church over female "ordination" or homosexuality. No, the real harm he did was in the liturgy with abuses so vile they probably shouldn't even be mentioned. This being my first job, and even then knowing that "something" was wrong with the way he said Mass, the best comfort for me was singing "Be Not Afraid" with the verse "if you stand before the power of Hell..." When I'm at a spiritually healthy church and have a really, really good "Vox Dei" hymn I want to use, maybe then I'll argue with you over it. At this point it's really not relevant. I'd just suggest that you point out how insipid the melody of "Here I am" is for a reason not to use it rather than pull the "Vox Dei" card.
  • Chris
    Posts: 80
    David Andrew said: I can't say I'm surprised that many folk aren't aware of just how spiritually destructive these texts and the frankly lame ditties to which they're sung truly are.

    I must come down on DA's side on this one, and I also concur that this is a difficult subject to address. However, the VoG texts are, IMHO, not only subtly eroding our understanding of our relationship with the Divine, as DA pointed out, but also confuse our comprehension of being "created in His image and likeness." VoG hymns chip away at our faith, ISTM, in much the same way that communion hymns and songs about eating bread and drinking wine destroy our belief in the Real Presence of the Eucharist.
  • john m
    Posts: 134
    Vom Himmel hoch (From Heaven Above To Earth I Come) and How Firm A Foundation are, IMO, both solid, worthy and venerable examples of Vox Dei hymnody. I do not think that quoting the Almighty or Our Lord in the first person in itself disqualifies a hymn text. Certainly the authors of these texts had no intention of deifying themselves or the singers.
  • GavinGavin
    Posts: 2,799
    Slow day for me, so I just have to point out: Vom Himmel Hoch is from the person of the angel, not from God.
  • chonakchonak
    Posts: 7,649
    I find "vox Dei" songs disturbing when they're presented for the congregation or a soloist to sing, but not when they are sung by the choir.
  • john m
    Posts: 134
    Thank you, Gavin, for pointing that out. My bad.

    One detail which I have noticed that seems characteristic of the 'good' vox Dei hymns is the authors' conscientious use of quotation marks to set off divine utterances. This is true of both How Firm A Foundation and I Heard The Voice Of Jesus Say.
  • G
    Posts: 1,386
    "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" is not Voice of God.
    The 1st pers. s., the "I" of the text is not a Person of the Blessed Trinity at all, it is me, the weary sinner who sings it, and tells the listener what God has said to him.
    You need to differentiate between our saying or singing, "I am God" and our saying or singing "God said I am God."
    (Even as a bossy brat, I knew there was a world of difference between, "Don't do that" and "Mom said not to do that.")
    And in fact there is a very real danger that people begin to think of themselves as gods, witness the New Age movements and their loopier adherents.
    One of my main objections to some fabricated Vox Dei texts is the author's daring to put cliche and doggerel into the mouth of the Almighty.
    (Save the Liturgy, Save the World)