I’ve contemplated writing about liturgical music for some time. I think I will make this “Liturgical Music” week (remember “Education Week” back in the first days of this blog?) although I am not promising to write every day!
I am only a lay person, with a lay person’s understanding of this topic–I want to make that clear up front. I do, however, have a lot of opinions, and instead of continuing to rant about expound upon them to my family and friends, I would like to share them here. I would welcome your thoughts!
Let’s use a recent post at a First Things blog as a jumping off point. The authors decided to come up with a list of what they considered to be the worst hymns ever. I’ll list them (with my comments), although you may want to click on the link anyway to see/hear them performed.
Note: This is not the post in which I discuss what kind of music is officially preferred for use at Mass. This is just for fun!
10. “Pescador de los Hombres” (Lord, When You Stood by the Seashore)
Well. I love this song. Not only because it was said to be the favorite of Pope John Paul II, but because I think the music and the message are beautiful, and I love the image of Jesus “kindly smiling.” I chose this for my grandmother’s funeral Mass, and now I can’t hear it without crying.
9. “I Am the Bread of Life,” by Suzanne Toolan
I loved this song until the advent of inclusive language, which is going to get an entire post to itself (I can’t wait!!) Now I dread it. Sometimes I just sing it the right way despite everyone around me. Please tell me I am not alone in doing this!
8. “On Eagles’ Wings, ” by Michael Joncas
This is the music I grew into my faith on, from about 7th grade through college. I had this played at my wedding and at my last high school reunion Mass. This one is emblematic of Catholic 80s music, which is apparently a Bad Thing (and we will talk about that later as well). What can I say? I like the song, I like the music, it’s all straight out of the Bible, and everyone knows it and can belt it out.
7. “Pan de Vida, cuerpo del Señor,” by Bob Hurd and Pia Moriarty
I don’t know this one and I will confess that I don’t really get why a congregation of English speakers are forced to sing in a foreign tongue. Yes, on multicultural occasions or at a Spanish Mass, but other than that it feels false and trendy to me. If we aren’t going to sing in English, let’s try, you know, LATIN. [edit: I know this one now but my opinion hasn’t changed. Although it’s kind of fun to try to sing in Spanish.]
6. “Sing a New Song,” by Dan Schutte
We won’t be able to sing this as written much longer anyway, now that “Yahweh” has been nixed. I suppose this one gives off a kind of scary folk mass vibe, what with those “glad tambourines” and all, but folks seem to enjoy singing it.
5. “We Remember,” by Marty Haugen
We’ve done this one to death at my parish, thanks to a custom we had of singing the SAME SONG EVERY WEEK at communion, for months at a time, apparently because someone felt it would be easier for people since they couldn’t carry their song books up to communion with them (I don’t know about you, but I know THOUSANDS of hymns by heart. Why not just pick from the ones we all know?). No, I don’t think I like this one much.
4. “Here I Am, Lord,” by Dan Schutte
I love this one. I admit it. I know they say it’s theologically incorrect for the people to sing as though they were speaking God’s words. But I still love this song. Except when they don’t let us sing the whole thing (the subject of another post).
3. “City of God, ” by Dan Schutte
I think this makes a rollicking exit hymn. These people sure have Dan Schutte on their hit list, don’t they? He’s a favorite of most people who grew up when I did. Sentiment definitely plays a role in musical preference, doesn’t it? And Dan sure does like to sing about dancing!
2. “Gather Us In,” by Marty Haugen
People LOVE this one. Marty Haugen’s songs are catchy. Some of them are a little . . . heretical, I’m afraid. I like the way people sing out when this is the opening song. I don’t really care for its navel gazing self-celebratory tone, or for this line “Not in the dark of buildings confining. Not in some heaven light years away.” Umm . . . why are we in church at all, then? Is heaven not important any more? What exactly does he mean? Does he even know, or did it just fit with his rhyme and rhythm scheme at the time?
1. “Sons of God, Hear His Holy Word,” by James Thiem
You know what’s funny about this? When I was really little–a preschooler–my parents were college students and we frequently attended John XXIII, the campus church. This was my favorite song we sang there. I remember being excited when we sang it. I haven’t heard it in years and years, or most of the songs we sang then (probably a good thing). But I can’t help but be happy when I hear this one. Admittedly the lyrics are nothing to get excited about, but at least they aren’t heretical as far as I can tell.
Is anyone brave enough to chime in at this point? What do you think of these songs? What would be on your “worst hymns” list? (“The Servant Song” would top mine–does everyone hate me now?)