Continuing with my post about the development of my own perspective on liturgical music brings me to what seemed like an exciting time to me music-wise: the beginning of the Glory and Praise years. For us at St. Joseph this actually began, I’m guessing, around 1978, when a group of UT students began coming to our morning Masses to lead the music with guitars and harmonizing vocals. The opening hymn was Blest Be the Lord; the Communion hymn was Earthen Vessels; the closing hymn was Though the Mountains May Fall. Always. Every single day. For weeks. We did not care. We loved this new music, performed well by people who were enthusiastic about it.
Although I did not know it at the time, all three of those songs were St. Louis Jesuit compositions. And by the 8th grade we were singing more of their songs; I remember especially our enthusiastic renditions of Lord of Glory and And the Father Will Dance. Then at our Masses at Knoxville Catholic High School we had On Eagle’s Wings, Be Not Afraid, You Are Near–if you are Catholic and you were around then, I don’t need to list them for you. We loved them. I still love most of them, better than the current popular Catholic hymns because they mostly paraphrased the Bible so how could they go wrong with that?
At Georgetown, which boasted seven or more masses each Sunday, I joined the 7 p.m. Mass choir. We had a whole book devoted the the St. Louis Jesuits and I learned more of their songs like City of God, Only in God, This Alone, Take Lord, Receive. But our choir director did what I think we should be doing–she did not limit us to one type of music. We almost always closed with a traditional hymn–singing ALL FOUR VERSES, a revelation to me (more on that later). And we did chant, and sang in Latin, and incorporated some choral music from Protestants as well.
After graduating, getting married, moving back to Knoxville, and having a baby, we settled back into Immaculate Conception which was about a decade behind and just embracing the Glory and Praise songbooks (which contained three bird pictures I found useful in entertaining baby Emily). It doesn’t seem to me like it has been that long since we finally retired those hymnals, but many of the songs are now so mainstream that they have found their way into the regular hymnals right alongside Stabat Mater and O Sacred Head Surrounded. Which is, I think, as it should be.
My review of a lifetime of attending Mass and listening to church music suggests to me that the 70s and 80s were a period of experimentation in different kinds of “new” music and that now 40 years later we have reached some sort of synthesis. Contemporary Catholic music is no longer written just for guitars. Nothing against guitars, but variety is good. However, I find myself preferring the St. Louis Jesuit songs from the 80s to many of the hymns we are singing today. Although they are fun to sing and sound pretty, those that stray too far from the Bible often have lyrics that are nonsense, heresy, or just bad.
To be continued . . .