Liturgical Music and Inclusive Language

When I was a freshman at Georgetown, Father von Arx, a history professor, handed back my first paper marked with the following:  “May I suggest you try using inclusive language?”  Now, I didn’t have the slightest idea what he meant by that, and I didn’t find out for years.  And a good thing, too, since that’s a suggestion I mostly don’t care to follow.
I tried to find a good definition of inclusive language but the problem is that the defnition is slanted based on the opinion of the source providing it.  I will attempt to be objective and say we use inclusive language when we use words like humankind instead of mankind, chairperson instead of chairman, and he/she instead of he (most people are resorting to using “they” as a singular, however).  Proponents of this approach say that women are excluded by the usual words, which are reflective of a male-dominated society.  Opponents say that inclusive language is clunky and sounds stupid and that these people are making a mountain over a molehill.  I say that even if we start using inclusive language from now on there is no reason to go back and rewrite old songs and even re-translate the BIBLE to fit in with modern ideas of what is appropriate.
And here’s some of what one of my favorite authors (Madeleine L’Engle) had to say:

[The] generic his and he, [is] not exclusively masculine.  I am a female, of the species, man.  Genesis is very explicit that it takes both make and female to make the image of God, and that the generic word, man, includes both . . .Therefore I refuse to be timid about being a part of mankind . . . Nor do I want to be stuck in the vague androidism whcih has resulted from the attempts to avoid the masculine pronoun . . . language is its own creature; it evolves on its own . . . it does not do well when suffering from arbitrary control.  Our attempts to change the words which have long been part of a society dominated by males have not been successful.  Instead of making language less sexist they have made it more so . . . To substitute person for man has ruined what used to be a good, theological word, calling up the glory of God’s image within us.

Sorry for the long quotation, but I certainly cannot say it so well.  I don’t think of myself as a typical feminist.  Men and women are not equal.  If I had to pick a superior sex, I’d pick the female, frankly.  We have proven ourselves capable of doing just about everything men can do just as well, and we have more endurance, are emotionally stronger, AND bear children.  Men are physically stronger and can parallel park better.  No contest, right?  I don’t see how being referred to as “he” or part of “mankind” diminishes my power in any way!
But a lot of people feel that way, and have convinced others that this is the “politically correct” and “sensitive” way to feel.  They are in the ascendance, and they have changed our songs.  They have, in my opinion, mutilated our songs, changing not just words but meanings and turning some of them into nonsense.  Let’s look at a few, shall we?
Let There Be Peace on Earth is one of the few songs I remember fondly from the 70s–it’s so fun to sing, especially as it crescendos dramatically toward the end.  I chose it for the recessional at my grandmother’s funeral.  Needless to say, we sang it the “right” way.  The line that was changed originally read: “With God as our Father, brothers all are we. Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony.” (Okay, the poetry was never the best.)  The powers that be changed it to “With God as our Father, neighbors all are we.  Let us walk with each other . . .”  I think we can all agree that brother is a stronger word than neighbor because it implies a closer, familial relationship.  But what is even more annoying to someone who delights in the English language is that the new phrase is nonsense.  Having God as our Father makes us brothers, or brothers and sisters if you must, not neighbors.  Therefore I have spent the last ten or more years singing (under my breath) “With God as our Landlord, neighbors all are we.”
Apparently someone finally realized the problem and attempted a new rewrite.  Newer versions say, “With God as our Father, we are family.”  Come on!  Can anyone take this seriously?  Is there anyone who doesn’t think of Sister Sledge when they hear that?  It takes me right out of the song every time.
Here’s another one that has been ruined.  I Am the Bread of Life is hated by the people who make the worst hymns lists anyway, because it features the people singing the part of God, apparently a big no-no.  But it’s biblical, and the congregation sings it loudly and well, and I always enjoyed it pre-change.  Now I dread it.  Why?  They replaced every instance of the pronoun “he” with “you” but that’s not the worst of it.  I always loved this line:  “No one can come to Me, unless the Father draw him.”    I loved it because of the oh-so-rare use of the subjunctive mood, even though most people substituted “draws” in practice!  Here’s the new line:  “No one can come to Me, unless the Father beckons.”    Am I the only one who sees a problem here?  Aside from the lost subjunctive, isn’t it obvious that “draw” and “beckon” don’t mean the same thing?  The original line connotes the power of God pulling one toward Him irresistibly.  The new line is more like, “Yoo-hoo!  It’s Me, God!  Come on over here if you feel like it.”  Yuck!  Can you tell I feel strongly about this?
How about Be Not Afraid?  This is not the only change, but the line that once read “and if wicked men insult and hate you” now reads “and if wicked tongues insult and hate you.”  One amusing thing is that when other parts of this songs were changed, this line was originally left alone, as though it were okay to specify “men” as long as they were being wicked!  But eventually someone must have realized that wasn’t really fair, so now we have this nonsense.  I’ll buy tongues insulting, but hating?  What, do Christians taste bad or something?
These three are the worst examples that come to my mind, but inclusive language subtly changes the meanings of many songs.  I just discovered that The Servant Song, sung ad nauseam at my parish, loved by most and loathed by me, wasn’t quite as bad before it fell prey to inclusive language.  It used to be “Brother, let me be your servant”  instead of “Will you let me be your servant.”  See the difference in tone?  And in the second verse it once said “We are brothers on the road” where it now says “We are travelers on the road.”  Lots of people are traveling on the road.  So what?  Saying they are brothers makes ALL the difference and then the following lines make sense:  “We are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.” (Sadly, it doesn’t help the poetry or the icky way the words don’t go with the music, but that’s the subject of a different post!)
Finally, worst of all are the songs that have eliminated the use of “He” to refer to God, awkwardly saying “God” over and over again to avoid it.  For crying out loud.  Do any of us really think that God is an old man with a beard?  Don’t we all know that God must have feminine qualities if all of us are made in His Image?  Have we forgotten that Jesus Himself called God Father?  Do we really need to change “I am He that comforts you,” to “I am God that comforts you” to make some point? (If we really want to change those lines from Turn to Me–which has inclusive language tampering in almost every line now–we’d do better to exchange “that” for “who” to make it grammatically correct!)
Plainly, I could go on for days on this topic.  I probably will return to it from time to time.  Please feel free to share in the comments your feelings about the changes in your favorite hymns.  And look with a more critical eye at the changes the next time you notice them at Mass.

Liturgical Music III – The 80s and after

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 . . .

Liturgical Music II – The 70s

Before I expound further on this topic I thought it would be appropriate to set the scene with a brief background of what my experience has been with church music.

If you, like me, were born in the late 60s, you will probably relate to this.  If any pre-Vatican II folks are reading, I wish you would chime in with your experiences and observations.

My earliest memories of Mass, as I mentioned in my last post on this topic, are of John XXIII, the university parish, even though I was baptized by Bishop (not then he wasn’t, but it sounds nice to say!) Shea at Immaculate Conception and have been a member there my whole life.   John XXIII (now St. John XXII) was brand new in 1970 which is about when my memory begins, and it was very modern, with hard yellow plastic chairs and banners hanging from the dropped ceiling panels.  And the music was new and modern too.  At some point I “borrowed” a songbook–mimeographed sheets of paper in a green plastic three-ring binder—which I still have [edit:or did, until my house burned down], although I’m not going to dig through the boxes in the garage looking for it right now!  But I do remember the following songs were included: Sons of God (my favorite), Of My Hands, Men of Faith, All That We Have, They Will Know We Are Christians, and (I swear to God I am not making this up) Blowin’ in the Wind.  Judging from the difficulty I had finding lyrics to share here, most of these went by the wayside years ago.  The only ones I still hear are All That We Have and They Will Know We Are Christians, and those rarely.

Around the time I started first grade, we started going to I.C. regularly once more.  I was exposed to two distinct sources of liturgical music:  what I heard on Sundays and what I heard at daily Mass (yes, we went every day back then!) at St. Joseph.  My earliest memories at I.C. are pretty grim.  Valiantly, our organist attempted to adapt to the New Order by pounding out Gonna Sing My Lord and Kumbaya.  We continued to sing a lot of the old hymns like Now Thank We All Our God, God’s Blessing Sends Us Forth, Holy God We Praise Thy Name, The Church’s One Foundation (that was my favorite), Oh God Our Help in Ages Past (I could go on, but you get the picture).  There were other songs in the hymnal that were the popular songs of the day, and I’m sure I could sing them if I saw them, but absolutely the only one that comes to mind right now is Prayer for Peace.  I have not heard that in years, although it stuck around long enough to be subjected to the curse of inclusive language (more on that soon, I promise!).

In the meantime, I was exposed to another kind of  music at St. Joseph.  Early on, I remember the “Hi, God!” albums, with the Rev. Carey Landry’s compositions predominating:  Great Things Happen, The Spirit is A-movin’, What Makes Love Grow, Only a Shadow.  I’ll bet you remember them and that you haven’t heard them at Mass in twenty years or more.  Later we used soft-backed hymnals with a bird on the cover that were, I believe, a precursor or perhaps a first installment of the Glory and Praise series.  From these, I remember especially Blessed Be God Forever, I Believe in the Sun, Welcome In, For You Are My God.  At some point another series was introduced–there were tapes from which we learned the song, but the only words were mimeographed in folders and included such gems as Come Along with Me to Jesus (sung in a round), Thank You Lord for Giving Us Life, and If I Were a Butterfly.   (Would you believe that song has its own Facebook page?)

Besides the songs geared especially for children, we also sang from a regular missalette, so thankfully we were still being exposed to some traditional hymns like Immaculate Mary and Hail Holy Queen and To Jesus Christ our Sovereign King and O Come O Come Emmanuel.  Sister Georgeanna and Sister Janice were so dedicated in their attempts to make sure we sang at Mass, often keeping us in the cafeteria afterwards to practice.

And as I look back and can see that the songs from the 70s weren’t particularly good songs, while it may be fun to be snarky, it’s important to remember that people were doing the best they could without much guidance to come up with new songs for the new liturgy.  And as for me, even if the songs were “bad” I loved singing them and remember them fondly.   If something like I’ve Got That Joy Joy Joy Joy Down in My Heart or His Banner Over Me Is Love (complete with hand gestures) keeps kids engaged in worship to the point that they are still interested enough in the topic to make fun of the songs when they grow up, that’s something, isn’t it?

P.S.  Well over ten years ago I wrote an X-Files fanfiction story which I entitled But Then Comes the Morning, after a song I have not heard sung in Mass since the 70s.  I have seen it excoriated in lists similar to the one I wrote about in my last post. Yet TO THIS DAY I get emails from people who only found that story because they were googling that song, which they remember fondly from their own childhoods.  They are always hoping that since I quote briefly from the chorus at the end of the story that I might know all the lyrics (I remember only snippets).

To be continued . . .

Liturgical Music

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?)