Sunday, January 15, 2012

Singing in the Church

My friends all have different views on the Church, but one almost universal perception of Catholics is that they are big on ritual. To that I plead guilt-diddily-ilty as charge-diddily-arged*. I think it’s pretty cool that from parish to parish and even country to country, the Mass remains largely unchanged.

*He’s not the baron, but he sounds drunk. Take him in.

That’s why the new Roman Missal was kind of jarring to me. The Church basically tweaked some of the rituals we use and reworded some of the prayers. It’s nothing drastic, and is probably good overall, but it is certainly different*.

*The only one that really kills me is the Gloria. At the start of our service we sing a prayer glorifying God (I think it’s technically called the Doxology) and there was one particular arrangement that had some great harmonies. Because the words were changed, that arrangement is gone. I miss it.

Beyond just the rites of Mass, I take a small measure of joy in “mini-feasts*.” Since the Church has a regular calendar for scripture readings, you hear many of the same stories every year. My “mini-feasts” are the few weeks where I recognize a reading and it means a little extra to me. I never know when they are coming, but I always smile and think of my Sunday school teacher** when we hear about Doubting Thomas and I’m pretty sure that even though it is not official, Stewardship Sunday happens sometime every April.

*These are, as far as I know, pretty much my own invention so hopefully they are kosher with the bishop.
**I remember the woman who occasionally taught my Sunday school as a very nice lady. She died in a car crash when I was in high school and many in the neighborhood formed a very different opinion of her – she was driving drunk. I wasn’t necessarily shocked or angry, but I think that experience really drove home that point that (99 percent of the time) you cannot just label someone as fundamentally bad (or good for that matter). Life is never that simple. I think that’s an important lesson and it might be good fodder for a post some other time when I don’t have to clean the kitchen.

I bring this up because today was another one of those feasts – Here I am Lord Sunday. It’s a reading from the old testament where the priest’s servant (Samuel) keeps getting awakened in the night by what he thinks is his master’s call. After three times, the priest (Eli) realizes that God is calling the boy and tells him to respond, “speak Lord, your servant is listening.” Well, there is a great song based on the passage called “Here I Am Lord” that is usually played sometime during that day’s Mass. As soon as I hear that first reading I start looking forward to it. Except today they didn’t play it. I was crushed, but Samuel and Eli Sunday isn’t the only day that has a song that just needs to be played at that Mass. So, in case the music director of either of the downtown Ann Arbor Catholic parishes I attend is reading, here is my list of the top five songs that must be played on their respective days.

5.  Christmas – Christmas songs
Well duh.

4. 4th of July – “America the Beautiful”
There are plenty of people who are uneasy with singing patriotic songs during Mass, and I can certainly see their point. However, if you listen to “America the Beautiful,” there are some really neat lines that go far beyond rah-rah-rah, Amer-i-cuh. I think it’s pretty neat that as our nation celebrates its independence we pray “God mend thine every flaw. Confirm thy soul in self control, thy liberty in law.”

3.  Here I am Lord Sunday – “Here I Am Lord”
This is what prompted the whole post. “Here I Am Lord” is a slow, somber tune, and always makes me examine whether and to what degree I am using my life to serve God. Plus, it really is a good song.

2. All Saints Day – “For All the Saints”
This song gets played once a year and I look forward to it every time. One of the darkest periods of my life (ok, not really) was an eight year span from high school through undergrad where, for whatever reason, I never heard this song at those November first Masses. In high school they replaced it with something I called the “Litany of Saints” where the cantor basically named saints then asked them to pray for us. The singer was quite good (a year younger than me if I remember right), but I could never help but grin a bit when it dragged on for eight minutes and she started asking for the intercession of the Saint Polycarps, Lydwinas, and Wilgefortises of the world.

1. Ash Wednesday – “Ashes”
The first day of Lent always seemed to be the most crowded Mass at the campus church in Madison. They really did a great job with the ceremony, and the observance of Ash Wednesday itself is a pretty neat practice. This song, perhaps better than any other, captures the essence of what the prayer of they day is about. Ash Wednesday is about preparing ourselves for Lent and eventually Easter – we want to reevaluate our lives and rededicate them to God. “We rise again from ashes, from the good we’ve failed to do. We rise again from ashes to create the world anew. If all the world is ashes, then must our lives be true. An offering of ashes, an offering to You.”

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