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Sunday, 3 June 2007

A place for 1970s hymns?

A sincere question posed in the combox (re. "I watch the sunrise"):
doesn't any hymn/song/ditty which is sung in praise of Our Lord have a value, albeit an irritating one?
The Church has often spoken of "sacred music" as having a particular character. It is difficult to define this precisely, but Pope Benedict (following many of his predecessors) has specified that Gregorian chant and polyphony are particularly worthy for the liturgy. The problem today is that the Church has said that a "suitable hymn" can replace the introit, the offertory antiphon and the communion antiphon. The result is that we have Mass interspersed with hymns that have nothing to do with the liturgical texts. It is relatively rare for the texts of the Mass to be sung either in English or in Latin. The bishops are supposed to approve a list of "suitable hymns" but well over 30 years on, there is no sign of such a list.

Popular devotional hymns were sometimes sung at Low Mass during the Offertory and after Communion. There was always some dispute about the suitability of doing so; Martin Mosebach criticised the practice in his book "The Heresy of Formlessness". The popular hymns (such as those of Faber, for example) were written for devotional services, not Mass.

One of the things that helped to kill off these devotional services was Evening Mass. If a parish had all its Masses in the morning, it was quite reasonable to have a devotional service, or Benediction, or Vespers (or Compline) in the evening. Now it is Mass with everything and everything with Mass.

If people really like "I watch the sunrise", perhaps we should arrange 1970s devotions. We could sing "Colours of Day" and "Walk with me O my Lord" as well, wear U-necked tank tops, long hair and flared trousers. The advantage would be that nobody would have to go in order to fulfil the precept of attending Sunday Mass.

It is also important to say that not every hymn "in praise of Our Lord" has value. "I watch the sunrise" is not heretical but some hymns written in recent years are. ("I am with you in this bread and wine", "he comes to me in sharing bread and wine" etc.) It is worth remembering that the arch heretic Arius spread his false doctrine by popular hymns.
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