In the past three columns, we have discussed why we sing at Mass and the importance behind doing so. There are over 1,150
references to music in the Bible; therefore I strongly believe that God is obviously trying to give us the hint! As your Music Director, I
value the feedback that I receive from parishioners. Your comments are sometimes good and sometimes bad. I enjoy listening to
what you have to say, yet I am old enough to realize that as hard as I try, I won’t be able to please everyone all of the time. A wise
priest friend of mine once told me that he is the pastor of a parish of 1,400 opinions. We all have our likes and dislikes when it comes
to things that are close to our soul, such as worship. Many people don’t understand why we sometimes sing all of the stanzas of a
hymn (note: the word “stanza” is used on a strophic hymn and the word “verse” is used on a song that includes a refrain). Here are
some of the arguments that I hear, and my gentle rebuttal follows in italics.
1. Music serves the liturgy and must stop when the liturgical action is completed. (Yes, music
does serve the liturgy, yet it goes far beyond that – It coincides with, inspires, and enhances
the liturgy, as well. Why should music abruptly stop just because people have stopped
walking? Liturgical music is not background music. It, by itself, has a pride of place in the
liturgy, and is meant to offer prayer and meditation to those who actively engage in it. If you
use this excuse, then I assume that you aren’t someone who likes to open the hymnal).
2. The hymn is boring. (I’m so sorry! I missed that memo. The primary focus of a hymn is its
text. So while you are giving up because you think that the music is boring, you’re actually
missing out on what could be a really moving prayer for yourself. Sometimes when I don’t
like music, it is because I won’t give it a try. Once I allow myself to learn it, then I all of the
sudden enjoy it. Give hymns that you don’t like a try. They will grow on you. For those that
think church music itself is boring, again, I am really sorry. There’s a thick line between
church organist and entertainer.)
3. Why can’t we sing “Amazing Grace” every week? (While “Amazing Grace” is a beautiful
hymn, it does not fit into every liturgy. The hymns are selected because of their text, not
their melodies. Would we sing “Silent Night” on Easter Sunday just because we like that
melody? Of course not.)
My main point in what I hope that you find are comical answers to the questions above is that hymns are part of our prayer. Their text
compliments our worship experience. I’m not wedded to singing every stanza, but when it makes poetic, grammatical, or thematic
sense to do so, I hope that you will understand why and immerse yourself fully into the beauty of sacred music. The texts of our
hymns are written by many of the great saints of the Church. We can learn a lot and be inspired if we actively strive to understand
their meaning. Sometimes I chuckle when I think of a “stereotypical Catholic” walking up to the pearly gates of heaven. What if St.
Peter gave you a hymnal and asked you to sing five stanzas of a hymn? Would you say, “no,” and walk away; would you even be
able to sing the hymn? Better off to practice now so that you are prepared for the entrance exam! If the Bible teaches us anything, it
is that there’s a lot of singing going on in heaven – consider yourself warned! Next week will be the final column and I will talk about
the sacred music “Identity Crisis” that I believe the Church has gone through. Stay tuned . . . Russ