Sunday, June 21, 2009
I am one of those who, like Pope Benedict XVI (as I understand), loves the great Catholic music of the past, which, on the whole, has been taken away from us. I would guess that many do not sing the hymns of today because they can't 'catch' the the music, it disappears into nondescript obscurity and, therefore, the words die on their lips. Maybe not in your church, but at least in the churches I attend, the music is all without the heights of the beautiful composition and singing the Church has famously and artistically given us through the ages. In the past the Church has brought us ineffable sacredness through its music.
There are exceptions, of course, when a familiar hymn with melody and feeling is played--especially the hymns to Our Lady--and people enter into it. They are usually traditionals. Otherwise, no one sings--and I, who prefer not to sing the amorphous hymns but pray the words instead, find myself so embarrassed for the silence of these unsung moments while the leader sings alone, that I actually do end up 'singing' these very
hymns I do not like--albeit it, I sing weakly, I admit, for the music is weak. A humbling, I suppose.
Beat me down, if you like--I know I'm in the minority--but I prefer the sense of tuning into Heaven when church music is sung. In reply to opinions like mine, people quote St. Augustine: "He who sings prays twice." But that's not what St. Augustine said.
According to Fr. John Zuhlsdorf, who wrote his thesis on Augustine, St. Augustine actually wrote, "cantare amantis est...Singing belongs to one who loves."
Fr. Zuhlsdorf goes on to dig deeper into the research and found that Augustine really said, "Qui enim cantat laudem, non solum laudat, sed etiam hilariter laudat; qui cantat laudem, non solum cantat, sed et amat eum quem cantat. In laude confitentis est praedicatio, in cantico amantis affectio...For he who sings praise, does not only praise, but also praises joyfully; he who sings praise, not only sings, but also loves Him whom he is singing about/to/for. There is a praise-filled public proclamation (praedicatio) in the praise of someone who is confessing/ acknowledging (God); in the song of the lover (there is) love."
Fr. Zuhlsdorf continues, "Augustine is saying that when the praise is of God, then something happens to the song of the praiser/love that makes it more than just any kind of song. The object of the song/love in a way becomes the subject. Something happens so that the song itself becomes LOVE in its manifestation of love of the one who truly is Love itself." See Fr. Zuhlsdorf's complete comments (February 20, 2006):
Alas, I don't feel that love, or longing to love, in the obscure, dragging, tired sound I hear in church. One has only to listen to the great Masses and sacred music composed by Haydn, Mozart, Palestrina, Cherubini, Beethoven, Bach and the glorious hymns and chorales of Poulenc (which are some of my favorites), to name just a few of the long, long list of such beautiful music, that sings a longing for Heaven.
Africa has its special beauty in music. When I see--and hear--the little promotional piece for the Capuchin missionaries in Chad on www.teleradiopadrepio.it --played regularly during the breaks between many programs, with its African musical background and the fearless bright voices of the children singing--
I love it!
I know others feel as I do--I have spoken to them, and there is much online about it, in Catholic blogs and articles by lovers of tradional hymns. Here, for instance, is something I read from the Anchoress--a First Things blog: www.theanchoressonline.com
"...but to my way of thinking the best way to restore the missing sense of mystery, awe and reverence to today's masses
is to pray the liturgy as it is meant to be prayed, without the insertion of our human egos or agendae; finally put to rest the deplorable happy-clappy sentiment of the 1970's and then worshipping just a little more vertically than horizontically. But what do I know, I'm just a person in the pew, rolling my eyes...and enduring with quiet grace the choir's rendition of as deleterious a slab of hymn-singing as has ever been committed, a singsong that proclaims, 'I am here...I am here...I am here... here I am....' A little more reverence, a little more silence....would go a long way!"
Yes....to feel His Presence....
"Jesus, the very thought of Thee, With sweetness fills my breast,
Nor voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
A sweeter sound than thy blest name."
(Hymn to the Blessed Sacrament, from a 1925 Manual of Select Catholic Hymns and Devotions, J.Fischer & Bro., New York)
We are fortunate to live in the era of the CD, at least, to counter the present aridity of church music and sing with the love our music is supposed to have. The music we sing today, at least in American chuches, did not exist in Padre Pio's world. This was, of course, a traditional world. I have spent many weeks in San Giovanni Rotondo and even taped some of the singing in the church and outside, in the church piazza. Their hymns are, on
the whole, traditional.
Italians are singers--and this certainly includes the San Giovannese! Especially the women. Before the new Renzo Piano church was built, before Padre Pio was beatified and canonized, from early morning on his anniversary the women would bring their lunch and park themselves in chairs in the piazza outside Santa Maria delle Grazie. They would begin chanting the Rosary and singing as they waited out the hours for the Midnight ceremonies to begin. They were the older generation of women who knew Padre Pio. As the hours passed and night approached, the piazza filled to the point where you couldn't pass through it. Singing the beautiful old hymns continued, led by a Padre -- it may have been Padre Mariano.
Did Padre Pio sing? someone asked....
I know he sang occasionally. He was asked to sing his last Mass and complied, though feeling weak and not well. And I know he once stood before a group of composers or those in artistic professions and told them to do their good work for God. And in Fr. Ruffin's book on Padre Pio (1991 Revised and Expanded Edition, p.96) he writes, referring to some of the things Padre Pio did during his "exile" years in Pietrelcina:
"Moreover, he got together a choir of fifteen boys and taught them how to sing various hymns. He led them without accompaniment, singing along with them in his robust, fervent, but unmusical baritone voice."
Get that "fervent." I would love to have heard it!
And also, there is this; excerpts from the article, "His Last Song," by Padre Gerardo Di Flumeri (RIP), Vice Postulator for The Cause of Beatification and Canonization of Padre Pio--published in The Voice of Padre Pio, Summer Number, 1992, p. 11:
"We know that Padre Pio on the morning of 22 September 1968, 24 hours before he died, sang his last Mass. On that day the friary chronicles record: 'Padre Pio, as every morning, wanted to say the low Mass, but the Father Guardian asked and gently persuaded him to celebrate a solemn sung Mass for the Prayer Groups there reunited. Padre Pio obeyed."
Padre Flumeri continues: "The 'Missa Jucunda' of F. Vittadini, with three singers, was celebrated. Whenever I see the film of this last Mass of Padre Pio, I am unable to contain my emotion. The Padre's tired voice, his cadaverous and frail look, affect and move me considerably. But what affects and moves me more than anything else is his singing of the 'Our Father.' His broken, sobbing voice, the sense one gets of his boundless faith in the heavenly Father and the thought that this is his last song break my heart and reduce me to tears.
"Nevertheless, this is not, to be precise, his last song...At midday, the friars having gathered in the rectory for lunch, Padre Pio remained alone in his room, except for the assistant friar, Brother Bill, the future Father Joseph Pius, who remained behind ready to heed his least call. The corridor and the whole friary were pervaded by a mysterious, mystical silence. When suddenly, recounts Brother Bill, Padre Pio broke and interrupted that silent atmosphere. And in a loud and unusually strong voice he recited the 'Our Father.'
"Perfectly conscious of his proximate departure and clearly pronouncing each word, he recited, almost sang, the prayer taught by Jesus. This was to be his final act before leaving this world and before giving himself completely into the arms of the heavenly Father."
Extremely beautiful. . . .