Music at Mass Review: Sept 18, 2011

At Parish A today. Today’s music featured a strong challenge to my ‘can I sing this at Mass’ rules: Because You Are My Shepherd, an execrable ditty by a Christopher Walker, who. according to his own web site, is an internationally known composer, conductor and expert on liturgical music. Right. OK, then, I guess.

Using the Orthometer’s criteria, this song gets an HL (Hella Lame) for the sentiments expressed in the refrain, the goofy music, and the forced scansion of the verses,  which alone means one with any trace of musical, liturgical or artistic sense will not chose this song for Mass – but the question for the jury: does it also get an H (heretical)? Because that would mean that, in the unfortunate event that one is subjected to this tune at Mass, one must refrain from singing it. To make it even harder, almost all of the song is a not too bad paraphrase of Psalm 23 – only the refrain triggers my ‘shields up!’ response on the Heretical issue. Here ya go:

1. Because the Lord is my shepherd,
I have ev’ry thing I need.
He lets me rest in the meadow and leads me
to the quiet streams.
He restores my soul and he leads me
in the paths that are right:

Lord, you are my shepherd,
you are my friend.
I want to follow you always,
just to follow my friend.

2. And when the road leads to darkness,
I shall walk there unafraid.
Even when death is close I have courage,
for your help is there.
You are close beside me with comfort,
you are guiding my way:

3. In love you make me a banquet
for my enemies to see.
You make me welcome, pouring down honor
from your mighty hand,
and this joy fills me with gladness;
it is too much to bear:

4. Your goodness always is with me
and your mercy I know.
Your loving kindness strengthens me always
as I go through life.
I shall dwell in your presence forever,
giving praise to your name:

Let’s look at that refrain:

Lord, you are my shepherd,
you are my friend.
I want to follow you always,
just to follow my friend.

Line 1, perfectly sound;

Line 2, also sound, but, in the context of the last 50 years, it doesn’t go down smooth;

Line 3, perfectly sound;

Line 4, um, what?

OK, so Jesus is our friend – He describes himself so in Scripture, and so we should contemplate the relationship described by ‘friend’ as applied to Jesus for our spiritual enlightenment.Thus contemplating, would we say that we want to follow Jesus just to follow our friend?

It’s the word ‘just’ that sticks, and the idea of following a friend as opposed to being lead (and corrected and disciplined) by a shepherd. If this were a translation, one might suppose the translator resorted to sticking the extra word ‘just’ in there to make the rhythm work (all too common), and that the idea in the original was not to suggest that Jesus is *merely* a friend, the kind of guy you’d walk beside on a mutually-chosen path, one who would respect your decisions even if He disagreed with them. No, he’s the kind of friend who would die for you – and tell you to go, and sin no more. The kind of friend who would tell a bosom  buddy to ‘get behind me, Satan’ over a subtle theological misunderstanding.

The idea of Jesus as our friend is meant, it seems to me, for our comfort and consolation. When we are suffering, when times are hard, Jesus, a gentle friend, will be there for us in loving kindness, if we but turn to Him. But we can’t emphasize this valid and important aspect of our relationship to God to the minimization or exclusion of other aspects.

But a song is not a theological tract, nor even a profound spiritual meditation (although the best hymns do include both these things). All a song used at Mass should do is help us to lift up our voices united in prayer – without contradicting the teachings of God through His holy church.

Verdict? While I would like to avoid encountering this unfortunate little ditty from the bottom of my bowels, if I do again, then – I guess I’m obliged to sing it. Generously understood, it is not heretical.

Today, I failed. I couldn’t reach a decision on the spot, and so remained silent. That, it turn out upon reflection, was a mistake.


Author: Joseph Moore

Enough with the smarty-pants Dante quote. Just some opinionated blogger dude.

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