Chairs… no – Music at Masses Review

A reader commented that my life must be pretty near to perfection if I can find the energy to gripe about church chairs. While he may have a point, sorta, the reality is more like I am so easily distracted that even something as trivial as weird church chairs can distract me from… uh…

Today, I went to a 9:00 Mass at one nearby parish so I could do the RCIA dismissal after the Scrutinies at Queen of All Saints at 10:30. We sat in these chairs:

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Clearly, they are intended and used as flexible pews.

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Vastly better construction than these chairs. Legs integrated into the seat and set at an angle to minimize pressure on the joints. Yet, I was distracted from the chairs which distracted me from Mass by the sweet smell of pancakes. One of the things these chairs tell you is that the parish is unsure of what, exactly, the church building is for. Normal pews commit one to viewing the building as exclusively a church. Evidently, this large box of a building is also for pancake breakfasts, because a bunch of tables were set up for one at the back of the church, and the smell of the pancakes cooking filled the church. There’s not even a visual barrier between the Mass and the breakfast – I walked through the tables on my way to the porta-pews.

So, of course, we sang, or rather listened to, Jebbies and Haugen. This mass had a children’s choir, a small passel of cute little girls miked up like they were calling for the repeal of the 2nd Amendment – more than one mike for every two girls. Otherwise, it would have been pretty darn quiet during the ‘singing’.

We listened to them singing Jerusalem My Destiny, a little ditty I’ve somehow missed.

Refrain:
I have fixed my eyes on your hills,
Jerusalem, my Destiny!
Though I cannot see the end for me,
I cannot turn away.
We have set our hearts for the way;
this journey is our destiny.
Let no one walk alone.
The journey makes us one.

Other spirits, lesser gods,
have courted me with lies.
Here among you I have found
a truth that bids me rise. (Refrain)

See, I leave the past behind;
a new land calls to me.
Here among you now I find
a glimpse of what might be. (Refrain)

In my thirst, you let me drink
the waters of your life,
Here among you I have met,
the Savior, Jesus Christ. (Refrain)

All the worlds I have not seen
you open to my view.
Here among you I have found
a vision bright and new. (Refrain)

To the tombs I went to mourn
the hope I thought was gone,
Here among you I awoke
to unexpected dawn. (Refrain)

Aren’t we wonderful! References to I, me, we, us, etc: 31. God: 1, and the one verse that even mentions Christ turns Him into some sort of abstract expression of group identity:

In my thirst, you let me drink the waters of your life, Here among you I have met, the Savior, Jesus Christ.

Pronoun trouble: the ‘you’ here seems to be Jerusalem at least some of the time, but not always? You’d be hard pressed from context to figure out when it is or isn’t.

This song represents perhaps the nadir of content-free hymnody. It says nothing and means nothing. It invites the question ‘what is that supposed to mean?’ without providing any sure context within which to to figure it out. Take the opening line, or any line, for that matter, of just about any classic hymn, and you’ll see what I mean:

Praise the Lord, Ye Heavens adore Him

Joyful, Joyful, we adore Him

Jesus, my Lord, my God, my All

Jesu, Joy of man’s desiring

Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow

And on and on and on. A relationship between the singer and the Savior is established within the first 10 words; God is the subject of the hymn, praise the objective. God is described as the Giver of Blessings, the Joy that answers our desires, the Object of our adoration. Jerusalem My Destiny? Not so much. Evocative words and phrases  – Jerusalem! Destiny! – end up meaning exactly whatever you want to imagine them to mean. It is an anti-hymn, an anti-psalm.

On Saturday, went to a Catholic Men’s Conference. Our beloved – and he could sure use your prayers – Archbishop Cordeleone of San Francisco celebrated mass at noon, with a lovely choir doing chant and motets and a couple nice songs, some in Latin. We sang as Byzantine-style 4-part setting of the St. Michael’s Prayer. No question Who this mass and its music were directed toward.

On the whole, the weekend was a huge plus on the music at mass front.

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Author: Joseph Moore

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

6 thoughts on “Chairs… no – Music at Masses Review”

  1. Quite often any more I find myself in silent prayer instead of singing during the Mass when the congregation is supposed to be singing. It is mildly guilt-inducing as I know I am supposed to be “fully participating”. However isn’t prayer at Mass the fullness of participation? So that is how I rationalize it when the latest Haugen show-tune is being sung.

    1. I’ve long made it a point to sing vigorously just so long as the words weren’t actively heretical, as a penance – I’ve weakened with age, and tend to sit out the more egregiously stupid songs.

      The weirdest part: old St. Louis Jebby tunes are often the most scriptural and theologically orthodox (not saying much) of these ‘contemporary’ songs. Who’da thunk it?

  2. Reading the words to the songs you have printed has been painful for me. They are horrid. Reminds me of a quote I heard attributed to Twain: “If you don’t read the paper daily, you are uninformed. If you do, you are misinformed.” Singing songs like these at mass are worse than silence. My wife and I used to call it the ***
    ### (organist’s name) Show. Speaking of silence, at the TLM I attend, we have no organ/singing nor flowers on the altar during Lent as symbolic of the season. Except yesterday, we had both as it was Gaudet Sunday — over halfway thru “Rejoice” — and the priest wore rose vestments instead of penitential purple. I’m not a Jansenist, but what has happened to Lent? At least during Ramadan the Muslims get press for their austerity. Our Christian society has pretty much forgotten Lent and why that Easter brunch holds no back seat even to Thanksgiving.

    1. Thanks. The incoherence of the lyrics, even more than the heresies they facilitate, prompted me to write the next post, on how few people seem to be able to read. If one made a habit out of trying to really understand words, one would not so readily give a pass to songs that say nothing (but provide plenty of room to read into them whatever you’d like.)

      It’s a tragedy such vile nonsense forces out so many beautiful songs.

  3. Is there a “not invented here” problem? I’d have thought the huge selection of hymns from protestant churches would be more than adequate to find acceptable music. Granted, some don’t fit well into the liturgy, and some have explicit or implicit doctrinal differences, but there’s still a lot to pick from.

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