Monday, July 13, 2015

Short Reflection: Music and Praise

The organ at Bath Abbey in Bath, UK

Catholics are sometimes criticized for not having lively worship music with plenty of instrumental accompaniment in church. It depends on the church, really, but I have been in a fair amount of Protestant and Catholic churches, and I can understand where the critics are coming from to a certain degree. I love how passionately my aunt plays the piano in her church, abandoning herself and her unique gifts to exuberant praise.

But I have always been someone who listens to lyrics, words being how I express myself most often, and those are the most likely to move me, especially if heartfelt, soulful lyrics are paired with beautiful melodies, such as is the case with "Amazing Grace".

In my parish church we usually have just one pianist/organist and one cantor (the person who sings the Psalm and leads the hymns). Yet, I have had some heart-piercing experiences with music in our simple musical setting.

I think part of our appreciation and worship experience stems from how we receive sacred music. Yes, I love belting out Christmas carols, but I also love solemnly intoning, "Stay with me. Remain here with me. Watch and pray..." on Holy Thursday before Good Friday.

We sing the "Gloria" at every Mass except during Lent as Catholics. It is an affirmation of faith. It is a song of praise. It is a prayer of thanksgiving. If it is sung with joy, ebullience, it unites the whole community, but if is sung sleepily or mechanically, it falters. I have caught myself roaming away from the words, singing it without heart, and I wake myself up and pick up my pitch and start to really sing, so my Heavenly Father can hear that this child is grateful. This child is happy, because of His love. We and all creation are a part of that "great glory" of the Father's for which we thank him in the Gloria, so we should sing it with gusto.

But the quieter moments in song often move me more. During and after communion in my home parish, I kneel and say my most urgent prayers of thanksgiving and supplication on behalf of my family and of others whose needs I know. But sometimes I am caught up in the soft words of the communion hymn, and I am mesmerized by the voices of my fellow parishioners around me. Once, as I knelt after receiving, I could hear the voices of my husband, the male cantor that morning, and of another male parishioner, and as tears rolled down my cheeks, my prayers were caught up in the words of the hymn that they sang in their deep tones. It was peaceful, beautiful, and joyful.

That has often happened to me during Mass. During hymns I have often cried. I am not stomping my feet or clapping my hands or smiling, but my tears are happy tears, and through them and the words I sing, I see Jesus and I pray.

Christ be beside me, Christ be before me, Christ be behind me, King of my heart.
Christ be within me, Christ be below me, Christ be above me, Never to part.

Christ on my right hand, Christ on my left hand, Christ all around me, Shield in the strife.
Christ in my sleeping, Christ in my sitting, Christ in my rising, Light of my life.

A hymn with text attributed to St. Patrick, 372-466, and music by James Quinn, 1969

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