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CNP Feedback - Glory & Praise

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

I am very sad to read that you think the Glory & Praise books are secular and lack any spirituality other than for a few choice songs. You are wrong. You are very wrong. I was raised on these songs in the 1980s. There are many songs in there such as "Like a Sunflower" and the one where the lyrics say, "I believe in God; even when God is silent" that touch the hearts of many Catholics and have helped me in dark periods of my life. It is absolutely wrong to degrade and mock these songs and those who take these songs seriously and wish to worship God by singing them in church. I think these songs do more than invoke Care Bear-like feelings. They do not promote sleepiness, mindlessness, and juvenile tendencies in the congregations. Many of the songs inspire passion and love for God, and I am proof of that.

Soaring On Eagle's Wings

A. Dear Soaring:

The core issue you raise: what constitutes true sacred liturgical music, is a topic of considerable discussion — both in the smallest chapel choir loft and in the halls of the Vatican. There is much recent documentation showing that the musical path we had taken in the U.S. during the 1970s and 1980s is not particularly appropriate for liturgy. Indications are numerous (including the preliminary document for October's International Synod on the Eucharist) that the Church is ready to reform some of the inadequate compositional tendencies that flourished along with the beginnings of the vernacular liturgy. Let's look at sacred liturgical music more closely.

As you mention, there are many songs that evoke deep emotional and spiritual feelings in you, in me, and in others. They run the gamut from the purely secular ("You'll Never Walk Alone") to the religious ("I Believe in the Sun"). The ability of these songs to impact our hearts and uplift our spirits is never in question. If songs like these, or perhaps "Like A Sunflower," offer you solace and comfort in your life, then by all means they should be a part of your listening (or singing). Carey Landry, who wrote both songs you mentioned, has CDs available and these would make good material for your meditation or private prayer. They are not appropriate for corporate worship (that is, sacred liturgy) for reasons that I'll outline below.

1. Sacred liturgical music must have a link to the continuing traditions of the Catholic Church.

The Church was instituted by Christ to carry on his mission after his return to the Father. The Church's mandate is to preserve the essentials of the Gospel message through Scripture and Tradition. Tradition (what has been handed on from earliest times and continues to be promulgated today) is the foundation of her teaching. The Church is not static, but evolves and grows by building on this Tradition — nowhere is there a breach or break, but always a gradual development based on what has come before.

This is no less true of church music than it is of theology. Many popes have spoken on this subject. Here I'll quote only the last two:

The late Pope John Paul II writes in his Chirograph for the Centenary of the Motu proprio Tra le sollecitudini on Sacred Music (2003): Pope John Paul II

#12. With regard to compositions of liturgical music, I make my own the "general rule" that Saint Pius X formulated in these words: "The more closely a composition for church approaches in its movement, inspiration and savor the Gregorian melodic form, the more sacred and liturgical it becomes; and the more out of harmony it is with that supreme model, the less worthy it is of the temple." It is not, of course, a question of imitating Gregorian chant but rather of ensuring that new compositions are imbued with the same spirit that inspired and little by little came to shape it. Only an artist who is profoundly steeped in the sensus Ecclesiæ can attempt to perceive and express in melody the truth of the Mystery that is celebrated in the Liturgy. In this perspective, in my Letter to Artists I wrote: "How many sacred works have been composed through the centuries by people deeply imbued with the sense of mystery! The faith of countless believers has been nourished by melodies flowing from the hearts of other believers, either introduced into the Liturgy or used as an aid to dignified worship. In song, faith is experienced as vibrant joy, love and confident expectation of the saving intervention of God."
In his book, A New Song for the Lord, Pope Benedict XVI (as Cardinal Ratzinger) writes in Chapter 7:
Our Incarnate Lord, who was raised up on the cross, raised up our fallen human nature. Western music, from Gregorian chant through Renaissance polyphony to Bruckner and beyond, lives from this great synthesis of spirit, intuition and sensuous sound. The liturgical music of the Church must be subject to that integration of the human state which appears before us in incarnational faith.

Practically speaking, the prerequisites for sacred music include awe, receptivity and a humility that is prepared to serve by participating in the greatness which has already gone before. Furthermore, the Church has posted road signs: the great liturgical texts (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnus Dei) and the references in her official documents to Gregorian chant and Palestrina as models providing orientation.
While we as composers are not called to "rewrite" Gregorian chant, we are asked to model our current music on chant, in its appropriate style and profundity of text. Unfortunately, much of the music and lyrics in Glory & Praise are neither appropriate styles nor profound texts.


  • Bloom Where You're Planted (music)
    The melody, going well beyond simple to boring, has only 5 pitches; the twelve text phrases are set to inanely repetitive melody fragments.
  • It's a Brand New Day (text)

    It's a brand new day,
    Everything is fine.
    Though it may be gray,
    I want you to know that the sun's gonna shine.
Certainly American musicians and poets are capable of higher quality than these.

2. Texts should be orthodox and approved.

Specifically looking at texts, we can see just how far afield church musicians in the U.S. have come from what the Church asks of us. Every Sunday, every solemnity, every feast, in fact every day in the Liturgical Year has texts that are specified for use during these points in the Mass:
  1. Entrance
  2. Responsorial Psalm
  3. Gospel Acclamation
  4. Offertory
  5. Communion
Generally, parishes do well in using the assigned texts for the Responsorial Psalm and the Gospel Acclamation (probably because musical settings are so numerous and easy to come by). We are woefully lax in using the other presribed texts.

For example, on the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, these are the texts that we should be singing:

  • Entrance
    Lord, be true to your covenant, forget not the life of your poor ones for ever. Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; do not ignore the shouts of your enemies. [Psalm 74:20,19,22,23]
  • Offertory
    But my trust is in you, O Lord; I say, "You are my God." In your hands is my destiny. [Psalm 31:15-16a]
  • Communion
    Praise the Lord, Jerusalem; he feeds you with the finest wheat. [Psalm 147:12,14]
These texts can be found in Roman Missal (Sacramentary). They are also found in Latin (with music) in the Graduale Romanum and the Graduale simplex, and in English (with music) in By Flowing Waters and various individual collections.

I am convinced it is a rare parish that actually sings these prescribed texts at the appropriate times. Rather, we take a low-priority alternative, allowable but not ideal, of substituting hymns or songs that usually have no relation whatever to the proper texts.

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