Why Do We Sing of Ourselves and Celebrate Ourselves?
by Father Paul Scalia
This article is reprinted here with the kind permission of Fr. Paul Scalia, the author, and of David Murray, Managing Editor, Adoremus: Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy.
It appeared in the March 1999 edition of Adoremus Bulletin.
Imagine the following scene: You arrive at Mass on Sunday, eager to thank
God for His goodness to you. You slide into the pew early, kneel in prayer,
and direct your praise and worship to your Lord and God. You stand as the
song leader introduces the opening hymn: "Table of Plenty". Suddenly
your praise comes to a screeching halt, not because of your own prayers,
but because of what you are singing. In fact you are no longer praising
God at all, but singing to the others:
Come to the feast of heaven and earth!
Come to the table of plenty!
God will provide for all that we need,
here at the table of plenty.
Now it gets worse: you begin to sing His lines:
O, come and sit at my table
where saints and sinners are friends.
I wait to welcome the lost and lonely
to share the cup of my love.
And so at the very beginning of Mass, your conversation with God is derailed
and transformed into a participation in the congregation's introspection.
To appreciate the damage done by such hymns, we must first call to mind
two essential aspects of the Mass: presence and dialogue. First of all,
what distinguishes the Mass from all other forms of worship is the re-presentation
of Christ's sacrifice. The Mass does not merely recall or reenact Christ's
redemptive act but in fact makes present the mystery of faith, the passion,
death and resurrection of Christ (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church,
Second, the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and indeed throughout
the Mass makes possible a real dialogue between God and man; it creates
an active conversation. The remembrance of someone does not lead to dialogue
with that person; only to reminiscing. The presence of Christ in the Mass,
however, inspires us to speak to Him as only the beloved can speak to the
Lover. Thus the Mass is a dialogue between Christ and the Church, between
God and man, in which God speaks His lines and we speak ours. He speaks
to us through the readings and (we hope) the homily, while we respond to
Him through the prayers of the priest, our personal prayers, and the hymns.
Accordingly, active participation at Mass requires the faithful to acknowledge
the presence of Christ and enter the dialogue, taking the words of the Bride
as their own. They embody the Bride, and their Mass parts-the Kyrie, Gloria,
Sanctus, and Agnus Deiexpress her desire for union with the Bridegroom.
Other texts used at Mass should reflect and deepen this sentiment. The dialogue
reaches its culmination at the Consecration, when the Bridegroom speaks
His definitive words of love and thus becomes really present to His Bride
in the Eucharist.
Given the lyrics of much contemporary liturgical music, however, we must
ask what has become of this dialogue and our ability to enter it. Many hymns
have us sing only about ourselves and to ourselves, even going so far as
to usurp God's part. Such words fail to convey the true meaning of the Mass
as a dialogue between Christ and the Church. The offending lyrics come in
two varieties: in the first, we sing to one another and about one another,
but do not include God in the conversation; and in the second, we sing God's