The Spirituality of Music: The spirituality of Music is actually twofold:
There is the theological contents of the words to the music which are the basis
of spirituality, such as We are one Body in the Lord, or We Are Many Parts.
There is also spirituality in music insofar as the very dynamics of music engage
us in a discipline requiring attention, energy, co-operation which can be
related to the sacrifice that is at the heart of the Paschal Mystery which is
the core of our Christian spirituality.
What prompted me to phrase this title: ‘We Are What
We Sing, Are We What We Sing? was that both as priest, theologian and
liturgist I have found delight in the words, as well as the melodies of much of
our new music. I find many of the songs we sing teach us in their words
who we are as Christ’s Body, they emphasize our communal identity, our priestly
people identity, our call to serve, to build the kingdom of God. Really,
the lyrics of most of our new music are scriptural and theologically sound.
I have heard of some exceptions, which I might mention now as I have heard that
Father David has questioned the lyric: ‘Look beyond the bread you eat, see your
Savior and your Lord.’ I would agree that this is slightly off the mark of
what we understand by a sacred sign. The sacraments are sacred signs and
in themselves, e.g., bread now is the Body of Christ. We don’t look beyond
it, we look at it and with the eye of faith we believe that it is no longer
bread, but now the Body of Christ. That which is bread-like, traditionally
its accidental qualities of taste, smell, texture are the very qualities that
speak to us of God. As one liturgist has said, sometimes the hosts take
more faith to believe that they are bread than that they are the Body of Christ.
So, it is the bread as sacrament that reveals to us our God, humble, available,
ordinary, nourishment, tasty, rich, satisfying. So the bread should be
good bread to help us appreciate its sacramental significance. All of this
to say we don’t look beyond it, but at it. Still, this is one exception,
most of the songs today, especially the Eucharistic ones shape us in our faith.
I like to compare the traditional communion song: ‘O Lord
I Am Not Worthy’ the music on which I was weaned as an infant and young person.
It stressed, of course, our unworthiness, and that is true, but it mostly
stressed that what was happening was a very individual experience, there was no
stress on community, or really what ‘Holy Communion’ means. It is not that
it is wrong, but not enough. It doest not say what really we are
celebrating, that we who are many who eat this one bread become one body.
“Because the loaf of bread is one, we, many though we are, are one body, for we
all partake of the one loaf.” (1 Cor. 10:17) “ Is not the cup of blessing
we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread we break a
sharing in the body of Christ? We really did not have much of a sense of
our sharing in this meal, nor that we were sharing ourselves in union with
Christ. Our faith was very individualistic and communion time, ironically,
was the most individualistic moment in the celebration. Rather than
realizing we become one at this moment we felt most intimately alone with Christ
and felt intruded upon when asked to sing or interact in any way.
So we have written songs that are scriptural and capture
the true Eucharistic theology. Another instance being that we make a
distinction between songs that stress more adoration than sharing communion
together. Put simply the focus of the Mass is not on adoration of the
Eucharistic species, but on sharing in the sacrificial meal which makes us one
so that we can be renewed as the Body of Christ and be bread for others.
Another one of our old standards, ‘Panis Angelicus’: The
very Angels’ Bread Doth food to men afford; The types have vanished, Remains the
Truth adored: O wondrous mystery Their banquet is the Lord the poor and
lowly, bond and free. O God forever blest, O three in the One, we pray:
Visit the longing breast Enter this house of clay, and lead us through the Night
Unto the perfect Day Where dwellest Thou in endless light.” Beautiful, but
just doesn’t capture the reality that the Eucharist is the whole Christ offering
the whole Christ to the Father. In sum, most of the Eucharistic
hymns we knew were either too individualistic with no concern for community or
were focused on adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Our theology, Thomistic theology, tells us that the
purpose of the Eucharist is the unity of the Body of Christ. That is the
‘res,’ the reality, the purpose for the Eucharist. The true Presence, the
special Eucharistic Presence, as I mentioned previously, true as it is, is not
the reason why we celebrate Eucharist. Yet, this dimension because the
focus and correspondingly the notion of adoration became the attitude of
Eucharist rather than celebration of the mystery of our redemption by the
corporate body and the renewing of our identity in Christ as the Body of Christ
in the world.
So we can raise the question ‘Are We What We Sing?’
If we stress adoration and personal piety in the Mass then we will not feel we
have any obligation to extend ourselves outward, but if our words say we are One
Bread, One Body and we, though many, throughout the earth, we are one body in
this one Lord, then the implications are profound. We sing of social
justice: Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man no more.” Again,
singing the scriptures as one of my Protestant friends said when he visited our
Dominican House. ‘I really like the way you ‘sing the Bible!’
And with all due honor and devotion to the Blessed Mother we had far too many
songs to her, and even at communion. How important it is to sing at
communion songs that speak what we do and are at that moment.
Some of the songs you sing and are: Anthem #298:
“We are called, we are chosen. We are Chris for one another. We are
promised to tomorrow, while we are for him today. We are sign, we are
wonder. We are sower, we are seed. We are harvest, we are hunger. We
are question, we are creed. Then where can we stand justified? In
what can we believe? In no one else but he who suffered, nothing more than he
who rose Who was justice for the poor. Who was rage against the night.
We was hope for peaceful people. Who was light.” The words are powerful
and challenging. They remind us of our call to social justice. They
shape and energize us. They call us to be what we sing. Especially,
in English we see with our eyes and hear with our ears who we are. At times we
may raise the question are we really justice for the poor.
Finally, at the celebration itself it is so important to
keep in mind that each one of us, baptized into Christ is both priest and victim
along with Christ, priest and victim. That means that our offering is
ourselves, what we bring to the Eucharist. St. Peter Chrsologus in one of
his sermons in the 5th c. writes: ‘How marvelous is the priesthood of the
Christian, for he is both the victim that is offered on his own behalf, and the
priest who makes the offering. He does not need to go beyond himself to seek
what he is to immolate to God: with himself and in himself he brings the
sacrifice he is to offer God for himself. The victim remains and the
priest remains, always one and the same...Each of us is called to be both a
sacrifice to God and his priest. Do not forfeit what divine authority
confers on you (Sermon 108).
In Conclusion: Remember what we do at the Eucharist:
“We offer you in thanksgiving this holy and living sacrifice...’ That
‘holy and living sacrifice is all of us, all of us gathered in the assembly.
It is the sacrifice of Christ, but also that of the church. Otherwise,
there is no need to repeat the Mass. What Chris did on Calvary he did
perfectly once and for all. it is continued because new we, Christ’s
members bring to it our own lives--our own praise, hopes, and joys. We are
living the Mass, carrying out in our lives the mystery of Christ on earth.
As music ministers it is your challenge to create this
mindset in the congregation. Each person in the assembly has something
unique to bring . In the Eucharist the whole Christ offers the Whole
The new music today, scripturally based and theologically
sound with a very few exceptions challenges us by its words and becomes the
occasion for us to ponder the mystery we celebrate and are and to live it by
living the music, living the Mass, we are called to love and serve the Lord and
First, though what of this spirituality of the music itself:
Their is a spirituality to music. What is it?
The melody, mournful, joyful, somber, uplifting? The tempo? Fast,
slow, in between; a march, a tango, ‘it takes two to tango,’ a mazurka, a dance,
life with God is a dance, a waltz, a fox trot? There is rhythm.
There is discipline to make this music. Notes and time and sharps and
flats. They speak of the highs and the lows of life we celebrate and
experience in spirituality. It speaks of suspension, the waiting in
dissonance and the resolution to peace and harmony. There are sour notes
and notes off key, some sharp, some flat, all waiting to be tuned and fine
tuned, like the soul and the spirit.
Spirituality, our life in the Spirit is life in the Paschal
Mystery, Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again. His
dying and rising is the rhythm of our life. Music captures this rhythm in
its melody, its newness, its beginnings and endings. Its very discipline,
what it takes to sing, to dance, to play, requires of us a dying to self in the
time it takes to learn, to perform, to give so that the music is beautiful.
It asks of us to blend our voice, our instrument with those of others, to follow
the lead of the conductor, reminding us of the Holy Spirit, who is the great
orchestrator of our lives. Just to sing, means more than we think.
We may be singing something spiritual in itself, but the very activity of
singing costs us something of ourselves so that we can make music.
There is some pain involved in hitting the notes, the high
ones. Listening well so that we can stay on pitch. The rhythm and
timing of a piece is an asceticism all its own. Though not everyone will
think he or she can read the music, we at least begin to get the idea that a
quarter note is one beat and what it looks like to hold one. Even for
those who are professional and students of music and song, it takes discipline
and co-operation to respond to the demands of the music.
Then there is the theology of the Eucharistic Celebration.
We have come to understand that music is not icing on the
cake, something ancillary, but rather an integral part of the celebration.
Music enhances the word, for music is intensification of the spoken word.
A Mass without music lacks the celebration, the joy, the soul of one where music
lifts our soul or invites us to mourn or whatever feeling is evoked by the Word
in Scripture. Is Jesus healing? Jesus challenging? Suffering?
The music can capture these moods and help us enter in on an emotional level
that no other medium can.
Now that we know that all are called to celebrate:
The 1967 Instruction on the Worship of the Eucharistic
Mystery said that the Mass is simultaneously ‘ a sacrifice, a memorial,
and a banquet.’ In the Mass, therefore, the sacrifice and the sacred meal
belong to the same mystery-so much so that they are linked by the closest bond’
#2. The Mass is the action not only of Christ but also of the Church;
Christ and his Church are both priest and victim #3. The 1969 Instruction
on the New Order of the Mass said that the meaning of the Eucharistic Prayer ‘is
that the whole congregation joins Christ in acknowledging the words of God and
offering the sacrifice. #54.
These points were startling to us when we first heard
them. We are so used to focusing on the power of the priest that to think
of ourselves as offering the Mass together, being priest and victim ourselves,
because of our baptism, is astounding. Where do we draw the line with the
statement that the whole congregation joins Christ in acknowledging the words of
God and offering the sacrifice. #54?
“The early Christians were very much aware that the
sacrifice of the Eucharist was truly ‘theirs.’ granted the bishop (or
later priest) celebrant played a unique role, the entire assembly was seen as
celebrating the mystery of Christ, and this because of the fact that the
faithful were one with Christ. ...The Mass was theirs because it was the
sacrifice of Christ, and they had put on Christ; they had become his body in
baptism. The leader of the Eucharist was the leader of the community.
The emphasis was on unity. The figure who gives unity to the community
also presides in the sacrament of church unity, the Eucharist (Ministry,
Schillebeeckx, p. 49)
Unity: This is key for music, no pun intended.
Music is part of this unity and it is meant to bring us to a deeper unity by our
singing together. For example, singing at communion, though very
challenging to some, is for that very reason important, because we are singing
together about our deepest moment of unity, if we truly understand what
communion means. If we don’t we feel intruded upon when asked to sing at
this very ‘personal’ moment. That is a misunderstanding of the meaning of
We remember, however, that gradually, the priest gets
placed outside the circle, offering ‘for’ the people. Not within the
community. Yet as late as the 11th century we still hear things like this:
“The priest does not consecrate by himself, he does not offer by himself, but
the whole assembly of believers consecrates and offers along with him” (Guerricus
of Igny, sermon 5; PL 185.57) This is a late date, but is an exception.
During the 12th and 13th centuries people came to see the Mass more and more as
the Mass of the priest. For them it was the pries who celebrates, in
virtue of his priesthood, which is a participation in the priesthood of Christ.
Now this affects music and participation. If the
priest is the celebrant then he is the one to sing. We are just watching
him. IF it is not our celebration then this will affect our participation.
For example: “We Are Many Parts, we are all one body, and the gifts
we have we are given to share. May the Spirit of love makes us one indeed;
one, the love that we share, one, our hope in despair, one, the cross that we
If we raise the question are we what we sing? Then
we have to ask ourselves are we? We are all one body. We are one.
The priest is one within the community and not outside of it.
Theologically the shift in thinking was one from an
ecclesiology of of communion to one of powers. Schillebeeck speaks of this
whole question in view of the distinction between the power of ordination and
the power of jurisdiction. Opens the way to the private Mass, something
unthinkable to the early Christians. This makes the priest a figure not
‘of’ the community, but over and above the community. Note all of the
‘we’s’ in the Mass. These refer to the priest and the community.
‘We Come to You Father....’ Do most Catholics view
themselves as being the church? Do most view themselves as offering the
We offer ourselves and this is reflected in the music,
both in the music itself and how the music becomes the way we express our
sentiments and sacrifice. The Mass is like an opera with all its drama and
love and sacrifice and tragedy and betrayal. Music is the setting, the
way, the avenue for our rendering ourselves victim and we do this as priest
together with Christ the great High Priest. We do need an ordained priest,
please understand, we can’t have a Mass without a priest, but a priest normally
can’t have a Mass without us!
Remember the remarks I made last time about ‘Who offers
What?’ Late medieval Catholicism had a quite simple answer: ‘the priest is
offering Christ. The Reformers had a quite simple answer too: the
worshippers are offering, first their praise and then themselves. It is
not Christ that is being offered, he offered himself once for all upon the
Cross; all that we can do is to remember his offering with gratitude and
then offer ourselves. So, the unity of Christ with his church has fallen
to pieces. But St. Augustine says that the whole redeemed community, that
is the congregation and society of the saints, is offered as a universal
sacrifice to God through that great Priest, who also offered himself in
suffering for us, in the form of a servant, that we might be the body of so
great a head. This is the sacrifice of Christians: we being many are one
body in Christ. “We are many parts, we are all one body...”We are one
body, one body in Christ...’ ‘We are the young--our lives are a mystery,
We are the old--who yearn for your face, We have been
sung through out all of history Called to be light to the whole human
race. ‘Give us the courage to enter the song.’
So we are what we sing--the Body of Christ. So, also,
if we understand who offers what then, we understand that ‘’in that which
she offers she herself is offered.’ (St. Augustine). Not the priest
offering Christ, nor Christians offering themselves, but the whole Christ, Head
and members, offering the whole Christ to the glory of God the Father. The
whole Christ offering the whole Christ.
Many Catholics do not see themselves and their lives as
what is being offered. Many are too passive. It is like watching a
passion play on Channel 6. But is our mystery that is on the altar.
St;. Augustine: ‘There you are on the table, and there you are in the
chalice.’ ‘Be what you see, and receive what you are.’
Which brings us to communion songs: ‘Bread For The
World,’ Bernadette Farrell: “Bread for the world: a world of hunger.
Wine for all peoples: people who thirst. May we who eat be bread for
others. May we who drink pour out our love. v.1: Lord
Jesus Christ, you are the bread of life, broken to reach and heal the wounds of
human pain. Where we divide your people you are waiting there on bended
knee to wash our feet with endless care. v.2 Lord Jesus Christ, you
are the wine of peace, poured into hearts once broken and where dryness sleeps.
Where we are tired and weary you are waiting there to be the way which beckons
us beyond despair. v. 3: L. J. C. you call us to your feast, at
which the rich and powerful have become the least. Where we survive on
others in our human greed you walk among us begging for your every need.’