Proclaim Christ, Respond in Love, Serve with Gladness

By Haas, David | Pastoral Music, April/May 2007 | Go to article overview
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Proclaim Christ, Respond in Love, Serve with Gladness


Haas, David, Pastoral Music


The song we sing is a song of conversion to Christ. The music we make plays the melody of God's lavish gift in Jesus. That song and that music have taken and continue to take various shapes, to draw new sounds into the one song of Christ. Most of us can name a particular piece of music that has deepened or may continue to deepen our spiritual life or has pointed our path to God. It is often difficult-sometimes impossible-to explain the unique power of music, but it is equally difficult or even impossible to deny its influence.

As pastoral musicians, we can name many pieces of music that have played an important part in our story as teachers, learners, and pilgrims. We could mention the simplicity of plainsong, the depth and gut-wrenching beauty of the Bach B Minor Mass, the contrapuntal strains of Palestrina, the sturdy and faith-filled stanzas of European hymnody, the aching cries of an African- American spiritual, and the canticles and psalms of Père Gelineau. We could add the ground-breaking songs of the early pioneers in the postconciliar renewal who set new texts in English to new styles of music-people like Sister Suzanne Toolan, Ray Repp, Joe Wise, Carey Landry, the Dameans, or Tom Parker. We would include the beautiful biblical songs of Father Lucien Deiss and the St. Louis Jesuits as well as the contemporary songs of Bob Hurd, M. D. Ridge, Tom Kendzia, Marty Haugen, and Michael Joncas. On our list would be the wonderful stirring choral anthems of Alexander Peloquin, Richard Hillert, and Richard Proulx as well as the Latino and bilingual songs of Jaime Cortez, Donna Peña, Eleazar Cortez, Peter Kolar, Mary Frances Reza, or Pedro Rubalcava. And there would also be the rousing and joyous contributions of Christopher Walker, Paul Inwood, Bernadette Farrell, Liam Lawton, and the rest of the gang from across the pond. Certainly we would want to include the Gospel treasures of Clarence Rivers, James Moore, and Leon Roberts and the gifts from Asia and the Pacific brought by Ricky Manalo, Joe Camacho, Christopher Willcock, and Rufino Zaragoza. We would not forget the provoking and challenging texts and tunes of Bernard Huijbers, Tom Conry, Huub Oosterhuis, Shirley Erena Murray, Sylvia Dunstan, Brian Wren, Ruth Duck, Tony Barr, and Rory Cooney or the contemplative and international treasures that come to us from Taizé and Iona; nor the welcomed music of the present generation of liturgical composers such as Tony Alonso, Lori True, Paul Tate, John Angotti, Jesse Manibusan, Bob Moore, Mike Mahler, and Janèt Whitaker. Every one of us can probably cite a song, hymn, psalm, or other liturgical song prayer that has helped to express, in our walk of faith, what words by themselves could not. While very few of us may be able to recite an entire psalm by heart (except, perhaps, Psalm 23), many of us would be able to sing all the verses of our favorite musical setting of one of these ancient prayer poems.

It is obvious for us that music holds tremendous power in the hearts and minds of worshipers, and even many people with no formal training in music hold strong and passionate opinions about what kind of music they believe is most suitable in liturgy and what kind should be discarded. Recently, the debate has become so intense at times that severe "style" or "music" wars have surfaced in many communities, where one "taste" group can even demonize the other.1 This intensity only underscores and illustrates the power-not always positive-that music has in our life as believing Christians.

For some people, of course, music in a liturgical setting exists only to support a pleasant sonic environment, providing musical "wallpaper" in which they can carry out their spiritual practices. But this is not the case for us. We pastoral musicians believe that approaching music's liturgical role as sung prayer is a critical element in the preparation and celebration of our liturgical and sacramental celebrations. As teachers, learners, and pilgrims, we also believe that music as sung prayer is deeply, profoundly, formational.

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