Magazine article Pastoral Music

African American Communities: Between Gospel and the Roman Missal

Magazine article Pastoral Music

African American Communities: Between Gospel and the Roman Missal

Article excerpt

In his book Somebody's Calling My Name, Wyatt Tee Walker discusses the significance of Black churches which are able to achieve a balance in liturgy through diverse music. He says: "The end product is a worship experience that is both intellectually challenging and emotionally satisfying."1 To this end, we constantly strive as a team to develop or discover new methods to deepen and refine the uniqueness and authenticity of the New All Saints Catholic liturgical experience. In the planning process, we strive to include the unique role of the praying community spiritually, physically, and mentally. While being true to Catholic liturgical guidelines, we employ African, African American, and Western musical heritage and tradition in ways that enhance, blend, and bring balance to the active worship expression of the gathered community.

This unique balance of various genres (forms of and forms in music) holds true to the document Sing to the Lord, which states: "The role of music is to serve the needs of the Liturgy and not to dominate it, seek to entertain, or draw attention to itself or the musicians."2 At New All Saints, we strive to realize what the Black Catholic Bishops of the United States stated in their 1984 letter, What We Have Seen and Heard, on celebrating the Sacred Mysteries: 'The celebration of the Sacred Mysteries is that moment when the Church is most fully actualized and most clearly revealed."3

Musically, the third edition of the Roman Missal offers an opportunity to the present generation of African American musicians to further enrich the liturgy. One key component in this is the ecumenical spirit of the "Black Church." According to What We Have Seen and Heard, the "Black Church" "has no denomination, [and] no formal structure. The Black Church is a result of our common experience and history-it allows Blacks to understand and appreciate each other... ."4

A New Richness

Today's generation of musicians in the Black Catholic community is able to pull from the rich musical heritage and diversity found in the "Black Church." This heritage and diversity offer a new richness that is not transplanted from Baptist, Methodist, ?r Apostolic/Holiness faith traditions. As Sister Thea Bowman states in "The Gift of African American Sacred Song," Black musical heritage and culture are "[a] song of the people."5 Today's generation of musicians has the advantage of being able to access the developments and contributions made to Western music and many other forms of sacred music over the past fifty years, contributions reflecting the achievements made as a result of the Black Consciousness movement of the 1960s and 1970s and the spirit of the Second Vatican Council.

For centuries, the world as we know it has been dominated by the thought, traditions, and worldview of Western Europe. This "classical culture" was rooted philosophically and artistically in ancient Greece. This culture developed a normative definition of God, humankind, the family, religion, and the state. The Roman Catholic Church embraced this view of the world. Through the years preceding the Second Vatican Council, the Church was a great preserver and reservoir of classical culture.

Today we live in a world that favors cultural and ethnic diversity. This pluralistic situation embraces multitudes of differing values, symbols, systems, and traditions-what many experience as confusion and frustration. We are in many ways witnessing the collapse of Western European traditions and philosophy as the shaping and guiding forces in the development and maintenance of a common meaning or understanding of the world.

What many church members once experienced as church-symbols, narratives, rituals, etc.-are now ambiguous at best. Many church members are experiencing this in forms of stress, disorientation, and uneasiness with the institutional church. Today's church is experiencing a lack of enthusiasm for new rites; declines in attendance; the growing necessity to provide new "rationales" for the continuance of certain once-accepted practices. …

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