RCIA 597: Songs from Ancient Liturgies

img_6803This section gives seven “songs” for use in the RCIA. For research on a forthcoming article, I’ve corresponded with a few scholars on these, most notably Msgr Bruce Harbert of ICEL. He noted one was from an inscription at an ancient baptismal font, but he had no background on the others. Another liturgy professor I know judges them to be Eastern Christian in origin, but likewise, nothing specific. These “songs” first appeared in the infant baptism rite in the early 1970’s and were adopted into the adult rite without reference or much editing.

These first two are similar enough to be the same text. They also borrow from the language of the first letter of John, and have the same sense to them:

1. We believe in you, Lord Jesus Christ.
Fill our hearts with your radiance
and make us children of light!

2. We come to you, Lord Jesus.
Fill us with your life.
Make us children of the Father
and one in you.

This one I’ve seen set to accompany the Rite of Sprinkling at Sunday Mass. I’ve seen at least three good settings out there of this text, but no single one has caught the Catholic imagination, really:

3. Lord Jesus, from your wounded side
flowed streams of cleansing water;
the world was washed of all its sin,
all life made new again!

Nice trinitarian acclamation for baptism:

4. The Father’s voice calls us above the waters,
the glory of the Son shines on us,
the love of the Spirit fills us with life.

The only problem with the last text and this one following is the address of God. #5 is a little worse; I just don’t like the “preaching” tone which could easily be an interpretation along the lines of the many “priest” instructions in the rite. With a small change in wording (“stretch out your hand” to “clap your hands”) this could get very hokey very fast:

5. Holy Church of God, stretch out your hand
and welcome your children,
newborn of water and of the Spirit of God.

And another text giving instruction to the people:

6. Rejoice, you newly baptized,
chosen members of the Kingdom.
Buried with Christ in death,
you are reborn in him by faith.

This last one I like:

7. This is the fountain of life that floods the entire world,
the water that took its beginning
from the pierced side of Christ.
You, who are born again of this water,
place your hope in the kingdom of heaven.

This was actually the text I used for the first good liturgical song I ever wrote. I used Isaiah 55 and John 7:37ff as material for the verses. The concept of a “flexible” baptismal acclamation with optional verses may have been better than the actual music, but there you have it.

My honest sense with these texts as a whole is they’re largely inadequate. Why do I say that? They seem to be an afterthought–and not just because they’ve been placed in an appendix. What would have been helpful for all those sections referring to a “suitable song”  would be an inclusion of both psalm refrains, other Scripture texts, and suggestions for psalm verses. There are just too few of these, and not nearly enough for the stages of the initiation rites, especially the Lenten period. A section with twenty to thirty texts for all periods of the catechumenate would be a top-notch resource. Lacking that, we will have a lower bar as many, many composers set their own texts for use in the liturgies of initiation.

I doubt the next incarnation of RCIA will include more on this–this section of “songs from ancient liturgies” is mostly unchanged from the 1972 edition. Plus, there’s a decided attitude of clamping down from the CDWDS where beauty and creativity are concerned.

This concludes the Catholic Sensibility series on RCIA. American RCIA books include the national statutes, the section of particular liturgical law as defined by the US bishops for RCIA. We’ve alluded to some of these statutes as we’ve gone through the rites in more than 250 posts. Is there an outcry to review these 37 statutes? Or should we move on to the Order of Christian Funerals (OCF)?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
This entry was posted in post-conciliar liturgy documents, RCIA, Rites. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to RCIA 597: Songs from Ancient Liturgies

  1. Liam says:

    Congratulations!

    While your regulars have not commented a lot on the RCIA series, I believe it will be a valuable reference tool for those charged with its substance.

    My vote would be the OCF next, since it’s probably the most common ritual liturgy in use, and of course likely only to become more so. Just waiting for the days of a funeral Mass with multiple deceaseds, and multiple interments presided over by different deacons. Say 2025-2045?

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