All That’s Old Is Good

NLM discusses pre-conciliar children’s music, this First Communion hymn:

Jesus so tenderly calls me to Him, He calls each one! 

Strength to be faithful comes from Jesus’ dear love alone.

As the warm sunshine feeds tall lilies, the violet blooms,

So my heart’s love will give its sweetness when Christ’s love comes.


In the round world on ev’ry Altar our Jesus stands,

Stretching to us, the little children, His eager hands.

Where the lamp glows before the Chalice with light and heat

There will I run to throw myself at dear Jesus’ feet.


When I have gone to Jesus, Jesus Himself will come,

Bethlehem‘s star will follow, follow us to our home.

If my heart’s joy is with the Saviour by day and by night

Jesus will live with me forever, my food, my light.

I have to say I don’t find this to be a tremendous improvement over Young People’s Glory and Praise. The reform2 folks are falling over themselves to analyze the arrangement, which is typical of many music folk. Not worth it. A liturgist will look at the text and the melody and that’s probably the end of it in this case.

I’m not really in favor of a separate repertoire for things like school Masses, much less a First Communion. A piece like this would probably not make it to first base on my ball field. But if it did, I’d have a problem with the Scripture allusions: very superficial. Carey Landry does a better job weaving Scripture into his children’s music. Psalm 23. Psalm 34. Psalm 103. These are all better choices for texts for children’s music.

The yoking of Spring and Christmas is a bit cool, but the sentimentality of the song is the real hurdle. Kids might sing it, but the real appeal is the parents’ heartstrings. Frankly, I’m amazed this piece is so well regarded at NLM.  This would hardly be considered a treasure of sacred music. It died out because the next music director had another sentimental favorite to insert for First Communion. End of story.

The tune, attributed as a Spanish carol, is probably a folk song. The melody is serviceable and translates better to guitar and an authentic folk style than the given arrangement–which rather reminds me of Dan Schutte. I’d lower the key to E major and give it a nice Spanish style. After I paraphrased a psalm to fit the melody.


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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11 Responses to All That’s Old Is Good

  1. Eric says:

    Strength to be faithful comes from Jesus’ dear love alone.

    Huh? This is what they consider the remedy to “bad theology” of other songs? And while they criticize more contemporary hymns because they do not spell out Eucharistic theology with Thomistic precision, this is OK when it talks about hearts giving sweetness? And what about all their moanings over songs written in the first person? Or their complaints about “dumbing down” elementary-level catechesis?

    Had to laugh out loud to the chalice being mentioned but not the bread — this from people who shun the cup as though it were evil. I also could not get out of my head this image of Jesus standing on the altar like a box dancer.

    So they think Bob Hurd is schmaltzy but this is wonderful? Oy veh!

  2. Cantor says:

    I have to say, I agree with this post. I don’t see why so many TNLMers are so approving of this one. It feels like 1950s schmaltz to me, the same stuff I played at a funeral earlier today.

  3. Ephrem says:

    The problem, usually, with the more contemporary hymns is their complete lack of sentiment.

    “We are called
    We are chosen
    Everybody here.

    We are justice
    We are light
    We are God’s people!”

    Okay–actually all that is pretty true. But can we talk a little less about the sort of theological implications of grace? And instead, can we sing about the joy of salvation? How delightful it is to be brought into Communion with the living God?

    That is what statuary and devotions give people an opportunity to do, and what most of our current art, including music, gives no opportunity for: delight in the joy of salvation. This hymn is at least a step in the devotional direction. It’s not perfect, but I do find it refreshing.

  4. aplman says:

    “This hymn is at least a step in the devotional direction. It’s not perfect, but I do find it refreshing.”

    The “devotional” is an interesting category for judging liturgical music. I wonder how Ephrem defines devotional here and how devotional art/music does/should relate to the liturgy. I’m not anti-devotional, but I tend to think of it as something that compliments the liturgy rather than as being part of it.

  5. Jimmy Mac says:

    You think that was bad? You should have suffered through THESE treasures that were all the rage during my formative years:

    Mother Dearest, Mother Fairest
    Mother Dear, O Pray For Me
    On this Day, O Beautiful Mother
    ‘Tis the Month of Our Mother
    Bring Flowers of the Rarest
    Immaculate Mary
    Holy Mary, Mother Mild
    Hail, Queen of Heaven
    O Queen of the Holy Rosary
    O Sanctissima
    Daily, Daily, Sing to Mary
    I’ll Sing a Hymn to Mary
    Dear Guardian of Mary

  6. Eric says:

    I agree with aplman. The dreadful songs Jimmy Mac mentions are fine for devotional use (de gustibus non est disputandum). If you like them, sing them at home. If the Legion of Mary wants to sing “Bring Flowers of the Rarest” at their Tuesday morning meeting, good for them. Give them a place in the parish hall and if I’m there, I’ll sing along with them even though I don’t like the song. But liturgical music should not be devotional, it should be liturgical. Devotions have their place, but it is not in liturgy.

    Still, no one has commented on the dreadful theology of this song. “Strength to be faithful” does not come “from Jesus alone.” It comes from the Holy Spirit. This song is pure Christomonism, sugar-coated. The oohings and awings of the folks at NLM over the theology of grace expressed in this song are wrong; grace comes from the Father. Now they’re all trying to rewrite the lyrics and improve the music of this song, but they miss the point: it’s just a bad song! They’re only enamoured of it because someone found it in an old hymnal from the 1920s. If it’s old, it must be good, even if we have to redo the lyrics and the composition. Puleeze! Once they redo the lyrics and music, what’s left of it but the nostalgia of old=better?

    Ephrem notes correctly the need for an interior connection to the lyrics of a song. But that is where art comes in. It is the role of the composer to make the lyrics real, to make them sing, literally. You can take any psalm, for example, and find compositions that will make you cry at its words and others that will leave you cold.

  7. Kathy says:

    Devotional means affective. We love God. We don’t tolerate God or answer His call as servants. God wants our friendship. He draws us, actively, as affective and thinking persons, both within the Liturgy and outside it.

    If you want to see really distant, non-relational language, look at most present-day Church music. Or at the “optional” collects of the Mass, the ones that were composed in English. If you want to see intimacy and tenderness, look at the Introits.

  8. Kathy says:

    (This is me–Ephrem)

  9. Pingback: The Affective Side of Liturgical Music « Catholic Sensibility

  10. Eric says:

    Sorry, Kathy, we are using different vocabularies. I’m referring to “devotional” as opposed to “liturgical,” as explained in Sacrosanctum Concilium. Used in a liturgical sense, devotions are private or common prayers that while helpful, are different from the public prayer of the Church: the Mass, sacraments, Liturgy of the Hours and the liturgical calendar. As a *general* rule, they’re supposed to be kept separate.

  11. Pingback: Look on the Bright Side « Catholic Sensibility

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