Telling The Story

The_Exhortation_to_the_Apostles_-_James_TissotAt my new parish, the Liturgy Commission is reading and discussing Sherry Weddell’s book Forming Intentional Disciples. Discussion with intelligent and committed people is interesting. It often leads to suggestions for what other people, other committees “should” be doing. But I go back to the group’s purpose, and mine. What does this book tell us about the parish’s liturgy? And for me, what impact does it have on the music we sing?

jester capI read it a few years ago. Getting another pass through the book has been a good personal reflection now that my ministry hat has changed from a three-pronged one to college students, in liturgy, and with music to just the latter.

One question the author asks has to do with Jesus and his story: do we tell it? For the past few months, I’ve been trying to select music with more a thought to this. Which songs tell the story of Jesus? Perhaps this question surfaced with my exploration of (and dissatisfaction with) some closing songs. I don’t like music that tells people what to do. The universal call to holiness suggests that people learn to listen to God and move on the impulses of grace and discernment.

I confess I didn’t choose Triduum songs with the “tell the story” principle. But some seemed to come out okay anyway.

  • Tonight, Bob Hurd’s “Ubi Caritas”  which includes direction on where to find God. Does this work?
  • Tomorrow, a repeat from Palm Sunday: SLJ’s “Jesus the Lord.” I can think of no song that tells the story better. I’m also thinking it needs to be sung more often than twice a year.
  • Easter Vigil has lots of psalms, but this old chestnut will get voiced during the Communion procession, though not with Richard Proulx and his choir and orchestra. Let the Master tell his own story, eh?

You readers may not have read the book, but you all know the story of Jesus. What piece do you find tells the story of Jesus? Comment if you wish, especially if your hearing was significant in a personal way.

Large image credit.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to Telling The Story

  1. charlesincenca says:

    I, of course as a loyal Californian, endorse Dr. Hurd’s re-set as a faithful anamnesis of who we are, what we believe and what we do. The SLJ doesn’t fail either, but Roc’s very protracted refrain is a hurdle for most congregants, IMHO. I’m also partial to MD Ridge’s fairly recent contribution, THREE DAYS (to Thaxted) that encapsulates the Pasch wonderfully.
    Conversely the banal “Song of the Body of Christ” needs total retirement, tho’ its intent may be explicitly conformed to your premise. Happy Pasch TF, Anita and Young Miss.
    C

  2. Liam says:

    A non-Scriptural one that springs immediately to mind, a 20th-century (well, the text is 17th century) English-language classic from the get-go – the middle couple of the first verse is one of the all-time killer versicles:

    My song is love unknown,
    My Savior’s love to me;
    Love to the loveless shown,
    That they might lovely be.

    O who am I, that for my sake
    My Lord should take, frail flesh and die?

    He came from His blest throne
    Salvation to bestow;
    But men made strange, and none
    The longed for Christ would know:
    But O! my Friend, my Friend indeed,
    Who at my need His life did spend.

    Sometimes they strew His way,
    And His sweet praises sing;
    Resounding all the day
    Hosannas to their King:
    Then Crucify! is all their breath,
    And for His death they thirst and cry.

    They rise and needs will have
    My dear Lord made away;
    A murderer they saved,
    The Prince of life they slay,
    Yet cheerful He to suffering goes,
    That He His foes from thence might free.

    Here might I stay and sing,
    No story so divine;
    Never was love, dear King!
    Never was grief like Thine.
    This is my Friend, in Whose sweet praise
    I all my days could gladly spend.

    Text: Samuel Crossman, 1664
    Music: John Ireland, 1918

  3. Liam says:

    And to add a more elliptical, but no less substantive, text from the 20th century:

    Morning glory, starlit sky,
    Soaring music, scholar’s truth,
    Flight of swallows, autumn leaves,
    Memory’s treasure, grace of youth:

    Open are the gifts of God,
    Gifts of love to mind and sense;
    Hidden is love’s agony,
    Love’s endeavour, love’s expense

    Love that gives, gives evermore,
    Gives with zeal, with eager hands,
    Spares not, keeps not, all outpours,
    Ventures all, its all expends.

    Drained is love in making full,
    Bound in setting others free,
    Poor in making many rich,
    Weak in giving power to be.

    Therefore he who shows us God
    Helpless hangs upon the tree;
    And the nails and crown of thorns
    Tell of what God’s love must be.

    Here is God, no monarch he,
    Throned in easy state to reign;
    Here is God, whose arms of love,
    Aching, spent, the world sustain.

    Text: W.H. Vanstone, adapted from a poem in his book, Love’s Endeavour Love’s Expense (1977). [1999 obituary: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/obituary-canon-bill-vanstone-1079750.html%5D
    Music: Barry Rose (then-organist of St Paul’s Cathedral, London)

  4. Melody says:

    A song that gets a lot of positve comments from our parish during the Easter season is In The Breaking of The Bread, which is the story of the journey to Emmaus. I like both of Liam’s links, unfortunately they aren’t in the music edition that we use. I guess one person’s old chestnut is another person’s well loved favorite, I like singing the alto harmony in I Am The Bread of Life. But I agree with Charles that The Song of The Body of Christ is bo-ring. There are literally only two notes in the alto harmony. I go on auto-pilot with it, which isn’t good.

    • Liam says:

      As darkness descends on Good Friday, I find myself drawn to the supernal final chorus and chorale of JS Bach’s St John Passion, which is unfortunately a bit less well known than the monumental St Matthew Passion from later in his life. The St John Passion has the more piercing emotional and spirituality. Bach also respects the temporal placement of the two passions – with St John being the hinge to Easter in a way that the St Matthew is not, liturgically.

      The final chorus is a sublime lullaby. And then it leads to a simple but powerful chorale that pivots to Easter.

      I cannot help but tear up at the second half of the chorale that begins “Alsdenn vom Tod erwecke mich Daß meine Augen sehen dich In aller Freud, o Gottes Sohn, Mein Heiland und Genadenthron!” (And then from death awaken me, That with mine eyes I may see thee In fullest joy, O God’s own Son, My Savior and my mercy-throne!). It never fails to slay me. It takes practice to sing it without choking up.

      !https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=arrA7DBmeNI
      (the choral begins at the 6:57 mark)

      Chorus:
      Ruht wohl, ihr heiligen Gebeine,
      Die ich nun weiter nicht beweine,
      Ruht wohl und bringt auch mich zur Ruh!
      Das Grab, so euch bestimmet ist
      Und ferner keine Not umschließt,
      Macht mir den Himmel auf und schließt die Hölle zu.

      (English metrical paraphrase – the German has more gravity to it:
      Rest well, ye holy bones and members,
      Which I henceforth shall never weep for,
      Rest well and bring me, too, to rest!
      The tomb which for you is assigned,
      And henceforth no distress will hold,
      Doth open heav’n to me and shut the gates of hell.}

      Chorale:
      Ach Herr, laß dein lieb’ Engelein
      Am letzten End die Seele mein
      In Abrahams Schoß tragen,
      Den Leib in seim Schlafkämmerlein
      Gar sanft ohn ein’ge Qual und Pein
      Ruh’n bis am jüngsten Tage!
      Alsdenn vom Tod erwecke mich,
      Daß meine Augen sehen dich
      In aller Freud, o Gottes Sohn,
      Mein Heiland und Genadenthron!
      Herr Jesu Christ, erhöre mich (2x for emphasis! it’s an urgent plea!),
      Ich will dich preisen ewiglich!

      (The German is more vivid that this metrical paraphrase:
      Ah Lord, let thine own angels dear
      At my last hour my spirit bear
      To Abraham’s own bosom,
      My body in its simple bed
      In peace without distress and dread
      Rest till the day of judgment!
      And then from death awaken me,
      That with mine eyes I may see thee
      In fullest joy, O God’s own Son,
      My Savior and my gracious throne!
      Lord Jesus Christ, give ear to me,
      I would thee praise eternally!)

      • Melody says:

        Liam, thanks for the link to this part of St. John’s Passion. I wasn’t very familiar with it, will have to listen to more of it. The music and the words you cited are indeed beautiful.

  5. Melody says:

    Beautiful traditional Polish Good Friday hymn:

    It’s a lullaby, a song for the sorrowful mother, Mary’s words as Jesus is laid in the tomb, “Goodnight, holy head of my Jesus…”

  6. FrMichael says:

    Bach had a St. John’s Passion? Went to the link and listened: outstanding! Thanks for the link and Happy Easter!

    • Liam says:

      Oh, it’s no less a work of genius than the St Matthew Passion – its structure is different because the text and narrative are different, and not in minor ways. There’s not the use of massive multiple-choirs (the piercing opening chorus is more straightforward, for example, but more harrowing), and many lovely chorales (but not the “Passion Chorale”) and I think the arias are even better than those in the St Matthew. Here’s the last aria (there are three grieving arias after the death of the Lord, and this just slays the attentive listener….):

      Zerfleiße, mein Herze, in Fluten der Zähren
      Dem Höchsten zu Ehren!
      Erzähle der Welt und dem Himmel die Not:
      Dein Jesus ist tot!

      Dissolve, my heart, in floods of tears
      to honor the Highest!
      Tell the world and heaven the anguish:
      Your Jesus is dead!

      ***

      With that, a happy and blessed Easter to everyone!

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