Some Songs Are A Struggle

In my new parish, there is ample repertoire I’ve not ever played or sung at Mass before. My predecessors built a significant body of music. By my count over four-hundred pieces over the past five years, excluding psalm settings. My judgment is that this leans to too much, but the parishioners have a rep for singing and liking to sing. So there’s that.

We celebrated a baptism at Mass a week-and-a-half ago–my first in this new setting. The pastor and I had a brief discussion on expectations in the rite. Essential I think is to employ a sung acclamation after the water bath. He didn’t seem enamored of this song which has been used in the past here. Half-kidding, I asked a musician if the pastor sang verse 1. He didn’t. As for the lyrics, were we to sing “I send you out” for the parents? Or the hope that a little infant was somehow commissioned as the Matthew 28:19 disciples were?

What I used instead was the Christmas season gospel acclamation with a verse from #4 of the songs from ancient liturgies. It seemed perhaps more fitting than the attribution of the baptismal formula to Jesus–something which the New Testament never reports he did. It also matched the feast.

I think some Catholics would sniff at the voice-of-God perspective. That’s not a killing point for me. I feel more bothered with an excess of catechetical songs, those that “teach” the assembly what they should do. And on that point, more the possible plethora in a repertoire, be it a parish list or a hymnal, than a single song.

I want to like John Angotti’s song. It’s a fun song to play and the people sing it with spirit. But it feels like a missed opportunity to me for a fine songwriter. To me, the music suggests a New Testament canticle, even if sung at a youth event or a religious ed congress. It also seemed short to me. Good songs need a bit more.

I inserted the first verse of “Be Not Afraid” for a few reasons. To lengthen the song. Because it fit musically. But mainly because it suggests that baptism and the struggle to become people of spirit or of hope is not easy, and involves crossing deserts, flooded rivers, and speaking up in difficult circumstances. We can be honest about discipleship: it can be very hard in spots and we can lose touch with our baptism and our reasons for living it out.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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