On Criticism, With Mary

I noticed a headline at a church music site and clicked the link. Leading off:

I checked our line-up for this weekend at my parish, and the Communion hymn is Landry’s “Hail Mary: Gentle Woman.” This seems to have become a staple at all Marian solemnities/feasts in my parish, and the people gush over it. To me, there are so many other good options. Landry’s text and music is just so “bleh” and syrupy to me.

I’m assuming this is rarely used by members of this forum.

You think?

A few observations:

  • The song is well over forty years old. It was composed within living memory of frequent devotions to Mary in North American Catholicism, and during an era when Scripture-based songs were surging to the forefront of published contemporary music. In my experience, it was adopted in some charismatic groups, so it had staying power as devotional life in Catholicism moved forward through the 80s. Like it or not, it was also an improvement musically and theologically on many devotional hymns in use. Nobody else wrote anything quite like it or as popular, so it stuck.
  • It has appeal because the initial text is familiar. The subsequent verses are credal to the extent they repeat things we know and believe about the Blessed Mother. People want a mother to be gentle and kind, and not everyone has this experience. The song aligns with what people expect of Mary in their personal prayer life. This spiritual connection is what contributes to the song’s popularity. It does this in a way the Magnificat does not. That may be a lament for Catholics of a more intellectual bent, but it is the reality on the ground. We were not a Scripture-oriented Church in the 70s, and we aren’t much of one today. Not yet. 
  • The song is also appealing because once you get past any flutter initiating phrases, the melody is easy and repetitive. Like many traditional Catholic devotional songs, it is not sung for musical complexity. It has more chords than, say “On This Day O Beautiful Mother,” which I know I can capably accompany on just three. 
  • Speaking of chords, Carey Landry’s song could be arranged in a less “bleh” and more attractive way for guitar or a keyboard instrument. And a choir, though it isn’t really a choral piece. But again, why would a musician bother? People who dislike the song wouldn’t waste their time. People who like it notice it works as is, and there’s not much motivation there to tinker with something that works.
  • As the thread wore on, I noticed criticism of another song or two. That’s the problem when people snipe. Other unresolved grievances surface and suddenly, it becomes a b****-fest. I do have serious concerns musically and theologically about many church songs, even ones I program and play. However, prudence dictates a more closed mouth, and in spiritual matters, a judgment reserved until I observe the whole picture. So yes, many songs like this won’t and don’t get sung when I’m sitting with an instrument in a darkened church or in my home. But you don’t need to know about them.
  • Critical threads like this contribute zero to evangelization. And less to the cultivation of courtesy. They can result in a feel-good exercise for those who emote. As the thread-starter opined, “bleh” to that.

That said, a curious observation when my parish’s bulletins shipped in yesterday. Not the 21st Sunday of Ordinary Time, but the Queenship of Mary. I think Mary is very much on the minds of many Catholics. Wedged as we are between the fourth and fifth Glorious Mysteries this week, the Gentle Woman in Heaven is perhaps a little more on our minds that usual. Don’t be shy or embarrassed about singing a devotional song or a love song.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Liturgical Music, social media. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to On Criticism, With Mary

  1. Liam says:

    One could add a Regina Caeli to one’s Angelus from Aug 15-22 if one wanted to…

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