I've recently been strapping on the swamp boots to wade through something called Glory and Praise, perhaps the most commonly used Roman Catholic hymnal in the United States and Canada. Oh, it is sloppy and noisome work, logging the bathos, stupidity, banality, heresy, and textual vandalism. I've concluded, though, that there is one factor that touches every problem, something that helps explain these apparently disparate acts of mischief:
-- the neutering of old masculine language about mankind and even God
-- the heedless fouling up of the old poetry, to update a "thou" and a "thee"
-- the seizing of every chance to talk about dancing (not to be found in the New Testament, I suspect, unless it's Salome) and about the motherhood of God"
-- in general, the louche emphasis upon feelings, not repentance, but soft and syrupy feelings
-- the blithe arrogation of God's words to ourselves, speaking in the first person
-- the arrogation of God's grace and majesty to ourselves: "We are the Bread, we are the Body"
-- the celebration of our own wonderfulness, and the decrying of sin -- that is, other people's sins
-- the abandonment of traditional liturgical forms, traditional poetry and song -- all relegated to the status of the "old fashioned," for trotting out, like Grandmama's silver, at certain feasts, and that's it
-- the passing along of counterfeit "folk" music, actually performance music, like "Do You Remember the Kind of September," only not nearly as good
-- the mincing baby-talk in the verses, along with a bogus primitivism, a la the Indians in Hollywood: "You are child of the universe."
It's narcissism, all of it. It's the pretty boy at the side of the pool, gazing upon his image in the water, ignoring his parents, the woman in love with him, the reality of the world around him. He wants to remain a pretty boy forever -- he wants a disembodied "union" with no ties to the past, no duties to his fellows, and no law to obey. It's music that encourages a choir full of American Idols, shimmying and shaking and calling attention to themselves, while envying one another (I'll bet some of our bloggers have stories about infighting among the twenty self-appointed soloists of a "Christian" choir).
What's missing from the hymnal? Oh, music, poetry -- and one thing above all: the Cross. The Cross sure does seem a fine cure for narcissism. In all our arguments about ordination and (in the Catholic church) lay "ministry," nobody ever says, "I want the right to be ordained a priest because I demand to be crucified!" Or, "I want to serve as a lector because I want to be crucified!" Hardly -- these things and many more are considered clerical plums that everybody ought to be able to pop in the mouth, if they choose. We are Church, don't you know, not to mention Bread and Body and God Almighty. If there is a single new "hymn" that is written in the shadow of the Cross, encouraging the taking up of what will leave your back stooped and your shoulders cut with splinters, I haven't seen it. Meanwhile, a part of my own crucifixion seems to be the necessity of listening to it all, and watching the performers. Silence would be infinitely better.