Stones Instead of Bread: Reflections on Contemporary Hymns: Part V
by Mary Oberle Hubley
The powerful symbolism inherent in our Catholic cultural milieu lends itself wonderfully to poetic expression; and a mere textual nod here and there in its direction is enough for most Catholics to accept unquestionably the faulty text's real meaning.
Partly because of its upbeat, engaging melody and poetic text, Gather Us In1 has become immensely popular throughout the country. Nearly every other phrase of the text indulges in some kind of mumbo-jumbo; and not only is the melody exuberant, but the text positively exudes fresh triumph, well-being and glory.
Here in this place, new light is streaming, Now is the darkness vanished away. See, in this space, our fears and our dreamings Brought here to you in the light of this day. Gather us in, etc.... Call to us now, and we shall awaken, We shall arise at the sound of our (sic) name.
The second verse proclaims:
We have been sung throughout all of hist'ry, Called to be light to the whole human race... Give us the courage to enter the song.
The third verse blithely continues:
Here we will take the wine and the water, Here we will take the bread of new birth... Give us to drink the wine of compassion...
Not in the dark of buildings confining (?!) Not in some heaven (!), light years away (?) but Here in this place, the new light is shining, Now is the Kingdom, now is the day... Gather us in all peoples together, Fire of love in our flesh and our bone. (Emp. M.O.H.)
This pastiche of New Age mysticism, nods and curtseys to Christianity and breezy Gnosticism is the stone given to our Catholic faithful when they have a right to expect bread. Actually, it is also a pretty good example of the vaguely pentecostalist utopianism which historian Christopher Derrick, in an address entitled "Brave New Church" (given in 1989 to the Ronald Knox Society at Oxford) referred to as "revolutionary euphoria":
... I am suggesting that the last twenty-four years or so have been characterized by a spectacular outbreak of Revolutionary Euphoria within the Catholic Church... At any period, certain states of mind -- more or less Gnostic in tendency -- can generate compulsive need to see all history as divided into three epochs or aetates, of which the third and last and most perfect is now gloriously beginning. Among Christians, this becomes a conviction that the Dispensation of the Son -- with all those dogmas and restrictions and regulations -- is now giving place to the third and final Dispensation, that of freedom in the pure spirit. ... A great many of us behave exactly as though they believed it (that "the Second Vatican Council actually did usher in a new Dispensation in that full theological sense"), and always with much emphasis upon "the Council" as constituting the charter and liberation of their Brave New Catholicism.2
Examples of the "new" and dangerous music which is flooding our liturgies and churches are abounding. "Gather Us In" was found in the Oregon Catholic Press (published with Ecclesiastical Approbation) Music Issue 1990; and the very next song enjoins that
If you will follow me, follow where life will lead;
do not look for me among the dead, for I am hidden
in pain, risen in love. (Verse 1)
Or, how about this?
... if you would rise with me, rise through your destiny...3
To all falsity there is an element of truth, or else it would not be appealing. The ignorance and confusion of much of our Catholic faithful provide fertile ground for the pseudo-Mysticism and Gnosticism exemplified in many of the "contemporary" songs. References to religious belief are vague, and there seems to be a curious reluctance to mention God, Christ or the Church. There are also veiled slaps at the Church, and also at tradition, upon which, coupled with Scripture, the magnificent edifice of our Faith is built.
Where the Gnostic is concerned, there is no continuity, no tradition. History, including that of the Church, moves in stages, so to say, discountinuously. In Gnostic eyes, the destruction of what they see as the trappings of the past serves not infrequently for what you might call a kind of bastard-sacrament; an outward sign of the inward light that will flood their minds, then shine out on a brave New Church of their own making, when the rubble of the ages is cleared away from its past.4
The inchoate beginnings of this corruption may have been observable in the near bacchanalian frenzy just before, during and immediately following the Council, although no one at first noticed the absence of specifically Catholic themes -- those central to our Catholic identity -- in the new music. Our liturgies were shorn of musical hymns and songs to Mary, the Mother of God; to the angels, the saints, the Sacred Heart. It is as though the hastily assembled hack songs, borrowed Protestant music, spirituals and the like, produced a leveling effect upon our Catholic consciousness. Rather, generic texts without reference to the liturgical year or specific feasts became common, and the liturgical year was in fact demolished for our people as a result of the catastrophic pseudo- "reform" of the ecclesiastical calendar. Often now, Pentecost is indistinguishable from Easter, and even Easter from Christmas. Advent and Lent as penitential seasons have been destroyed.
1 Oregon Catholic Press, Ibid., by Marty Haugen, n. 320.
2 Christopher Derrick, "Brave New Church," Fidelity, Vol.8, n.8, July 1989 (Address given on 8 May, 1989).
3 Oregon Catholic Press, Ibid., by Bernadette Farrell. Published in England by St. Thomas More Centre, London. The text was "based on Luke 12:2-3."
4 Paul Crane, SJ, "The Mass: Old and New: 4," Christian Order: January 1990, Vol. 31, n.1; p. 25.