“It’s all about US!”: of Pastoral Plans and Eucharistic songs

Cardinal Pole has an interesting post on his blog analysing Bishop Ingham’s announcement of The Diocese of Wollongong’s Pastoral Planning process.

I am pretty “ho-hum” about these measures. “Pastoral Planning”, and all the energy that goes into it, often seems like a diversion from the real work of actually pastoral ministry. Whenever I hear someone say that “we need to pause, take stock and consider our journey ahead”, I wonder: Who’s got the time to pause? There’s too much work to be done! When you are in the business of evangelisation, you don’t have the luxury of being able to shut the shop doors for a stock-take.

That being said, the other thing that bugs me about “pastoral plans” is that they always seem to be full of pious waffle describing more or less what we are already doing – and thus they become moments of self-affirmation rather than a kairos of repentance and purification. This is, of course, where Cardinal Pole comes into the picture with this excellent comment:

Centred on the Eucharist

Where all should be welcomed, where our pain is acknowledged, where our brokenness is healed, where we are nourished by Word and Sacrament, and where our mission is renewed.

[http://www.dow.org.au/pastoralplanning/key-documents/dow-pastoral-planning/pp-theological-principles]

One might see “Centred on the Eucharist” and think ‘ah, good—centred on the Eucharist means centred on God, which is as it should be’. But notice how, as they say, ‘it’s all about us’—about “our pain”, “our brokenness” (whatever that means; more on this shortly), “where we are nourished”? How Holy Mass is considered not as a Sacrifice of adoration, thanksgiving, propitiation and impetration and therefore directed to and focused on God, but as a sort of group therapy whither we can all go for ‘affirmation’ (especially evident where it says “where our pain is acknowledged, where our brokenness is healed”, so that we indulge ourselves in our own imagined victimhood, distracting us from the true Victim on Whom our entire attention should be focused at Mass)? So ‘Centred on the Eucharist’ is, bizarrely, nothing of the sort—it is centred on us.

Here’s a thought, your Eminence: How much of this sort of rhetoric around the Eucharist do you think might be a direct result of the songs that are so often sung at the Eucharist in our Catholic parishes? Just as dropping “men” from the Creed has led some to think that Jesus became incarnate only for us Christians, so constantly singing about “all being welcome”, about “healing our hurts”, about “acknowledging our pain” etc. has affected our Eucharistic theology.

So a quick glance at Gather Australia gives us:

No. 192 “For the bread and wine and blessing, for the friend around this table, for the peace and for the healing… When your love breaks through our darkness, when the broken come to wholeness…”
No. 200 “We come as your people, wecoe as your own, united with each other, love finds a home. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor,…”
No. 201 “Take this bread, come as you will.”
No. 202 “Take up your burden now, walk till you find just what the journey means; walk while there’s time” (That one gets my award for the most meanlingless drivel ever put to music)

It isn’t hard to see where this is all coming from…

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19 responses to ““It’s all about US!”: of Pastoral Plans and Eucharistic songs

  1. Matthiasq

    Drivel HQ is where it is from ,just as on sunday at Nunawading UCA there was a paraphrased edition of the LORD’S PRAYER just before the Lord’s Supper . It began by God being called ‘parent,Care Giver and Love Maker”. Yes God is Love but Holiness and Reverence should be accorded to Him.
    I at nearly 55,was the youngest person in the congregation. The UCA needs to look at itself and wonder why many of its churches have aged parishioners-no Gospel being preached,group therapy instead,a warm comfy social club. I noticed at your church Schutz a good cross section of the ages ,and at mine we have 100 + in the Sunday school. uhm Now i return you to Drivel HQ and the Driveller in chief-Geraldine Doogue ably assised by Father kennedy

  2. PM

    Paradoxically, it is all about us – but in the very oppposite of the way these drippy ‘hymns’ suppose. One of the Mass prefaces (which not even the ICEL could completely bowdlerise) reminds us that our worship adds nothing to God’s greatness or perfect happiness, but is enjoined on us so that we might grow in grace. (This is, of course, classical theology: God is perfect, infinite, eternal and impassible.)

    But we grow in grace by moving beyond self-congratulatory narcissism and acknowledging God as the source of all being and goodness and as our loving Father who has given Himself to us in His Son. “Is there anything you have that you have not received?”, asks St Paul.

    Newcomers to Aquinas are often puzzled that he groups religion as a subsidiary of the virtue of justice: we give to God that which is is due. But the point of a virtue is that it makes us flourish as the people we ought to be. And acknowledging our dependence on God – because we are creatures, and sinful creatures at that – is fundamental to Christian life.

  3. Christine

    Oh yes, those drippy hymns. Still got ’em over here, too. I went into total culture shock the first year in a Catholic parish when I was introduced to Oregon Catholic Press.

    No wonder Catholics don’t sing.

    Christine

    • I must say that I was both overjoyed and a little disappointed at my Lutheran experience while travelling in South Australia over Christmas. In my home parish, where there is a very capable organist and a Fincham pipe organ largely donated by my Grandfather, the hymns were a mixture of Paul Gerhardt, Luther, and a host of more modern ditties all in the same service. John Ylvisakers “Always Remember Me” is hardly suitable for the pipe organ.

  4. Christine

    Some of the favorites in what used to be my diocese:

    “Gather Us In” (love the lines about “Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven, light years away” — so much for the eschatological hope)

    “Sing A New Church Into Being” (the liberal pastor of the parish where I was received into the RC loved that one)

    Any of the bubbly songs by the St. Louis Jesuits

    We Have Come to Tell Our Story (which you list as No. 200 “We come as your people, we come as your own, united with each other, love finds a home. We are called to heal the broken, to be hope for the poor,…”)

    On Eagle’s Wings

    etc. etc. etc.

    The last parish I attended was becoming very enamored of evangelical praise songs.

    • “We have come to tell our story” probably sums up what is wrong with a lot of liturgical thinking in the past 40 years. There is much work to do, but at least there is some hope that this attitude might be on its way out. One sign of this is the requirement of Liturgiam Authenticam that all Bishops Conferences create a list of hymns which may be used in the liturgy. These lists require the approval of Rome. Our local list has just come back with lots of red biro over it. “We have come to tell our story” was not on the list submitted, let alone the list in its Vaticanised form.

    • Surely “Gather us in” must be one of the most pukesome.

      • PM

        Google the (unfortunately now defunt) Society for a Moratorium on the Music of
        Marty Haugen and David Haas for some side-splitting parodies. This is one of them

        Here in this place, our comfortable parish,
        All of the statues carried away,
        See in each face a vacuous visage,
        Brought here by guilt or by R.C.I.A.

        Gather us in, by Bimmer or Hummer,
        Gather us in, so we can feel good,
        Come to us now in this barren Zen temple,
        With only a shrub and an altar of wood.

        We are the young, our morals a mystery,
        We are the old, who couldn’t care less,
        We have been warned throughout all of history,
        But we enjoy this liturgical mess.

        Gather us in, our radical pastor,
        Gather us in, our unveiled nun,
        Call to us now, with guitars and bongos,
        Hang up your cellphones and join in the fun!

        Here we will take some wine and some water,
        Whether it changes, we really don’t care.
        But when the Sign of Peace comes, our pastor,
        Jumps from the altar and hugs like a bear.

        Gather us in, the privileged and snobby,
        Gather us in, the liberal elite,
        Help us to form our personal Credo,
        Give us a choice between white bread and wheat.

  5. matthias

    Yes drippy drivelling hymns- we have a very pleasant and earnest young man who sings hymns that are of this nature.
    What annoys me,is that not on are these hymns awful and mournful but it is repitition that is equally annoying .Which is why i enjoyed-have i already said that- the cantoring with Schutz at his church.
    I note that some of these hymns emmanate from Hillsong’s Darlene Zwerck.
    In the book PEOPLE IN GLASS HOUSES,the writer quotes a friend-a staunch Anglican-angry at the hymns coming from hillsong,which this person labelled a cult.
    Can we access the hymns written by the organist at Adelaide’s Catholic cathedral? Secondly is there going to be another blognic this year Schutz?

  6. Kyle

    I have had some strange experiences with ‘liturgical’ music in my parish. We have had the theme songs from Shrek and Titanic and throughout the whole of Advent, the only songs we had were “O come Emmanuel’ and another which sounded like a 70s pop song. Hearing them for weeks on end becomes a torture!

    I agree with Pole — the Mass has to be Christ-centered. In the Eucharistic rite, we are receiving the Real Presence, offered up as a sacrifice to God, same in form to that at Calvary. I suspect most Catholics are unaware of this sacrificial dimension, viewing Mass as just the paschal meal reenacted. But at the same time, it is not wrong for us to want to be healed and nourished. Often Masses are dedicated to a particular intention, particularly to people who have died or are ill. Miracles have been attributed to such votive Masses in the past! We should not overlook the fact that the Eucharist can heal; it takes away venial sin; it nourishes the soul.

    My opinion, then, is that the mission statement is right, but lacking. It acknowledges the power of the sacrament to heal and nourish but does not recognise the importance of the sacrament as a real sacrifice. And as Pole later points out, it does not remind people that the Eucharist not be received when the communicant is in mortal sin. The pastoral statement is a bit empty with acknowledging this.

    Obviously too, music with lyrics like ‘Come as you are, that’s how I want you’ are just self-affirming nonsense which overlook Christ’s call to a radical change of life. Christ didn’t say ‘Be yourself’ but asked ‘Are you able to drink the cup of suffering which I must drink?’

    • Kyle

      I meant to say ‘The pastoral statement is a bit empty without acknowledging this.’

    • We have had the theme songs from Shrek and Titanic

      !!!!

    • matthias

      Thank you Kyle for your explanation and comments about the Mass needing to be Christ centred .They are just as pertinent in the Protestant perspective as I see it.
      As for the taking of Communion whilst a person is in sin, I note that when my church has Communion there is adequate reference to Christ centredness but none to a need to confess our sins. I note that the Amish,on the 2 Sundays prior to their Communion Sunday,exhort their congregation to reflect ,to seek forgiveness of sins,to pray and to be reconciled with each other. You would see here a similarity to the confessional-i hope

  7. Kiran

    Hmm… Unsurprisingly, I agree with PM. We are the point (As Staniloue puts it, man is mediator and priest of the Cosmos), but not in the way that modern songs suggest. And it is not “we” as “me and me mates” but we as “Citizens of the City of God” that is constituted by the One True Sacrifice of Christ in the Mass.

    All of the things mentioned in the “drippy” hymns matter of course, but (a) they are very much individual, not communal. (b) they are still pre-Resurrection, if you like. The “we” of them is still at that childish stage of “I am coming in” than in the mature stage of delighting in God, or trying to grow closer to Him.

  8. Pole is spot on with all this.

  9. christine

    “We have come to tell our story” probably sums up what is wrong with a lot of liturgical thinking in the past 40 years. There is much work to do, but at least there is some hope that this attitude might be on its way out.

    I hope that is true for you in Australia, David, but I’m betting that whatever Rome “approves” or doesn’t “approve” it won’t make a lot of difference in the U.S.

    The liberal pastor who received me into the church runs a large parish of whom many members are highly educated professionals and have high incomes. The bishop is quite impressed at the revenue this parish brings in. The pastor is very devoted to social justice issues and the bishop is impressed by that too. They won’t mess with this parish.

    I don’t see the pastor removing the praise band that plays and sings at the Saturday vigil any time soon.

    Oh, that reminds me of anther song that irritates me even more than “We Have Come to Tell Our Story” and that would be “Won’t You Let Me Be Your Servant” — bleccchhhh.

    I don’t miss this stuff at all, not one bit.

    The Catholic church needs to catechize her people better with Scripture in order to swing the pendulum back.

    I am acquainted with a lady who converted from the Anglican tradition about the same time I swam the Tiber and we both agreed that aside from the glorious music we knew before we also missed the company of lay people who enjoyed discussing Scripture, theology and church history and how they inform our faith and no, that doesn’t mean every Lutheran is a scholar either but our Pastors do a very good job of making us eager to get beyond the bare minimum.

  10. christine

    Matthias, “This Is The Air I Breathe” by Darlene Zschech is a favorite of the cantors at Assumption Parish here. They just ‘wuv’ that Pentecostal stuff! I switched to this parish from my former one thinking because it was run by the Benedictines I wouldn’t encounter any of this stuff. No such luck.

    Hillsong and Vineyard music supplements are very prominent in Catholic parishes here. Lex orandi may be tied to lex credendi, but the kinds of hymns a parish sings can also subtly change what people believe.

    • matthias

      Thanks for that Christine and for spelling Darlene’s surname correctly, Shows how familiar i am with it when i cannot spell it properly.
      Schutz and I sang a song written by the organist at the Adelaide Catholic cathedral and it is a wonder that her stuff is not taken up by Catholic parishes . Her name is i think Jennifer O ‘Brien,just in case you come across any of her hymns.

  11. Christine

    Hi Matthias,

    I still think any church body that you are a member of is lucky to have you 🙂

    These days I am again relishing the hymns of Paul Gerhardt and Philip Nicolai. I heard “Wake, Awake” during Advent for the first time in ten years and I was overjoyed. I know some Catholic parishes are fortunate to have this magnificent hymn in their repertoire as well.

    The way Lutheran hymns are grounded in Sacred Scripture and teach and nourish the faith is just marvelous.

    Christine