Sunday, February 29, 2004

Trashing Ashes Tom Conry's song gets a heap of criticism, and unjustly so. "Ashes" has become an anthem of sorts for Ash Wednesday, an automatic insert, a no-brainer for music planners. I might take exception to the blind planning of that hymn year after year. But it's not a bad option, even though it's not one of my personal favorites. One critic of some contemporary liturgical music has even suggested that the label "heresy" might be applied in some cases. My good friend Fr Jeff goes way off the boat in this. Here's why: Liturgical songs are not sung in isolation. They are hardly ever intended to ever be complete without the context of liturgy. People complain about Conry's line "We rise again from ashes to create ourselves anew." Does the song really suggest that people actually re-create themselves outside the agency of God? Of course not. Taken in context of the whole, Conry is clearly stating that a Christian has a responsibility to cooperate with God's grace, not to sit around on our ashes and wait for God to do it for us. May I suggest that critics here are a little worried that there's not enough "Catholic action" in their own lives? "Bread and wine" songs also get a lot of bad press. And I don't understand why. Critics would be far more uneasy about banning Eucharistic Prayer I (and most of the others) for its post-institution "heresy," referring to the consecrated elements as "bread" and "cup." A lamentable literalism has gagged the conservative wing of the Catholic Church. It's not pretty. And it's a threat to good liturgy for the entire Church. I don't have an attention-grabbing headline like "Heresy!" to attract your notice. But without a poetic expression of language in the rites and songs, we will find liturgy to be a far drier exercise, and hardly a worthy one of authentic worship. If I wanted a guarantor of phrase-by-phrase fidelity, I'd just chant the catechism recto tono every day. Here's my suggestion for those so ready to use the h-word. Try doing a better job yourself -- without quoting the catechism. If you don't like a song, there's a simple solution: just admit it's a question of personal taste and don't sing it or plan it.

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