With superb new liturgical settings created for the Roman Missal Third Edition, why are some churches continuing to use atrocious theatrical melodies for the Confiteor, the Kyrie, the Gloria, and the Sanctus, and why do we continue to sing inappropriate hymns?
Two Sundays past it was “Lord of the Dance” (1963), a “hymn” with lyrics by British poet Sydney Carter set to the music of the 1848 Shaker hymn, “Simple Gifts,” by Elder Joseph Brackett. For all I know, some Catholic congregations may actually dance liturgically to the song, although probably not with elegant Shaker spinning, a more languid version of Dervish whirling – the one meant to shake out sin, the other to be an eddy of ecstasy.
But why is Carter’s tune in a Catholic hymnal? It’s bad enough that the book in use at my Church (from GIA Publications) also includes “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” by that well-known “Catholic” de-composer Martin Luther. But Carter’s gloss on Shakerism is also a tribute to Shiva, the destroyer god of Hinduism, which is why the poet was flabbergasted when Anglican churches began singing “Lord of the Dance”:
I thought many people would find it…probably heretical and anyway dubiously Christian…[but] it’s the sort of Christianity I believe in. …I see Christ as the incarnation of the piper who is calling us. He dances that shape and pattern which is at the heart of our reality. By Christ I mean not only Jesus; in other times and places, other planets … other Lords of the Dance.
Pantheism instead of “Panis Angelicus”? Why?
Still there’s a line in “Lord of the Dance” that struck a chord in me: “It’s hard to dance/With the devil on your back.”
Last week while attending pre-op appointments at New York’s Hospital for Special Surgery (preparatory to a partial knee replacement), I kept thinking about that lyric. I was x-rayed, scanned, probed, tested, and pronounced a perfect candidate for the procedure. If only somebody could do the same for my soul.
It would be great to have a doctor of the Church pinpoint which of the sinful thoughts that pass through my perfervid brain arise from my own fallen nature and which are the whisperings of the demon assigned to torment me. I don’t mean to make light of this, but it would be great to have a holy diagnostician whip out his prescription pad and say: “Okay, Brad, I’m sending you to the cathedral clinic for a partial exorcism. It’s not just arthritis that has you wobbling; you’ve been dancing with a devil on your back.”
Since the surgery, I’ve been squirrelly – you know, like when those fluffy-tailed rodents run out into the street in front of your car, get alarmed and dash back the way they came, reach the place they’d just left, and then do a few frantic circles before scampering up a tree. Cross street! Yikes! Run! I know this place! Where am I? Climb! Where are my nuts??!! And squirrels are like that without Percocet.
I stand in the bathroom. I pick up my toothbrush but realize the minty-fresh taste is already in my mouth. I hobble downstairs. My wife says:
“That was quick.”
“I guess…I couldn’t sleep.”
“Sweetheart, you were up there for all of three minutes.”
“Is that what I’m trying to remember?”
Two nights before in the hospital recovery room I lie awake watching the screen monitoring my “vitals” and find I can use it like a biofeedback machine. I went to Confession the day before, so my conscience is clear, but I have memories of mortal sins and use them to spike the readouts of my breathing, pulse, and blood pressure. I make the machine beep. A night nurse, thinking I’m asleep, hisses: “Make up your mind already with the heart rate.” My pulse is 73 at one point and 113 at another.
As the effects of the epidural painkillers wear off, I am well and truly agitated. Yes, prayer and contemplation have calmed my heart, but the visceral reaction to thoughts of sins three or four decades past, sins all but forgotten and long ago forgiven – this anxiety sets off inner alarms. Not merely an exercise in Augustinian-style remembrance, but a rather more serious revelation of despair.
Augustine wrote in his sermon on 1John (my paraphrase):
A father beats a boy; a pedophile caresses him. If you consider only the blows and embraces, who wouldn’t favor embraces? But consider the actual persons: it’s love that strikes the child and sin that caresses him. . . . Many things are done that look good but don’t come from love. Then again, thorns have flowers: savage discipline may come at the bidding of love. Once and for all, then, here’s a precept: Love and do what you will.
Long ago at the Newman Center of a large Midwestern university, I heard a priest turn the Latin version of the precept (properly “Dilige et quod vis fac” but mistranslated by him as “Ama et fac quod vis”) into a sick joke:
“Emphasis on the doing,” he insisted, “so get out there and fac, fac, fac!” The only time I ever heard snickering at Mass.
The recovery room was full of moaning patients behind curtains, and I still couldn’t move my legs. Not the Atlanta train-station scene in Gone with the Wind – there’s no death looming here – but for Allan Bradford Miner (full name for insurance purposes), there is the grave realization that I doubt my worthiness for forgiveness.
Then an Extraordinary Minister is there, as I’d requested, and I repeat the Centurion’s words, proclaiming myself unworthy that God should enter under my roof. And He has said the word, and I am healed.