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CNP Feedback - Quoting God

The "Feedback Box" on the CanticaNOVA Publications website has proven quite effective in promoting communications on a variety of subjects, and expressing concerns of liturgists and musicians. From time to time, we'll compile a few of these questions or comments and put them in public view, with the hope that others with similar concerns may benefit from their content.

Q. Dear CNP:

I've read some of the articles regarding the state of music in our Church in your Musical Musings section. I agree with a lot of it. However, when I read the article about "Voice of God" hymns, I began to wonder...what about some of the antiphons the Church has given us? For example, the proper Communion Antiphon for Holy Thursday (Evening Mass) is "This body will be given for you. This is the cup of the new covenant in my blood; whenever you receive them, do so in remembrance of me" (1 Cor. 11: 24-25).

What about some of the choral music recommended on this site (e.g. "Ego sum panis" by Byrd or "The Spirit of the Lord Is upon Me" by Elgar)? Or even some pre-Vatican II hymns like "Comfort, Comfort, Ye My People" or "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say"? I find it somewhat contradictory.

Thank you for the wonderful work you do in Christ's name and for His Holy Church.

Listening to God

A. Dear Listening:

Thank you for your kind words about the CanticaNOVA Publications.

You raise an interesting issue concerning the "Voice of God" hymns.

As a rule, the liturgy is arranged such that God speaks to us in the Scripture, and we respond in acclamations, antiphons, hymns and other liturgical music (like litanies and responses). Although this is a rule, it is not without some rare exceptions. For example, many of the Gospel verses, have the Lord speaking to us: "I am the light of the world, says the Lord; whoever follows me will have the light of life" [4 Lent A] and "You believe in me, Thomas, because you have seen me, says the Lord; blessed are they who have not seen me, but still believe!" [2 Easter]. Notice, however, that these quotes all cite the source directly: "... says the Lord." There is no doubt as to who is being quoted.

Most of the Communion Antiphons do the same: "I am the vine and you are the branches, says the Lord; he who lives in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit, alleluia." [5 Easter] and "I am the Good Shepherd, says the Lord; I know my sheep, and mine know me." [25 Ordinary Time].

During Holy Week, the Church becomes quite introspective in the texts chosen for liturgy. The Communion Antiphon for Holy Thursday that you mentioned directly echoes the great words of institution first uttered by Our Lord on that evening. In the Reproaches for Good Friday, the texts are written as if spoken by the Savior himself from the cross in his mystical union with the Father in the Trinity: "I led you out of Egypt, from slavery to freedom, but you led your Savior to the cross." These texts are highly unusual and represent an alteration (most likely intentional) in the liturgy, making it much more personal and intimate during this most sacred time. This is part of the drama and allure of the wonderful Holy Week liturgies. Certainly this special modification that the Church uses should not be extrapolated to the rest of the year, or even made "normal" by ubiquitous use.

The frequent use of "Voice of God" hymns in much contemporary liturgy ("I am the bread of life," "Be not afraid, I go before you always," "And I will raise you up on eagle's wings," "I, the Lord, of sea and sky") skews the normal pattern well beyond being a "purposeful exception" — it becomes the congregation speaking to one another "as God" on a regular basis.

Regarding some of the specific music you mentioned, while Our Lord speaks these words in the Gospel of Luke: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the Gospel to the poor," he is actually quoting a passage in Isaiah, which is the text Elgar uses. "Comfort ye, my people" has as its second line, "Speak ye peace, thus saith our God," putting the quote in proper perspective. "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say" is a clear citation of the speaker of the words.

Thank you for thinking about these issues and trying to make sense of a controversial topic.

Gary Penkala
CanticaNOVA Publications

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