Saturday, April 15, 2023

My Favorite Hymns?

A website called Catholic Utopia lists the following as favorite communion hymns in Roman Catholic parishes.  A brief review will find that most are newer hymns, written in folksy style, that express little of Roman Catholic doctrine about the Sacrament and either paraphrase Scripture or sing from the point of view of the person communing.  Further, it is clear that many of them tend to describe the Sacrament more as bread and cup than as Body and Blood.  Perhaps this is part of the reason why seven out of ten Roman Catholics in the pews think of the Sacrament as symbol rather than true flesh and blood of Christ.

  1.  All You Who Hunger
  2.  Broken For Me
  3.  Come, O Lord, To My Heart
  4.  Come To The Table Of The Lord
  5.  I Am The Bread Of Life
  6.  Gift Of Finest Wheat
  7.  Father And Life-Giver
  8.  Take This, All Of You
  9.  Soul Of My Savior
  10.  Deep Calls To Deep
  11.  Come To My Heart
  12.  Come To Me And Eat
  13.  Food Of Angels
  14.  Seed Scattered And Sown
  15.  Now In This Banquet
  16.  Happy Are They
  17.  One Bread, One Body
  18.  To Be Your Bread
  19.  Children Of God
  20.  Five Thousand People
  21.  Break Thou The Bread Of Life
  22.  Blanket Of The Lord
  23.  O Lord, I Am Not Worthy
  24.  Come To The Water
  25.  Take, Eat
  26.  Lord, Enthroned In Heavenly Splendor
  27.  Christ’s Love For Us
  28.  Feed On Me
  29.  Let Us Be Bread
  30.  O Lord, I’m Not Worthy
  31.  Bread That Was Sown

So what would you find if there was a Lutheran list?  For Lutherans, the answer is not so simple.  We do not have a Lutheran Utopia site to do the leg work for us.  Perhaps Concordia Publishing House could tell us some numbers for those congregations using and reporting through Lutheran Service Builder.  The end result would be a skewed result anyway since a goodly number of our congregations use contemporary Christian music not sourced through CPH or our official hymnal.  Further, since a high percentage of the those using such CCM songs are larger congregations, the numbers would be skewed since the Lutheran Service Builder program would tend to be used by people, well, using LSB but those not using LSB might have higher numbers than those who do.  Complicated, to be sure.  So, if I do not have definitive answers, why am I writing?

Clearly what you sing about the Sacrament of Christ's Body and Blood will end up influencing how you view that Sacrament.  This is a no brainer.  When Roman Catholics began to sing the ballads of Joncas and Haugen and the like, they began to sing less about the theology of the Sacrament and more about its earthly feel and perspective.  Did Rome sing itself out of believing in the Real Presence?  It may sound far fetched but it is not.  That is, after all, the whole premise of lex ordandi, lex credendi,  If you sing enough about things, you will end up identifying with what you sing.  If that is true for Rome, how could it not be true for Lutherans?

This is not an indictment of modern hymnody or hymn writers.  In fact, we have some stellar talents writing hymns even as I write this blog post and they do a superlative job of putting what believe into singable texts.  What it is an indictment of is the use of generic Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) which may be faithful paraphrases of Bible verses but which do not teach what we believe as much as they express sentiment about what is believed.  The point is that anyone can sing themselves out of believing what the Church has always taught.  This is especially true when we are more Biblically illiterate and therefore less able to identify and recognize when the texts of our songs are shallow or superficially express what we believe, teach, and confess.  There are many hymns and songs in which there is nothing really wrong but they are woefully inadequate -- especially if that is only or even primarily what is sung.

Not all hymns are created equal.  That ought to be put into a constitution somewhere.  To know this and therefore to take care so that meatier hymns are the staple and are only accompanied by these less than meaty hymns is part of the task of those who plan worship.  That folks love them and that they want to sing them is obvious but what they love and want may not be good for their spiritual health -- long term.  This is less about the Lutheran nature of the hymn than its ability to put into solid words the weighty confession of This we believe!  Luther inherited and loved and translated many old and traditional Latin hymns that did exactly this.  Today we seem more inclined to let people sing what they want even as we hold our noses while they sing them.  What is wrong is that we have forgotten the connection between what you sing regularly and how you believe.  We have forgotten that there are hymns with poor nutrition that may actually work against our faith.  It is about time that we woke up and smelled the roses here.

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