Irish Papist

Irish Papist
Statute of the Blessed Virgin in Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Church, UCD Belfield

Sunday, October 5, 2014

On a Positive Note

I know I spend a lot of time on this blog (and elsewhere!) complaining about modern hymns, and I can almost hear the eyes rolling as I do so. So today I'm going to confound you all and say something nice about a modern hymn.

I'm just back from Sunday Mass, where there were a couple of nice surprises hymn-wise. The first was that the organ-player somehow made a muddle of the responsorial psalm (which is always a song adopted from the Psalms), and the choir were left singing unaccompanied for most of it. It sounded a lot better that way than it usually did-- but I didn't think it would be a good idea to suggest that they should drop the organ for all future hymns. The organist might not have shared my enthusiasm.

Secondly, there was one modern hymn, sung afte the final blessing, which I thought was actually quite good. It's not the first time I've heard it, though I haven't heard it in a while. It's Come to the Feast of the Angels by Liam Lawton (as I've just discovered), and I hope it's fair use to reproduce the lyrics here:

Will you come to the feast divine?
Bread of the earth and fruit of the vine.
Come and taste the heavenly wine
Welcome the lost and the stranger
Come to the feast of the angels.

Make of your hands now a humble cradle
As once I came to a humble manger
Make of your hearts now a lowly stable
Now be born again.

Will you come to the feast divine?
Bread of the earth and fruit of the vine.
Come and taste the heavenly wine
Welcome the lost and the stranger
Come to the feast of the angels.

I quite like the air as well, which can be heard here.

I'm not saying this is a great hymn, mind you. It definitely has its flaws. The line "Welcome the lost and the stranger" seems badly out of place to me. It's fine metrically, and I like the stress rhyme of "stranger" with "angels." But the song is in the form of an invitation to the listener; mixing it up with an injunction to "welcome the lost and the stranger" is too much of a digression in such a short verse. (I suppose it could be a greeting: "Welcome, the lost and the stranger." But, even if that was what was intended, it sounds all wrong.)

Also, "make of your hands now a humble cradle" assumes that you receive the Eucharist in the hand. I don't, and I actually wish nobody else did, either (though I certainly don't judge those who do, or think myself superior).

But, aside from those complaints, I like the simplicity and even the stiffness of the lyrics. "The feast divine" is an appropriately dignified inversion. The parallelism of "Bread of the earth and fruit of the vine" is pleasing and has a Biblical air. And "come to the feast of the angels" is a magnificent line. ('Angel' happens to be my favourite word.) I realise that angels are incorporeal beings and that they can't eat in a physical sense, but we're obviously not talking about a big nosh-up here, anyway.

It doesn't bother me at all that this is a 'happy clappy' hymn. I even like that it is a 'happy clappy' hymn. I think it is entirely seemly for Christian hymns to reflect the whole range of the spiritual life, just as the Book of Psalms does. Happy exuberance has a place, just as high solemnity does.

No doubt next week it will be back to "He sent his son Jesus to set us all free, and he said, 'I'll never leave you, put your trust in me'..."

These terrible hymns depress me so much that I've seriously thought about going to another church for Sunday Mass. I rejected the idea, though, after mulling on it for some time. I am a fervent localist and I do think parish loyalty should count for a lot.

2 comments:

  1. About singing of the Psalms without any organ: check out two cds made in the Outer Hebrides, released 2003 as Salm vol. I and II, at the Free Church there. A huge congregation sings, after a fore-singer, it´s like flowing waves from the sea, very "powerful" and deeply devotional!

    ReplyDelete