Friday, September 9, 2011

Patriotic hymns at Mass: yes or no?

I'm short on time to blog today, but I wanted to ask a question: what is your opinion about patriotic hymns being sung at Mass?

We will be singing "America, the Beautiful" as our recessional hymn this Sunday, in remembrance of those who lost their lives ten years ago Sunday in the horrific terror attack against our nation. I don't really have a problem with this; the song is a prayer praising God for America's beauty and then asking Him for specific blessings for this nation of ours. But I have heard some people say that no matter how lovely or musically pleasing, no patriotic hymn should ever be sung at Mass, because we are a universal Church, not a national one.

I did request that we would sing, in addition to the first verse, this one:
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears.
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.
I recall hearing it read by one of the newscasters--I do not recall which one--either on 9/11 or the next day, and being very moved by hearing it solemnly read aloud in that context. It would not seem inappropriate to sing these words at the end of Mass on Sunday, especially since the time our Mass usually ends, right around 9:30 a.m. Central time, is about the time that the North Tower of the Twin Towers fell (10:28 a.m.;the South Tower fell just under thirty minutes before).

Still, I realize that people have different opinions as to the appropriateness of singing any patriotic hymn at Mass. Please vote in the comment box, if you feel so inclined:

Should patriotic hymns like America, the Beautiful be sung at Mass?

a) Yes, anytime.
b) Yes, on appropriate occasions.
c) Yes--but only very rarely.
d) No, never.
e) No--because all hymns should be eradicated from Mass and only chants should be sung. There should be no Recessional Hymn, but only instrumental music as Father processes out.

Feel free to add comments to your vote.

However you feel about patriotic hymns, let's remember to keep the victims of 9/11, their families and loved ones, and all who mourn in our prayers on this sad anniversary.


cuaguy said...

My vote would be (B). With one qualification- that they only be sung as the recessional hymn. The place where I serve (Basilica of the National Shrine in DC) is singing "God of Our Fathers" as the recessional this weekend, and we do so a few other times a year.

Sharon said...

I vote for "B" as well. My favorite: "Eternal Father, Strong to Save."

Deirdre Mundy said...

B. But you also need to sing the "Oh beautiful for pilgrim feet whose stern impassioned stress a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness! America, American, God mend thine every flaw, confirm thy soul in self-control thine liberty in law" verse, or it doesn't count.

Also, My country Tis of Thee is awesome.

But, if you sing "This land is your land", you should be anathema.

Nicole Stallworth said...

I'd say "B' too. We sing "America the Beautiful" pretty regularly for national holidays--specifically Memorial Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving weekends--and never less verses 1 & 2 (the verse you excerpted, Deirdre). Three if our pastor stands in the aisle a while at the recessional to make sure we sing long enough. :-) I think Erin's (the 3rd) verse is beautifully appropriate for this weekend.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

When I was about ten, if my Sunday School teacher opened up for requests as to which hymn we would sing, I used to call for one of the "patriotic" songs that were in the book, because I was playing with a juvenile atheism at the time. The teacher would promptly direct us to the second or third verse, the one mentioning God.

I found it mildly offensive in 2001 that some churches were singing "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." The fact that I found it offensive is neither here nor there to that church's decision to use it. I would generally vote (d).

bam2066 said...

America The Beautiful, would be fine with me on special occasions, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, so my vote is for (b). In fact I would like to see this as our national anthem, but I realize that's not going to happen. I would not care to hear our present national anthem at a church service at any time. Now it's off to YouTube find the Mormon Tabernacle Choir doing America The Beautiful!

Thanks, Erin.


John Thayer Jensen said...

At Mass on ANZAC Day ( every year we sing the New Zealand national anthem ( As people leave the Church, I play Last Post ( on my trumpet, from the back of the church.

Just writing this raises hairs and brings tears.


John Thayer Jensen said...

PS - yes, always as the Recessional, after Father dismisses us.

Turmarion said...

Deirdre, I totally second you re the verse you mention. It should be required by law to be sung in any context in which "America the Beautiful" is sung!

My answer would come closest to d. It doesn't bother me when they sing "America the Beautiful" or something similar; and I wouldn't necessarily object to any patriotic hymn under all conceivable circumstances; but philosophically I think that 99.9% of the time it is demeaning to both Church and state to have patriotic hymns at Mass. This especially true in the current context where there is too much tendency to want to erode the separation of Church and state. Finally, however much we may love our country, we're supposed to be Christians first; and just as the Church has outlived the Roman Empire and Medieval Christendom, she may well long outlive our society and nation, as well.

Slightly off topic, but it also irks me mightily when existing classical pieces or other secular music is re-purposed as the tunes for hymns. This is especially galling to me with the melody to the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. His setting of the "Ode to Joy" is truly sublime, and even, I'd say, deeply spiritual and religious, in its own way. Certainly, substituting sappy lyrics (such as in the truly execrable "Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee") for the sublime poetry of Schiller is, to me, pure sacrilege. I realize it may seem odd to use the term "sacrilege" to refer to replacing secular lyrics with explicitly religious ones, but I truly think it's appropriate in this case (and in some others, as well). In general, I'd say to hymn writers, "Write your own music! Don't rip off some dead composer--especially if he had more talent in his hangnails than you'll ever have in your whole body, even if you live to 350!

OK, I'm going to stop now--I don't want to enter the ranting zone!

Red Cardigan said...

That's lovely, John. What a beautiful tradition to have.

MacBeth Derham said...

Dan Rather. And he cried. We sing it sometimes (not really my first choice) but when we do, I always insist on this verse.

Red Cardigan said...

Thanks, MacBeth! I honestly couldn't remember--just that it was terribly moving.

Rebecca in ID said...

I personally always find it really weird to sing national songs at Mass. I like those songs, but they just seem out of place at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. For one thing, some of those verses areabout puritans who were escaping from Anglicans, which is interesting and all, but I'm just wondering why we're singing about it in Mass. Especially since had the development of the country been up to the Puritans, there would be no Mass. So first there is oversimplification, second there is the fact that we all come from many different places; we're not all related to those pilgrims; some of us came over during the potato famine (and weren't welcome), some were native Americans, some were Spanish, etc. etc. So the references are oddly narrow. Anyway, maybe I am overthinking things, but those are the sorts of things milling around in my head when we sing those songs in Mass.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I always assumed "Pilgrim Feet" didn't mean "The feet of the calvinists" but "Feet traveling on a pilgrimage in search of religious freedom"

Siarlys Jenkins said...

Hearing Deirdre Mundy stand up for the separation of church and state affirms for me that the fundamental principle really is enduring. While the precise demographic constituencies who find it most in their interest to fight for the principle may shift, the bedrock words in the First Amendment will always be there to uphold. It seems that devout practitioners of religion now see more value in the strict separation than casual agnostics and militant atheists did twenty years ago, and I say, thank God for that.

rdcobb said...

f) Yes, if it's "America, the Beautiful" on appropriate days, but No if it's "God Bless America" ever.

Rebecca in ID said...

hmmm, okay, but I'm still wondering...whose pilgrim feet are we talking about then? As far as I know, the only people who really came over to escape religious persecution, specifically, were the English Puritans? I'm not very well-versed in American history so I may need to be corrected on that. The Irish were more about escaping the potato famine, right?

scotch meg said...

Katharine Lee Bates, who wrote the words to "America the Beautiful," graduated from the high school I attended in the town where I still live. She wrote the poem (it was originally a poem, no music) after a trip to Colorado in 1893. It was published in a magazine called The Congregationalist two years later. A Boston paper published a revised version in 1904. I don't think it had much to do with the Puritans - I think Deirdre Mundy has the right idea.

My vote is for B, as a recessional. We sang it today as the recessional, four verses full. The organist followed with the "Navy Hymn" (the one with a prayer for all who go to sea), which I found very touching. I doubt many knew what it was.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Well, actually the Irish faced a great deal of persecution in their home country. And many of the German Catholics came to the US after a combination of flooding and anti-Catholic reforms forced them from their homes. Many colonies were settled by people fleeing religious persecution-- Rhode Island, Pennsylvania (Quakers), and Maryland (Catholics) for example. The Mormons certainly struck out across the wilderness because of religion, and in the early 20th century, Pograms in Russia gave us a wave of Russian Jews! (Some of whom eventually made it all the way to CA and founded the US movie industry!)

Also, we got a lot of Lebanese at the turn of the 20th, and many Greek Orthodox came fleeing Muslim rule.

Even more recently, the Vietnamese boat people came, seeking freedom from the communists and religious repression-- and their children have given the US church many new vocations!

In addition, there's also the sense of a secular 'pilgrim'-- someone making a journey, growing and improving on it, and eventually arriving at his dreamed-at goal-- even those who traversed the country simply looking for land where they could raise a family and work hard fit into this category--pilgrims seeking ECONOMIC freedom, if you will.

It's like the old classic kid's book, "Molly's Pilgrim"-- the first pilgrims may have been a specific group of Calvinists, but there have been many pilgrims, from many backgrounds, ever since.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

There is nothing that makes me sympathize with the Roman Catholic Church like movies in which an Anglican tithe proctor takes the Irish family's only cow in payment for the money collected by the government on behalf of the official Church of England establishment. (Cf., the Australian mini-series, Against The Wind, not playable on most American DVD players, but it runs on Intervideo Win DVD software).

Pilgrims and Puritans, two slightly different sects, were not favorable to religious freedom at all. They came seeking a land where THEY could practice The One True Faith, namely, their own. They hung Quakers, and I don't think Catholics even tried to settle among them. Cotton Mather made a speech about "sinful toleration."

Rebecca in ID said...

Yes, Siarlys...that's why I'm pretty cautious about songs/literature which seem starry-eyed about those English Puritans...but thanks for that info, Deirdre; I like your perspective on this.

Patrick said...

Is the recessional hymn *technically* part of the Mass, or is it *technically* not part of the Mass? If it is technically part of the Mass, I vote "d": the Mass is a union of heaven and earth, and any paeans to earthly things, no matter how terrific they are, are totally inappropriate. If it is technically *not* part of the Mass (since the priest has already said, "this Mass is ended, go in peace"), then I vote "b". So long as it isn't part of the Mass, there's no problem with it. Of course, if it isn't part of the Mass, I don't see why the recessional couldn't be something like "Brown Sugar" by the Rolling Stones...Much more catchy than "America The Beautiful".