Saturday, May 19, 2012

Sing a New Church--Not!

Back in 2008, I was trying to lead a little crusade against OCP's hymn Sing a New Church.  As you have probably guessed, the venture was not terribly successful--except it did lead to "Reflections on a Hymn."  I even got chewed-out by a fellow at OCP who accused me of some unpleasant (and untrue) things.  At any rate, I thought perhaps this excerpt below from a letter on the topic might be of interest to some of my fellow Catholics.  Perhaps this is a good time to re-visit this issue?  

(As an aside, Delores Dufner could not have been any more kind or gracious in her communications with me.  I appreciated her answering my questions for the article I mentioned previously.)

What a wonderful joy it has been to arrive home to the fullness of faith found within the Catholic Church!  Our family joined with our Catholic brothers and sisters on Easter Sunday of 2005.  Before that day arrived, our spiritual journey had taken us across a varied landscape of Christian traditions: from Free Methodist and Lutheran Churches to the disintegrating Episcopal denomination.  It was Father George Wolf and Pastoral Associate Bryce Hermann, at Salem’s Queen of Peace Parish, who took the time to patiently answer the many questions our family raised throughout RCIA.  These questions were not only addressed with intelligence and reason, but their thoughtful answers reflected a deep kindness and love of God and His Church.

One of the things of which I am profoundly aware (and thankful) is that, while the Catholic Church is not moved by the aimless cultural winds of our time, it likewise is not a democracy.  I would like to respectfully offer a concern regarding an issue of liturgical music, but it is offered with the understanding and awareness that I may be in the wrong.  I raise these concerns in good conscience, but, if correction is necessary, then, I will humbly ask your pardon and be on my way to serve God as best as I can endeavor.  To fail to share my concerns with you, however, would be a violation of my own conscience, as I believe that the Mass is done a dishonor by the use of a particular Oregon Catholic Press hymn entitled “Sing a New Church.”  

This concern is not raised lightly.  For several weeks now, I have been in contact with both (Redacted) at OCP as well as (Redacted) from your own office.  I have joined with other Catholics to respectfully make our concerns known regarding this hymn and its theologically incoherent--and spiritually dangerous--message.  When it became clear that constructive progress towards removal of this hymn was not being realized, I decided that it was best to contact you directly.  I’d also like to add that, although I have made (Redacted) aware of this effort, this endeavor is not aimed at any particular parish, but wherever this hymn may be in use in Catholic Churches.  In other words, my complaint really concerns the oversight and accountability OCP works under with regards to the Archdiocese of Portland.

In these tumultuous times, it becomes even more critical that our theology and doctrine always be expressed with clarity and truth.  To do otherwise not only dishonors the Mass, but it leads Catholics astray towards moral relativism and the lie of modernism.  It further serves as an exceedingly poor witness to non-Catholics, those who may be searching (as our family was) for the Truth.  As my father-in-law John Collier (the sculptor of the Catholic Memorial at Ground Zero and many other pieces of religious art across the country) frequently points out, the Catholic Church used to be the place to go for the best art and the finest music.  Why are we allowing the Mass to become a place now filled more with reflections of a quickly passing culture than with quality liturgical music of both substance and beauty? At the very least, when our music borders (or crosses the line) into heresy or self-centered praising instead of worshiping the Living God, “life itself, immutable,” why are we not standing up and raising our voices in protest?

If you would permit me, I’d like to take a moment to quote from a recent article (“Bad Poetry, Bad Theology”)  from Catholic Answers’ magazine This Rock  by Anthony Esolen.  This passage begins with a quote from the hymn itself.
Summoned by the God who made us,
rich in our diversity,
gathered in the name of Jesus,
richer still in unity,
Let us bring the gifts that differ,
and in splendid, varied [sic] ways,
sing a new Church into being,
one in faith and love and praise. (“Sing a New Church”)
Here the worshipers are like the mythological Amphion at his lyre, singing to raise the walls of Thebes from the earth. 

Again, I’m not saying that the typical singers in our churches intend such nonsense! But the nonsense has to seep in, eventually. And note what it replaces: Jesus instructs us to say, when our work is done, that we have been worthless and unprofitable servants. Do any contemporary show tunes meditate upon that saying? It is instructive to note by contrast the last verse of “The Church’s One Foundation,” which in noble yet simple language gives us the true source and the end of our love:
Yet she on earth hath union
With God, the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won:
O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we,
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with thee. 
Rest assured, if no stand is made, the likelihood seems strong that more hymns embracing the heresy of universalism will be waiting for us right around the corner.  The hymns we sing in Mass should point straight to God--not to ourselves or human qualities such as diversity.  As the eloquent Saint Augustine wrote in Confessions, “...I am inclined to approve of the custom of singing in church, in order that by indulging the ears weaker spirits may be inspired to feelings of devotion.  Yet when I find the music itself more moving than the truth it conveys, I confess that this is a grievous sin, and at those times I would prefer not to hear the singer.”   I believe that my concern echoes these words, because “Sing a New Church” is, after all, proclaiming a new church, and that cannot be the same Church founded by Christ and entrusted to Saint Peter and the apostles.  

In fact, the very idea of a new church implies that the one true Church fell into ruin, and this, in turn, would make our Savior a liar when He promised in Matthew 16:18 that "even the gates of Hades will not overcome it." It's also suggesting that we build the church, which would mean more than simple cooperation with God. It is painting the stark picture of a church instituted by man (not God) and for man. Without the Cross, however, songs simply exalting each other smell strongly of the heresy of universalism and denial of Christ. If all we see is ourselves, we've missed the point of everything.  


  1. I was traveling two Sundays ago (Father's Day), and this atrocious hymn was sung at the parish I visited. I decided to sing "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" instead.

  2. I am so glad to find this piece you wrote. Right on! I'm a cantor at a suburban church, and I was recently assigned this song for the first time. At first the buzzwords "diversity" and "justice" bounced dizzily before my eyes. Then I scanned through the verses and realized the implication is that the "old" church isn't good enough and we've got to build a new one, and that's just so wrong, it's Jesus's church which we get to be in.