O YOU EVER WONDER why some very good and holy Catholics—ones who will enjoy much higher places in heaven than I could ever hope to attain—seem to enjoy and pine for the Church’s greatest hits from the 70s and 80s? I remember staying up late one night in high school to watch Mother Teresa’s funeral. Considering the great gift Mother had been to the world, I had to wonder why her sisters chose something as dubious as Shepherd Me, O God to be sung at her funeral?
I also think about my Grandma Schmidtberger and the music she chose for her funeral. She was a woman of incredible faith with an intellect to match. Christ was her life and daily prayer her food. She voraciously read First Things and Crisis and a number of other good Catholic periodicals. When she lay dying of cancer and the priest came to anoint her, she asked him if he would please give her the Apostolic Pardon, and when he said he hadn’t heard of it, she explained to him what it was. He expressed gratitude for having learned of it and readily gave it to her. Her funeral was held in her parish church of decades upon decades, St. Fidelis (pictured above), a church whose beauty is a testament to the faith of the farmers who literally built it. I served for the funeral, and as I carried the crucifix and lead the procession down the aisle, the choir director announced the “Opening Hymn,” none other than The Old Rugged Cross. As I thought of my grandmother’s legacy and looked at the saints and angels surrounding me, my heart sank. There was somewhat of a chasm between this and the music. I don’t know if it was out of hurt or out of love (probably a bit of both), but I started humming to myself… Requiem aeternam, dona eis Domine…
I firmly believe most Catholics love the music they do because it is what they know, which is why On Eagle’s Wings has become the de facto funeral Introit at every progressively leaning parish and why one can’t get away from On This Day O Beautiful Mother during the month of May in the more traditionally leaning parish. It is all very much like Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham! We like what we know.
There are several ways we can reverse the trend and bring great music back to our parishes. First, parents can add some of the Church’s musical patrimony to their domestic churches, perhaps singing the Lord’s Prayer as a family or ending night prayers with the appropriate Marian antiphon. If parents have to hit the play button on a YouTube version of the Salve Regina so the family can sing along until everyone learns the music, so be it. Pastors, make sure the children in your school can sing the hymns for Benediction, the Marian antiphons (you could sing these as the recessional hymn at daily Mass) as well as a few chants and some good hymns. If you are the director of music for your parish, choose two good hymns to teach the congregation over the course of the next year and then fail to schedule two of your more questionable hymns. That is already four steps forward. Then, ask your pastor if he, as the father of your parish family, wouldn’t mind leading by example and singing the Preface. I would be thankful to encounter such a parish on vacation!