T A RECENT GATHERING of parish music directors, I was disappointed to hear how many of my colleagues in church music were perfectly willing to outsource their knowledge of theological orthodoxy – and particularly Eucharistic theology – to various third parties, like publishing companies or composers.
“Well, if it’s in the hymnal, it must be approved, right?”
“Well, if the hymn is written by a Catholic person, then we know it’s good to go, right?”
“Well, how am I supposed to know if a hymn is theologically orthodox or not?”
(This is the point where my brain makes a record-scratching sound and all time seems to stop…)
Dear reader, it is up to you – you! whether you are the music director, the liturgist, the cantor, the deacon, the choir member, and (please God) especially if you are the priest – to ensure that the theological content of the music at your parish is faithful to the unchanging teachings of the holy Catholic Church.
Most people in the pews are not theologians. Most people in the pews don’t even bother to study the Faith – whether in groups at the parish or even by themselves. It’s a sad state of affairs, but I think we must conclude that the full extent of the theological education of most people in the pews, the full diet of light and truth on which they feed themselves, is comprised of only two things: 1) the text of the homily, and 2) the text of the liturgical music.
If for no other reason than this, it is essential that those of us who are responsible for deciding which texts these are be certain that we are giving our parishioners the best “foods” possible. Of course, one of the main advantages of using the sung Proper texts at the Introit, Offertory, and Communion is that they are certainly safe, being “drawn chiefly from sacred Scripture,” as Sacrosanctum concilium envisions. But for those parts of the sacred liturgy where hymnody is also employed, I entreat you, dear reader, to know the truths of our Catholic faith well enough to know for yourself that a hymn which speaks of “bread and wine” remaining after the Consecration is making a false claim about reality: they are no longer bread and wine but the Body and Blood of Our Lord. To know for yourself that we do not “sing a new Church into being,” but rather are incorporated through baptism and the succeeding sacraments into the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church founded by Christ himself. To know for yourself that we believe in one God in three Persons and the Blessed Trinity does not have “parts” (after all, “that’s partialism, Patrick!”).
Where to begin educating yourself, your staff, or your parishioners on orthodox theology for hymn texts? One excellent place to start would be by reading (and re-reading! and sharing!) the USCCB Committee on Doctrine’s 2020 document Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church: An Aid for Evaluating Hymn Lyrics. And after you’ve dipped your toes into the waters with that, read the entire section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church on Eucharistic theology (paragraphs 1322-1419). And after that, go plop yourself down in front of the Most Blessed Sacrament and thank the Lord Jesus Himself for the many graces that you have been given: to be His beloved son or daughter. To be a Catholic! And to have a share in leading others to Him.