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Sung Prayer

David Haas


Culture, heritage, diversity — church!

Culture and ethnic heritage have had an interesting history in the church, especially regarding liturgical life. Diversity and variety are issues that the institutional church is often suspicious of. The liturgy before the reform was basically a uniform, Euro-centric ritual regardless of where it was celebrated. Since the Council, our eyes and our hearts have been opened; in terms of liturgy and its music, we have experienced a dramatic explosion of insight, resources, music, and approaches to how enculturation can be implemented and embraced in our worshiping communities. While enculturation and its problems have their roots outside of liturgical experience (meaning life experience, especially the experiences of racism and fear), pastoral musicians must be increasingly sensitive not only to inclusivity of others and worshiping heritages that may be different from our own but also to seeing how these different cultural expressions enrich our worship and our entire life of faith.

Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship (STL) takes up this conversation (even though there are no persons of different cultures or color represented in the writing of the document). Four paragraphs (57–60) explore what many of us have already known, but while there is not much here that is brand-new in terms of insight, the fact that it is included may encourage parish ministers of music to evaluate present pastoral practice.

Although more and more communities are embracing bilingualism in their liturgical celebrations, their practice still seems to be just “hints” and “nods” toward various cultures, not a true embrace of the different traditions, stories, symbols, and cultural treasures that these various groups represent. My observations show me that we are limiting ourselves to singing an occasional song in a different language, including some bilingual verses here and there. If we are really daring, we might have a Scripture reading proclaimed in a different language (with an English translation right around the corner, of course). While it is not an easy task, we need to move beyond the occasional “token” inclusion of songs in a different language (the warning given to us in paragraph 60); we must move into a mindset of what new cultures bring to our life of faith and to the liturgy.

When I go to a liturgical music workshop or conference or browse through liturgical music publisher catalogs and websites and come across headings such as “Hispanic,” “Latino,” “African American,” or “Vietnamese,” I tend to quickly pass them by. This is partly because I am not adept in any of these languages, but if I am honest, either I feel inadequate to “pull it off” or I don’t take this music seriously. The publishers do not help us here. They have particular pages in their catalogs labeled “Hispanic,” “Vietnamese,” “Spanish,” and so on, but if we do not “label” ourselves as being a part of these categories, we won’t go there. No such distinctions appear on my published collections and CDs; none of them are named Blest Are They: Music for the White Suburban English-Speaking Church.

I have to admit to stumbling onto a CD of liturgical music from the Philippines only because Ricky Manalo (one of the composers on this collection), a good friend of mine, brought it to my attention. It is called Gentle Strength, followed by the descriptive subtitle Filipino Liturgical Songs. There is treasure after treasure in this collection, but I never gave it the attention it deserved because of its presentation. (Neither has OCP, in my opinion, because the recording has been out for about five years and, as of this writing, not a single published edition of any of the music been made available).

All of the publishers have their Spanish hymnals, Vietnamese hymnals, African American hymnals (and of course, the youth of our church is now referred to as a “culture,” and we have been deluged with Spirit and Song, Cross Generation, With One Voice, and Choose Christ, just to name a few — but that is for a different column to address), keeping all our music separate. It’s not enough that we have “traditional,” “folk,” and “contemporary” to contend with; we now have to be even more segregated by culture and ethnic heritage.

Let us make an examination of conscience — publishers and pastoral musicians alike. Let us move beyond mere inclusion of songs in different languages. Ricky and I spoke about this recently, and he thinks we are being challenged to embrace a new chapter of infusion and interconnectedness in our worship, in our song — in our theology of what it means to be a celebrating church. I believe with all my heart that he is right. ML

David Haas is director of The Emmaus Center for Music, Prayer and Ministry and campus minister and artist in residence at Benilde-St. Margaret's High School in St. Louis Park, Minn. As a composer, he has published and recorded more than 35 collections of liturgical music. He is an active author, workshop and retreat leader, pastoral musician and recording artist.

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