Monday, July 4, 2016

Some Thoughts for the Fourth of July

Of Brexits, Fireworks, and Hymnody!

I. Brexits
To fellow Americans: Happy Fourth of July, the 240th Anniversary of the ORIGINAL Brexit, in which a select group of irate people (many of our ancestors, that is) declared their independence from Great Britain.  The United Kingdom followed suit (in a way) just days ago, breaking away from that monopoly known as the European Union.

II. Fireworks

Last night we had the annual ritual of a "July 3rd" party at my mother-in-law's back yard.  Not too far from that back yard is McCoy Stadium, home of the Pawtucket Red Sox (AAA minor league affiliate of, of course, the Boston Red Sox).  At the end of the game on July 1, 2, and 3, there is a fireworks display that is quite good - really improved over the years.

The game usually starts around 6 PM and ends around 9-ish, with fireworks starting at about 9:30-9:45...ish.  Last night, the fireworks started about 11:05.  Why so late this time?  The game took 16 innings to settle.  PawSox won 5-4 on a walk-off homer with one out in the bottom of the 16th.  Box score here.

I had quite a weird thought during last night's fireworks.  We used to play this game in which we would try to predict what color the fireworks would come out.  And I'm thinking, what if you're color-blind?  You'd start calling them out.  Gray!  Gray!  Gray!  Silver!  White!  Gray!  Dark Gray!  Et-a-cetera, et-a-cetera, et-a-cetera!  The end result: 50 shades of gray!

III. Hymnody

Over the past three days, there has been threads running rampant on whether or not national ("patriotic") hymns should be used at Mass.  I have my own special little take on this "touchy" topic.

When I'm picking hymns, I usually don't go out of my way to pick a "patriotic" hymn on the weekend of a national secular holiday.  However, if I get asked by the pastor, I will usually indulge.  I remember working in one parish in Woonsocket where the pastor (rest his soul) would say, "You'd better put one in, or the people will bitch."  (Yes, those were his words!)  While I would feel weird playing a "patriotic" hymn every time a national holiday comes up, I don't have a problem indulging for the Fourth of July.  After all, it's in Ordinary Time (summer mode, in fact), not a "major" season of the Church in terms of highlights.  Given that, and the fact that the recessional hymn is NOT part of the Mass, if the pastor asks, I don't mind.  Compared to seasons like Christmas and Easter, it's (quoting the same priest who I quoted above) "anti-climactic".

However, one of the reasons I would frown on a "patriotic" hymn on a weekend like Memorial Day weekend is that the Sunday of that weekend ordinarily falls in Easter Season, or in a case like this year in which Easter was really early, a Solemnity (this year, the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ).  I can recall an incident where the Sunday before Memorial Day fell on the Seventh Sunday of Easter (the Sunday in the Octave of the Ascension, or for you dioceses south and west of us, the Ascension), at a parish in Tiverton.  One parishioner (a lady who was heavily into the garbage of Glory and Praise) put up a huge stink to the pastor because I didn't program the Battle Hymn of the Republic.  She went as far as pointing to the hymn number in the Muzak Issue, then told me I was slapping the face of every soldier who fought for this country.  The pastor ultimately supported my decision to keep the music selections as they are.

I currently work in a situation in which the pastor picks the hymns, and I pick the rest (Mass, Communion anthem).  Normally, I don't enter those kind of situations, but knowing the hymnals we work out of (Worship III and The Hymnal 1940) plus the fact that the pastor does not allow any of that hoedown garbage, sacro-pop, show tunes, and lush soft-rock ballads, and that there is no "liturgy committee" to answer to (does a parish really need one?) I was much more eager to jump on board.  I've been at my current parish five years now and I've never been happier.  So, when yesterday's recessional hymn was America the Beautiful, I opened up my deep reeds and went to town with it.  That small church sounded a bit like the Washington National Cathedral, especially at the 11:15 Mass.  I then improvised on National Hymn (God of our fathers) for my postlude, beginning with the same B-flat chord that ended the hymn.

The question lies: Would you rather close a Fourth of July weekend Mass with a "patriotic" hymn (and I do mean HYMN, example would be God of our fathers or America the Beautiful, not Grand Old Flag or Yankee Doodle Dandy), or would you rather end with some lush corny garbage by Schutte, Haugen, Haas, Landry, Norbet, or other similar ilk?  I proudly choose the former.

Quod scripsi, scripsi!

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