"Look what they done to my song, Ma !"

The pop song from the Vietnam War era, was sung in a raw voice by a  young woman - Wikipedia tells me it was Melanie Safka , but the lyrics are the lament of a young soldier, in spirit ,appealing to his mother as his body is removed from the battlefield - the "song"is his life:

Well its the only thing I could do half right 
And its turning out all wrong,  Ma...

And I think I'm half insane, Ma
Look what they've done to my song...

Well they tied it up in a plastic bag 
And turned it upside down , Ma....

Look what they've done to my song."

Whatever view one might have of the "anti - War"movement - as if many support War for its own sake - the song and its imagery were, and are, powerfully moving.

The sad events of recent days for the Australian Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan, brought it to my mind. We grieve for the fallen heroes and pray for the repose of their souls, and we remember also their mourning families and friends and pray that they may know God's generous consolation and support. 

But my mind also applied it in an entirely different context. I would like to consider the issues which arose in that context, in two separate posts .

For the first , I have in mind the issue of the music used in our Catholic worship in recent decades, more particularly as I have experienced it in Brisbane Archdiocese during the Bathersby Years and in Sydney's Broken Bay Diocese in the twilight of the Bishop David Walker years.



Some readers may be surprised to learn that contrary to all they have heard actually taught or slyly inferred, the ideal post Vatican II Church was the pre Vatican II Catholic Church in Australia. "What?" "Is he insane?"

It is hard to imagine for the uninstructed, warm and fuzzy Catholic of to-day, but it is true, and it is not a new observation.

The Catholic churches of Australia were full every Sunday at the several Masses, the Sacraments were heavily frequented ( one heard complaints about the length of queues to go to Confession) - Mass attendance was around 65% weekly, Seminaries were full and expanding, Ordination Classes of 20+ were common in Sydney and Melbourne, the Sodalities of Men, Women, Young Girls were strong, and lay activity in Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Parish Credit Union, Parish Picnic Committees , Parents and Friends,Catholic Youth Organisations, Catholic Bushwalkers, School Committees and Parish Bazaars/ Fetes were flourishing, Catholics were active and finally successful in fighting Communists in political and industrial spheres and Government took very seriously Catholic teachings before proposing new laws.Catholic institutes of Religious education for the laity were numerous and highly successful.Radio programmes of Catholic education, enquiry and preaching were regular and popular.Catholics were known in the community for their strong and faithful religious observance including abstaining from meat on Fridays, and not marrying non-Catholics without ecclesiastical approval though this was moderated  considerably.

This Church was characterised by the  strong Catholic devotion to Holy Mass and to Benediction to worship the Blessed Sacrament when Mass was not being celebrated, that is the essence of Catholicity down through the Ages . This active and vibrant worship had, through the rich treasury of Catholic History been furnished with a complete suite of music to support it : at its apex for liturgical worship the Gregorian Chant , basic Mass arrangements were well recognised ( Missa de Angelis, Missa Orbis Factor) and were taught in Catholic Schools. In addition there was a wide range of traditional Catholic Hymns which everyone knew right across the generations, and the opening bars of any one of twenty or more hymns would surely have the rafters rattling in short order.In addition there were being added the excellent new  Australian hymns by Richard Connolly and by the poet James Mc Auley which have even survived the post- Conciliar holocaust of most of what had gone before.

But , "look what they've done to"our "song (s) Ma!".

In a total of 23 years in the Archdiocese of Brisbane, in the later post-Conciliar period ,I was partly insulated from the real world by attending Mass at Saint Stephen's Cathedral on most occasions. There , under two different Choir masters and several Administrators some of whom have honorably retired, some have moved on and one may be in transition, a generally high standard of music was maintained , Gregorian Chant was not totally unknown ( though very far from having the pride of place the Council envisaged). There were of course regular lapses into post-Conciliar "We we"songs and bizarre choices of hymns ( one recalls Ave Maria being sung as a Communion hymn). But on the occasions one attended Mass in the Parishes, almost invariably nothing but crass, banal post-Conciliar dross was to be heard - the phrase "time warp"came to mind! 

In Brisbane Parishes , the problem is usually aggressively dissident clergy keeping close to them only laity of a like mind - usually formed by the clerics weird, warm and fuzzy preaching. Those more educated in the Faith from orthodox sources via pre-Conciliar education or the Internet etc. are usually kept at a distance or " marginalised"( a phrase they love to use in other contexts for targets of their Left-inclined social welfare interests) .

It has to be admitted with a heavy heart that most of the crass banality has come to us from the good ole U.S.A. writers such as Marty Haug and his ilk are largely to blame for the bulk of the 1960's rubbish full of theological aberrations, or devoid of any theological content , and married to pop music of the country and western style, or in the worst cases, reminiscent of Merry-Go-Round ( Carousel) music. Frequently what has been offered is not a hymn at all, that is, it is NOT addressed to God or about God. Rather, it is a" We We" song, which is simply the assembly singing about itself to itself.It tends to re-inforce the message ( the medium is the message) conveyed by Versus Populum Celebration of the Mass. The Priest appears to be concentrating on us and we on him, as he smiles benignly on us.And then the music is us , singing about us, to us! All in all a regular train wreck!

on't get me wrong it is all very " nice", people  like  niceness. And Father is " nice" - look isn't he smiling? And don't we all get to clap when one of the "performances" is particularly good? But is that what its all about? " Niceness"? Look how the Church of England was neutered by its "niceness" in traditional English society - its teachings gone, its clergy figures of literary and cinematic ridicule - now it is a non -event despite its legal privileges in England.

Watch people entering your Parish Church. Do they Bless themselves as they enter the Church? Do they genuflect ? How reverently - is it perhaps little more than a bob? In which direction do they genuflect - the Tabernacle, the Altar with no Tabernacle? Do they immediately sit down, without any kneeling for prayer? Do they immediately lapse into unrestrained chat with their fellow pew sitter? In short , do they know what they should do, do they know what Holy Mass is all about?Do they consider the fact that they are in the Presence of the Body,Blood,Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ?

Surely the truth is that very many people are much the worse off after 40 years of  no consistent teaching, no systematic teaching from the Pulpit, and now all of these factors are conspiring to undermine their practice of their religion.

There are several dimensions to this situation, but at the heart of it all is the celebration of the liturgy.And a powerful element in the celebration of the liturgy is the music and singing that accompany it.Saint Augustine said in effect that he who sings prays twice! But that is not the end of it for when the hymn is truly a hymn, the text in its praise and supplication of God, teaches the singer and the congregation. Consider the great Benediction Hymns of Saint Thomas  Aquinas, read the translated words and see just how much structured doctrine you are absorbing, while in the first place praising God.That is characteristic of Catholic worship. A fundamental element of Catholic hymns is the intellectual, the doctrinal. Whereas in the post-Conciliar period this has been displaced by profane music married to sentimental mush and sheer naturalist nonsense.

When we moved to the tormented waters of Broken Bay Diocese, I knew things were bad, from a variety of informants, and occasional personal experience. But I did not realise how bad - this situation goes far beyond music, but I shall confine myself to music in worship. As part of Bishop Walker's evident plan to re-make the Catholic Church in the Diocese, its official organs, especially the Catholic Education Office have churned out the most appalling syrupy hymns for use in schools and I have had the misfortune to witness their effect on the innocent children in the Parish School at school Masses. Believe me, the littlies LOVE the stuff in just the same way as they LOVE the Wiggles, Playschool and Bob the Builder. It is for them such fun! So entertaining! And how they clap their hands in double time as trained! And come up to "the Stage"( says the Liturgy Co-ordinator speaking of the Sanctuary - without even a blush) to perform their "Liturgical Movement" - the Bishop Walker generation!And the Guitars twang away as the whining American pop type songs are trotted out.

Now, what does this do to the little children : it teaches them that Mass is something you go to listen to and sing along with. Its value lies in its entertainment value. They learn NOTHING of reverence, of doctrine, of what is truly Catholic from this immersion in 1960s American folksy, country and western  sentimental schmaltz.

Now, don't get me wrong! If they like entertainment with a slight appearance of religious reference - good. It is something they may be allowed to indulge in, in the school hall. The same for their "movement/ dance"routines - great in the hall and cute in their own way - great for Mums and Dads and Grandparents to see and enjoy - in the hall.

But this stuff is NOT appropriate for forming children in liturgical worship.
Not nearly so, in fact it is setting them up for disaffection from, and failure to appreciate what worship is about.It robs them of a sense of the sacred, of a sense of reverence and the concept of devotion. Our children to-day live in an intense media pressure cooker, forming them , their ideas their attitudes. How can they see that there is anything in Catholic worship that requires us to be "taken from the world"- if we only try to present it as another form of entertainment.


Our children - as I see from my seven grandchildren ages 3 to 9 years - are highly intelligent, aware and sensitive, well able to appreciate the concepts of sacred, reverence and absorb at least,in essence quite complex concepts. They should not be dumbed down with schmaltz or denied access to their Catholic life and ideas.

But Forty plus years have left their mark on adult Catholics too - especially on those in their 20s and 30s . Most have grown up to the sound in Church of the St.Louis Jesuits  ( whether they know it or not) and all of the music and song of Protestant ilk. It is devoid of Catholic doctrinal content . They are devoid of doctrinal knowledge. They cannot tell when preaching is false or mischievous.They are in that unhappy situation of not even"knowing what they don't know"!

In many cases, and I have seen it in several Parishes as well as my own, "the music"is firmly grasped by now ageing folk who were totally involved in the 60s and never moved on, as the Church and the World itself have done. So they warble away , strumming on their guitars doing their own thing - sometimes aided and abetted by young teachers thoroughly indoctrinated by "Catholic"Education systems and songs.Kumbaya indeed!

And they leave their Parishes in a state of arrested development - as they are of course, themselves.

Yes - " Look what they've done to my song, Ma! .....its turned out all wrong , Ma!

After completing Part II of this post looking at an aspect of liturgical vesting, we will look at some places where the tide is turning in worship and in essential Catholic identity.


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