Thursday, December 06, 2007

Protestant & Catholic Lyrics

Protestant artist Keith Green (d. 1983), who though an anti-Catholic managed to write songs whose lyrics more faithfully expressed the truths of the Gospel than the garbage put out by Haugen, Haas, OCP and Spirit & Song. Why is that?

We often say that the Mass, as it is offerred in most Catholic parishes around the country, is being "Protestantized," but what do we mean exactly by this. Well, in general it means a shift in emphasis from the sacred Mystery to the person of the pastor and the participation in the congregatipn and an entertainment based "what do I get out of it" type of liturgy. But what do we mean more specifically in when we refer to Protestantizing in reference to our music? Curiously enough, this is one area of the liturgy that is not being Protestantized.

What do I mean by this? Are not the introduction of guitars, drums, clapping, dancing, and an excessive use of the pronoun "I" in the music characteristic of Protestantism? Maybe so, but only in an accidental way. If we simply compare on that level, of course we will say that our Catholic music is "Protestantized." But my intention here is to go beyond the mere external form that the music takes and look directly at the message being conveyed in the Catholic and Protestant "worship" songs. Unfortunately, we will see that the Catholic songs written and "performed" in liturgies around the world are actually worse than the songs the Protestants are using.

First off, let me say that there are a few Catholic parishes that simply use Protestant praise and worship music in their Masses, many of them from the Charismatic Renewal. Now, just for the record, I am against using any contemporary music in Mass at all, but I think we have to appreciate that in some sense, the parishes that use the Protestant songs are probably better off than the ones that are invested in the sorry ideological agenda behind the Catholic drivel of the OCP and Spirit and Song.

Let me explain. Most Catholic parishes who use contemporary music do not make use of Protestant praise and worship (with the exception of the Charismatic Renewal parishes). What they do use is the modernist, liberal self-affirming stuff by Haugen, Haas, Tom Conry, Michael Joncas, Daniel Schutte, etc. What are the messages conveyed by these groups of artists?
Let's look at three examples of Protestant praise and worship (some sung in church, some not) and compare it to the Haugen-Haas garbage.

First, we have "Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord" by the Protestant band "Sonicflood" that is well known to anybody who has ever been around Charismatic churches, Protestant or Catholic. The refrain says, To see You high and lifted up-Shining in the light of Your glory-Pour out Your power and love-As we sing holy, holy, holy. Now, if this were a liberal Catholic hymn, the writer would never call God powerful and glorious, much less "holy, holy, holy." The writer of this song is not expressing anything other than a desire to see God glorified and lifted up, "shining in the light" of His glory. In the Catholic Church, this would be considered too "vertical." If this were Catholic, it would say, "Open the eyes of my heart Lord, to see the poor oppressed around me, to see that I am Christ to the world, to see the plight of the immigrant."

Next, let's look at "Heart of Worship" by Protestant Matt Redman. Redman is a devout British evangelical who believes that man is sinful and needs Jesus' forgiveness. He believes the Bible is the literal Word of God (do Haugen and Haas believe in these tenets?). Let's look at the refrain from "Heart of Worship": I'm coming back to the heart of worship-And it's all about You-All about You, Jesus-I'm sorry, Lord, for the thing I've made it-When it's all about You-All about You, Jesus. This refrain ought to be sung by every bishop and priest who has ever fiddled with the liturgy. No matter how deficient the Protestant's forms of worhsip are, here Redman is saying that worship at its heart is all about Jesus, not about us. In the modern Catholic Church, parishes get criticized for making the worship too much about Jesus and not enough about man and community. Modern Catholic hymns tend to draw attention away from the man-God dynamic of worship and towards the man-man aspect, the exact opposite of what Redman is saying here.

Finally, I'd like to look at an oldie, but a goodie, from Protestant artist Keith Green , who died in 1983. Green was a very virulent anti-Catholic, but check out the lyrics to his song, "O God our Lord": Who you gonna throw in the lake of fire, O God our lord? Who you gonna throw when the flames get higher, O God our lord? The devil and the man with the dark desire, O God our lord.The devil and the man with the dark desire, O God our lord. My, my, my lord.I’m crying out to you master, Oh lord,Don’t you know I need you, oh lord. Have mercy on a poor sinner like me, oh jesus. Don’t you know I need you, oh lord. "Who you gonna throw in the lake of fire?" Do any Catholic songs even reference hell anymore? Do any modern Catholic songwriters even believe in it? This song, though written in first person, references God as "master," refers to the singer as "a poor sinner" and says repeatedly that hell awaits "the devil and the man with the dark desire." Would Haugen of Haas say anything like this in a million years?

So, in the three Protestant songs we looked at (and I think these are representative of the whole), we see a confession of man's need for God's mercy (My, my, my lord.I’m crying out to you master, oh lord,Don’t you know I need you, oh lord.Have mercy on a poor sinner like me, oh jesus.Don’t you know I need you, oh lord), we see an acknowledgement that worship at its heart is only about God (I'm coming back to the heart of worship-And it's all about You-All about You, Jesus) and we've seen a desire that God be magnified in power and glory (To see You high and lifted up-Shining in the light of Your glory-Pour out Your power and love-As we sing holy, holy, holy). These are all good and venerable things to contemplate.

Now let's look at a few "Catholic" songs. First and foremost on the list of offenders is Tom Conry's "Anthem": We are called, we are chosen. We are Christ for one another. We are promise to tomorrow, while we are for him today. We are sign, we are wonder, we are sower, we are seed. We are harvest, we are hunger. We are question, we are creed. Aside from not making any sense ("we are creed"?), these lyircs completely glorify man. Gone is the centrality on worship of Jesus, gone is any acknowledgement that man is a sinful being in need of Redemption. Everything is man centered. Though this song comes from a "Catholic" writer, it leaves out everything distinctively Catholic. Furthermore, the Protestants we mentioned (Sonicflood, Keith Green and Matt Redman) all firmly believe in the Gospel (as they know it), thoroughly believe in their own unworthiness and take the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. But we know that men like Conry, Haugen and Haas believe that the some of the moral teachings of the faith are no longer true, that doctrine can change, etc. To put it blankly, the Catholic songs are driven not just by an anti-Catholic agenda but by an anti-Christian agenda.

Have you ever noticed that Catholics will borrow Protestant songs, but you never hear Haugen and Haas in Protestant churches? Protestants would never stand for that drivel! They would see through it. Let's look at Haugen's "Gather Us In": We are the young - our lives are a mystery, We are the old - who yearn for your face. We have been sung throughout all of history, Called to be light to the whole human race. Gather us in - the rich and the haughty, Gather us in - the proud and the strong. Give us a heart so meek and so lowly, Give us the courage to enter the song. Again, it is all self-affirming, feel-good type stuff that is all man focused and has absolutely no reference to man's sin and the need for grace. Now, it could be argued that all of the Protestant songs I referenced were written in the first person "I" just as much as the Catholic ones. True, but when the Protestant songs use "I," they do so in relation and opposition to God, who is always sung of as being infinitely more exalted, powerful and glorious than the "I." Like Keith Green's lyrics, My, my, my lord.I’m crying out to you master, oh lord,Don’t you know I need you, oh lord.Have mercy on a poor sinner like me. There is no confusing the "I" and the Lord there. Or Sonciflood sings, "Open the eyes of my heart, Lord." So it is in first person, but why are they asking for their eyes to be opened? "To see You high and lifted up-shining in the light of Your glory." But when the Catholic songs sing in first person, it is always to glorify the people, not to confess sin. Two statements both made in first person can have a world of difference. "I need You, Lord! Have mercy on me!" versus, "I am the light of the world. I am Christ to the world." These have very different meanings.

Let's take a quick glance at David Haas's "Blessed are They": Rejoice and be glad! Blessed are you, holy are you, Rejoice and be glad! Yours is the kingdom of God! I think the comparison is clear.

So, what is my conclusion? What is the point I am trying to make by all this? That we should all use Protestant praise and worship? Absolutely not. Only this sad fact: Protestant praise and worship music by contemporary Protestant artists is more in keeping with the Gospel than the latest crap from OCP/ Spirit & Song. It is horrible, but I have come to realize that if our music was being Protestantized, that would not be as bad as what has actually happened to it. This was brought up to me by blogger Lisa, who commented on my NCYC post. I had said that I expected there to be lots of Protestant praise and worship there, and she said, "no, that would be much too Christian." She was right! The contemporary music being churned out of the modern Catholic music scene is not just un-Catholic but un-Christian; by this I mean that it is offensive to all forms of Christianity. That is why you'd never in a million years see the crap of Haugen and Hass being used in a Protestant church.

It is a sorry thing that an anti-Catholic writer like Keith Green can write a song that more faithfully expresses man's relationship to God than a supposedly Catholic artists like Tom Conry. One mor ereason why we need a return to Tradition.


Anonymous said...

And to "Gather Us In"
References to God (by name): 0
Inferences to God (By pronoun): 5
References to Us/We/Our/Etc: 31

and you can always join.... :

Anonymous said...

Gather Us In

Here in this place, a bad song is starting,
Now will the altar turn into a stage.
All that is holy is slowly departing,
Making a way for the coming New Age.

Gather us in, though we are like captives.
But to miss Mass on Sunday, that would be wrong.
But Lord hear our plea, regarding M. Haugen:
Give him the courage to put down that bong.

Dear Father Smith make a beeline procession,
Run if you have to, make it real terse.
If you can start this Mass very quickly,
Maybe we'll only have to sing but one verse.

O Dear Lord Jesus, You are the Savior
We've promised to follow, whatever the cost.
But we didn't know this song had been written:
Would you terribly mind if we came off our cross?

Andrew said...

great post, and very accurate... really speaks to me, since my campus seems to think it appropriate to play an electric blues version of "we shall overcome" during mass.

But why is it that you are against any modern music? You mean "modern" almost like a ginre title? As in modern being rock, blues, pop music, etc. Or do you mean you're completely against any music being used in the liturgy if it was composed after a certain date?

Personally, i think there's nothing wrong with new music being composed for mass. There's lots of beautiful composers out there, who would write / have written beautiful setting for mass, psalms, etc. As long as the new compositions are thoroughly Catholic in every way, and rightly connect us all to our historic traditions, then we should embrace them as one part of the solution to this lunacy.

Boniface said...


I am not against modern music, just modern music used in the liturgy. And not even modern music in the liturgy, but modern "contemporary" music used in the liturgy. If there were any modern artists writing chants and pieces in Latin using the organ or just for acapella, I would love it.

Anonymous said...

I heartily agree with your analysis. My wife (who is a Protestant) loves Evangelical musicians such the ones you mentioned, plus Chris Tomlin and many others.

I always tell her that I like the lyrics to these songs, but that they would be better in Latin and chanted. I usually get a "Gah!" from that. (Note: you can tell you've become a traditionalist, if you regularly use the phrase "This would be better in Latin and chanted")

It's the profane music of these artists that I don't like. The use of guitars, violins, drums, solos, hooks, "Southern gospel choirs" and country western twang is very jarring to me. I don't dislike any of those things, but there's a time and place for everything under the sun, and it's not in the sanctuary. Throw a concert or something - just keep it out of my church!

Oh, my pet peeve, and the modern Catholic songbooks are full of it: hymns where the congregation speaks in the voice of God in first person... ("Lord of the Dance" comes to mind, although its problems are manifold) Even worse, sometimes, the identity of the speaker alternates in the same song. *shivers*

Mara Joy said...

haha, that's funny. I've never thought of it quite that way!

robert feducia said...

Blessings to you!

Robert Feduccia here ...general manager of Spirit & Song. My brother, I actually agree with you on the content of songs. But have you looked through the songs in the Spirit & Song 2 songbook. The songs you hail are in that book. The songs you criticize are not. I assure you the Spirit & Song composers: Matt Maher, Tom Booth, Steve Angrisano, Josh Blakesley, etc. are very critical of humanistic lyrics. They want their songs to be Christocentric and clearly articulate salvation through Jesus Christ and want to exalt Him and Him alone.


Anonymous said...

Rob I am glad you jumped in here. I think you are being a little too critical of David Haas and Marty Haugen. Only the father can know what is on their hearts. I don't think it is fair to say that they are self worshiping in anyway. What you are saying the lyrics are explaining is simply your opinion of the lyrics. I take them in a different way. Not self worshiping of humans at all. In anthem, the we is the church. We are called and chosen we are called to be Christ to one another. There is nothing false in this statement. It is supposed to be in my opinion uplifting to the church and remind us all of our baptismal calling. Thats the way I take it. And Gather Us In does say "give us a heart so meek and so lowly." Thats pretty humble there. You should check out some of the guys at spirit and song. They are great humble and holy people. And no they are not humanistic. Especially Matt Maher. I know him personally and he is a great guy.

God bless you