Our Musical Faith – Raised Catholic 131

The following is a transcript of a Raised Catholic podcast episode.

To listen to the episode, click here.

Today is episode 131: Musical Faith

Hi friends, today on the podcast we’ll return to some reflections from my experience in Rome, and today it is all about the music. Now, we were with a very talented college choir on this trip, and I am someone who sings, both at church and in my work as a preschool music teacher, so it’s possible that my spirit was particularly attuned to music references while in Italy, but it is also true that I found patterns of music in so many places where I did not expect it. 

The first place I found music was in the mass. In total, we went to three masses during our week in Rome – one at St. Francis Basilica, one at Pentecost mass with Pope Francis, and then an afternoon mass at the Vatican where the college choir was fortunate to sing. Not one of those masses was said in English, but over time, I found some patterns that helped me to participate. Occasionally I’d recognize an Italian word or phrase that would help me to understand just where we were in the mass like a kind of a hook, and I was delighted to find that I could enter into an Italian mass with my own responses in English. I bet you could do it, too. Let’s try, and in advance, please forgive my pronunciation. It sounded way more like music in Italy, I assure you!

But if I said, “Ave o Maria, piena di grazia, il Signore e con te,” what would you say next?  Let’s try it one more time: Ave o Maria, piena di grazia, il Signore e con te. Well, we might recognize the ‘Ave o Maria’ as ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘grazia’ as ‘grace’ so we might join in: Ave o Maria, piena di grazia, il Signore e con te. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. See how it just kind of comes out? With time, I could hear other languages all around me, all of us picking up the cues of the prayers like the sweetest kind of music, and it really is one of the most gorgeous things about our faith that this is possible for literally every Catholic from every place on the globe. The mass is its own kind of language and, really, its own kind of music.

In an earlier episode this summer called Our Global Church, I spoke about just how moving it was to see and hear Catholics from everywhere all gathered together in one place, and the music that we made at mass, or in praying the rosary together before mass as a global family is a particular music that I believe God and the Heavenly Host must really enjoy hearing. 

For those of us who were born and raised Catholic, the rhythm and beats of the mass are just kind of in us, no matter our culture or place or language. And this is why the changes in the words of the mass in 2011 were so disruptive for many of us. For example, where we used to say, “one in being with the Father,” we now said “consubstantial with the Father”. Where we used to say, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,” we now say, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.” These shifts changed the cadence or the movement of the shared music that we were previously all a part of as one big Catholic family. To my mind, the changes made the music kind of clunky, and worse, it created a divide where people were either familiar or unfamiliar with the change, so they were in, or they were out. Comedian John Mulaney has a great bit on his experience going to Christmas mass one year with his parents. It had been a while since John had been to mass, and so when the priest said, “Peace be with you,” he had missed the update to “and with your spirit,” and so of course John said, “and also with you.” I’ll link this clip for you in the show notes – it is so funny, but also so telling – because it is just one example of a how we can unknowingly create divides in our church even as we believe that we’re serving it.

Well, speaking of words that help us to ‘hook’ into the rhythm of something familiar in another language, there was one word that Pope Francis used over and over in his Pentecost homily that perked up my ears and made me want to read a translation of that homily as quickly as possible. That word was harmonia.

Many years ago, inspired by the set of questions that were asked of the guest at the end of every Inside the Actor’s Studio interview – maybe you used to watch that show, gosh, I loved it. Well anyway, inspired by those questions, I started asking people about their favorite word. That was one of the questions. If you were at a party with me during that time, I probably asked you that question, and maybe it was kind of annoying, so apologies, but I do love a deep question at a party, and that particular question is a great window into who a person is and what is important to them. Well, long story, but my answer to that question is the word harmony. I love the musical relevance, of course, and if you’ve ever been in a car with me, you know how I sing the harmony line in just about any song on the radio, but also, I love the alternate definitions of the word, which are all about congruence and agreement and peace, the weaving together of shared contributions to something which is more than the sum of the parts. As it turns out, Pope Francis likes that idea, too.

In his homily, Francis says, 

“One great Father of the Church, Saint Basil, wrote: “if you attempt to remove the Spirit from creation, all things become confused and their life appears unruly and lacking order” (De Sancto Spiritu, XVI, 38).  That is the role of the Spirit: at the beginning and at all times, he makes created realities pass from disorder to order, from dispersion to cohesion, from confusion to harmony.  We will always see this way of acting in the Church’s life.  In a word, he gives harmony to the world; in this way, he “directs the course of time and renews the face of the earth” (Gaudium et Spes, 26; Ps 104:30).  He does renew the earth, but listen carefully: He does this not by changing reality, but rather by harmonizing it.  That is his “style”, because in himself he is harmony: ipse harmonia est (cf. SAINT BASIL, In Ps. XXIX, 1).”

Well, if the Spirit Himself is harmony, bringing us all together, and if the mass is music, with calls and responses in a sort of rhythm, then who is the choir?

I have been fortunate to be a part of some really good choirs in my life. I learned from my college choir director the importance of blending and dynamics, as we worked together to make our eighteen or so voices sound like one, even while singing in six or more parts of harmony, and even while singing in languages that we did not speak. I think during the four-year span of my college choir experience, I sang in at least seven different languages that I can count off the top of my head, but in learning to sing our parts and to listen to each other, I can say that we really did make beautiful music. We watched our conductor for cues on changes in dynamics from pianissimo to forte, crescendoes and dimuendos, changes in tempo from andante to allegro, and even if you don’t have experience in singing in a choir or even if you don’t speak Italian, I bet you have some idea about what I’m talking about here: soft and loud, slow and fast. It’s how a choir makes music that is alive. Our job as singers in the choir was to look to our conductor as he directed those changes and shifts, together creating a whole arc or a whole story within one musical piece. This is not something we could accomplish alone, and we could not do it without direction. You could say that the Body of Christ is very much like a choir, and that God is very much a conductor. It’s our job to listen to each other, to make adjustments, to sing our part the very best we can, and watch the conductor as He crafts something beautiful out of us that we could not make on our own. 

I’d love to close today with some more from Pope Francis’s Pentecost homily. I pray that his words will help us to take our own place in the Choir, because when it comes to the music that God is calling us to make, every voice is needed, and every voice counts. 

Before I read his words, though, I just want to thank you so much for being with me today. If you need me, you can find me on Instagram @kerrycampbellwrites or on my website at kerrycampbell.org. Thanks so much for rating, reviewing, subscribing and most importantly, sharing this podcast with a friend.  That really makes a difference in growing our community, so thanks. If you’d like to support this podcast financially, there’s a way for you to do that in the show notes, along with some resources related to today’s episode, so do check all of that out, but for now, let’s pray together as we hear the words of Pope Francis.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, amen.

“… let us ask ourselves: Am I docile to the harmony of the Spirit?  Or do I pursue my projects, my own ideas, without letting myself be shaped and changed by him?  Is my way of living the faith docile to the Spirit or is it obstinate?  Am I stubbornly attached to texts or so-called doctrines that are only cold expressions of life?  Am I quick to judge?  Do I point fingers and slam doors in the face of others, considering myself a victim of everyone and everything?  Or do I welcome the Spirit’s harmonious and creative power, the “grace of wholeness” that he inspires, his forgiveness that brings us peace?  And in turn, do I forgive?  Forgiveness is making room for the Spirit to come.  Do I foster reconciliation and build communion, or am I always on the lookout, poking my nose into problems and causing hurt, spite, division and breakdown?  Do I forgive, promote reconciliation and build communion?  If the world is divided, if the Church is polarized, if hearts are broken, let us not waste time in criticizing others and growing angry with one another; instead, let us invoke the Spirit.  He is able to resolve all of this.

Holy Spirit, Spirit of Jesus and of the Father, inexhaustible wellspring of harmony, to you we entrust the world; to you we consecrate the Church and our hearts.  Come, Creator Spirit, harmony of humanity, renew the face of the earth.  Come, Gift of gifts, harmony of the Church, make us one in you.  Come, Spirit of forgiveness and harmony of the heart, transform us as only you can, through the intercession of Mary.”

Gosh, that’s beautiful, isn’t it, friend? Thank you so much for listening. I’ll see you next time.

Show Notes

This week continues a summer series on a bunch of spiritual takeaways and epiphanies I experienced while on pilgrimage in Rome. I hope this one about our musical faith is a meaningful one for you. 

If you’d like to connect with me, ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠find me on Instagram⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠ or ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠at my website⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠.  If you’d like to ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠help support this podcast financially⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠, there’s now a way to do just that, and thank you – visit me ⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠on my page at buymeacoffee.com⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠⁠! Thanks as always for sharing, subscribing, rating, and reviewing, as this helps our community to grow!

Thanks as always to my friend, Peter Vaughan-Vail, for providing the beautiful harp music you hear in this and every episode.

Here are some resources I hope will help you to engage with this week’s topic in a deeper way for yourself:

1. John Mulaney clip – ⁠And Also With You⁠

2. English translation ⁠Pope Francis Pentecost Homily transcript⁠

3. Video: ⁠Pope Francis Prayer to the Holy Spirit – Pentecost 2023⁠ – these are the words I quote at the end of today’s podcast.

4. Song: ⁠Veni Sancte Spiritus⁠, by Taize Session Singers

5. Bernard Pivot’s Questionnaire – asked by host James Lipton at the end of each Inside the Actor’s Studio (these would make great journaling questions!)

  1. What is your favorite word?
  2. What is your least favorite word?
  3. What turns you on?
  4. What turns you off?
  5. What sound or noise do you love?
  6. What sound or noise do you hate?
  7. What is your favorite curse word?
  8. What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
  9. What profession would you not like to do?
  10. If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

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