Monday, August 13, 2018


I copy this from a no name blog. But how astute:

Line by Line

Hymns that make you go "Hmm...": "Gather Us In"

posted March 03, 2012

Tags: ReligionHymns

It's no secret that Catholics have a problem with bad liturgical music. Some hymns are borderline heretical. Others are basically error-free but watered down. Some praise the people rather than God, and some have us sing as God. Some are overly complicated and can't be sung by laity who aren't trained singers (and--let's be honest here--aren't all that into singing anyway). 
I sometimes wonder why Catholics put up with this, but on further reflection I think I know the answer: We get so used to our usual hymns that we don't even stop to think about what's wrong with them. That's why I've decided to go through some hymns and point out what it is about them that bothers me. I hope I can inspire people to start asking questions and making more careful choices in the music we sing.

Today I'm looking at "Gather Us In," which is published in the OCP Today's Missal - Music Issue that my parish uses. It's credited to Marty Haugen, and © 1982, GIA Publications, Inc. 
Here in this place new light is streaming,
now is the darkness vanished away.
The song just started and I'm already tripped up. For one thing, every other verse has another syllable after where "place" is; Why not simplify it as "a new light"? Additionally, "vanished" doesn't take an object: It should be "the darkness vanished," not "the darkness isvanished." No wonder I always mistakenly say "banished" instead. But at least there aren't any theological problems yet.
See in this space our fears and our dreamings,
Wait a minute, "dreamings"? I could understand making up words to make a rhyme work, but not in a hymn. On closer inspection, though, that can't be the reason for the added "s" because the word it's supposed to rhyme is "streaming." No "s." I can't figure out why this was done, and it comes off as childish.
Next, we get to the meat of the song: The rest of the first verse talks about our fears and dreams (sorry, "dreamings") being brought to God and into the light, and all of us in our weakness ("the lost and forsaken, [...] the blind and the lame") rising to respond to God's call. I don't see any real problems here, save for a little subject-verb agreement problem at the end ("the sound of our name"), so let's move on.
We are the young--our lives are a myst'ry,
we are the old--who yearn for your face,
I would advise against using the word "mystery" because it has a specific theological meaning. While my life is certainly a mystery in the everyday sense of the word, there's no comparison between my future (which I presume is what it means by "our lives") and the mystery of the Eucharist. It's not even apples to oranges--more like apples to wildebeasts.
I also have a problem with this "we are" business. I'm not old, mystery or not. I assume this was supposed to mean something along the lines of "We are your people, both young and old" or something like that, so why separate them out like this? Just to fit the music? Doesn't that imply that the young don't yearn for God's face, or that older people's lives aren't mysterious? 
Besides, there's barely any content here except taking time to talk about us. Which brings me to the next line:
We have been sung throughout all of hist'ry
Excuse me!? No. This is wrong. We have not been sung... Well, for one thing, the construction of the sentence bothers me: You sing songs, not people. But that's a minor issue. The real problem is whom the song is about.
Songs about Jesus would "have been sung throughout all of hist'ry." Not us. He founded a church, yes, but salvation comes from Him, not the Church, and certainly not its members. This idolization of the laity a classic example of bad hymns praisng us instead of God. It's narcissistic, self-congratulatory, and worst of all, it very well may qualify as idolatry. This line eliminates any goodwill I may have had for this song.
The song gets even worse, but that's a bit later. The next few lines almost seem to be trying to make up for the preceding one:
called to be light to the whole human race.
This looks like an attempt to relate the previous line to Jesus' command to be salt and light. Merely making a reference to Scripture doesn't make it scripturally sound. That Jesus gave us a mission does not make us, instead of Him, the focus of the Old Testament prophecies.
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,
Okay, first of all, I've been trying to avoid punctuation nitpicks because I can't tell whether the errors originated with Haugen, GIA or OCP. But that's a pretty blatant comma splice. I suppose the semicolon is technically correct but should really be a period instead. In fact, every single verse is written as two run-on sentences, one at the beginning and the other starting with the "Gather us in" part. Moreover, what's up with all the dashes? For the record, dashes set off parenthetical phrases. A comma would work better. This is why we have editors.
Second, I'm not sure what's going on with these lines. On the one hand, it seems like a genuine attempt to emphasize that the proud need to ask God for humility; either it's to make up for the "We have been sung" line or, more likely, Haugen just didn't realize how badly that line undermined this message. Of course, that doesn't speak well of his ability as a lyricist, especially one writing liturgical music. On the other hand, reading these lines in conjunction with the next one, I can't help but get a different feeling.
Give us the courage to enter the song.
I know in this case I'm probably just being paranoid, but I can't shake the feeling that Haugen is calling out those (like me) who can't bring themselves to sing this, accusing us of being proud and haughty for wanting sacred music to be, you know, sacred.
Really, the interpretation of "song" that makes the most sense is as a reference to the song from a few lines ago, the one about us instead of God. So there you have it: It takes courage to sing one's own praises. It's as if the whole concept of meekness is being turned back against itself, like something out of The Screwtape Letters.
Or maybe Haugen just couldn't think of anything else that rhymed with "strong."
Here we will take the wine and the water
Here we will take the bread of new birth
This is ambiguous. Is it referring to the actual bread and wine beforeconsecration, or the Eucharist? There's no good reason to be singing about the plain old bread and wine, but if it's about the Sacred Species, why use the terms "bread" and "wine"? I know it's not uncommon to use the language of appearances (e.g. talking about the sun rising rather than the earth rotating), but if you're going to sing about the body and blood of Christ, why not sing about the Body and Blood of Christ? It makes me wonder if it's not deliberately ambiguous to appeal to Protestants who don't believe in the Real Presence.
Also, Haugen has his Sacraments mixed up: "New birth" is Baptism, not the Eucharist. 
Worse, there are more of those first-person pronouns. What business do we have taking the Eucharist? (Assuming it is the Eucharist.) That's called self-communication, and it is strictly forbidden. We receive the Eucharist. It's a gift, not something we can take for ourselves.
The next couple lines refer to us being called. Nothing too problematic, but still generally focusing on us rather than on God. After that, there's a rehash of the almost-Eucharistic theme, with "the bread that is you" being the only reference to the Real Presence, followed by a mention of fashioning "lives that are holy and hearts that are true."
Now we come to the last verse, which is just full of problems.
Not in the dark of buildings confining,
Maybe I'm being paranoid, but given everything else we've seen in this song, I can't help but see this as a reference to churches. Yes, I know that Our Lord's presence is not restricted to certain buildings. But at the same time, a Catholic church is a sacred place, where Jesus Christ is present in the Eucharist in a way that He is not present in other places. Seeing "buildings" equated with darkness and contrasted with the "new light," especially in conjunction with the "now is the Kingdom" (with a capital K) bit and the hymn's general focus on the laity, makes me think this verse was written not for Catholics but for Dispensationalists who believe that the age of the churches has passed.
not in some heaven, light years away,
I don't even know what to make of this. I mean, the more I think about this line and the one before it, the more I find wrong with them and the more flabbergasted I am that we sing this in a Catholic church. 
First of all, what's so wrong with heaven? Why in the world would God's light not be shining in heaven? Second, what do light years have to do with anything? Does Haugen really think that Catholics think that heaven is located out in space somewhere? On the other hand, if Haugen is using light-years as a metaphor for heaven being far-off from our experience on earth, I guess that's a little better, but still problematic because the whole point of the Incarnation was to bridge that distance. 
The song finally ends after a few token lines about unity. So let's look back over the highlights:
  1. Flowery language about "new light" and dreams
  2. Reference to human weakness, ignoring that said weaknesses are our own fault.
  3. Careless use of a term with a specific theological meaning.
  4. Arguably idolatrous claim that "we" are what history has been waiting for.
  5. Reference to human pride and haughtiness and a request for humility, the song's one redeeming feature, which is undercut by the lines right before and after.
  6. Stupid remark about how joining a song takes courage, with the implication (intentional or not) that the song in question is about how great we are.
  7. A verse about the Eucharist, containing only one token effort to indicate that it's talking about the Eucharist and not ordinary food.
  8. Possible reference to self-communicating, a serious liturgical abuse.
  9. Implicit reference to churches as dark and confining, contrasted with the light outside.
  10. Complete misrepresentation of what heaven is and its importance.
  11. More references to "new light" and the present day.
  12. Some harmless but worthless language about unity.
Okay, I admit to interpreting this song in the worst possible light. I have two reasons for this. First, I have a hard time coming up with any orthodox explanation for what this song says that makes any sense, especially considering the sheer number of problematic lines. I could understand one or two, but for this many to slip through accidentally, not only would Haugen have to be incompetent, but there would have to be absolutely no editorial oversight at GIA Publications or Oregon Catholic Press. (Which actually wouldn't surprise me, given the punctuation problems.)
Second, in our culture of self-centered, lazy, consumerism, this song is unhelpful to the point of being dangerous. Too many Catholics don't read Scripture, don't attend Mass regularly (if at all), think Magisterial teaching has no more weight than their own opinions, act like the Church exists just to make them feel fulfilled, and in an alarming number of cases, don't even believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. We need hymns that are helpful, not just harmless. This one, from its us-centered attitude to its shaky if not outright heretical theology, doesn't even score that high.
I'm not trying to be uncharitable here. I'm not trying to accuse Haugen (or anyone else) of wrongdoing or belittle his (or their) desire to serve God. All I'm concerned with right now is whether the song is a help or a hindrance in getting people to heaven. Considering what the song says about heaven, I think the answer is pretty clear: We should not be singing this. 
Finally, yes, I know all about the starving African children, massive human rights abuses at home and abroad, and the sex scandal still not being over yet. But I still think this look at our music is important. It doesn't stop being a problem because other problems exist, too. Being reverent and respectful to God while in His own house should always be a priority


TJM said...

Gather Us In the Drab and the Banal - a more appropriate title for this tripe

John Nolan said...

Copy this to Fr Kavanaugh who doesn't have a problem with this trite little ditty, yet claims to be both literate and musical.

Anonymous said...

Haugen was raised Lutheran and has written a lot of music for the ECLA. There is a chance he has a different theology about the church and the Eucharist

Bean said...

"We have been sung throughout all of hist'ry
Excuse me!? No. This is wrong. We have not been sung... Well, for one thing, the construction of the sentence bothers me: You sing songs, not people."

Excuse me, we do "sing" things other than songs. The author from the no-name blog needs a touch of poetry in his/her life.

"I sing the mighty pow’r of God, that made the mountains rise,
That spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies."
- Isaac Watts

"I sing the body electric,
The armies of those I love engirth me and I engirth them,
They will not let me off till I go with them, respond to them,
And discorrupt them, and charge them full with the charge of the soul. "
- Walt Whitman

"I would advise against using the word "mystery" because it has a specific theological meaning."

"Ah! Sweet mystery of life
At last I've found thee...
- Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson Young "Naughty Marietta"

Our author has nit-picked enough to turn a normal person into a paranoid non-singer. And if he wants to whine about run on sentences - "In fact, every single verse is written as two run-on sentences, one at the beginning and the other starting with the "Gather us in" part." then he should complains about most of the readings from the letters of St. Paul who DESPERATELY needed help in overcoming his tendency for run on sentences."


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

There is absolutely no way to defend FRJMK's defense of "Gather us In" and he would do well not to defend other hymns like these. He should definitely leave it to orthodox Catholic experts to do it. He has no credibility in this regard.

But the actual problem is to be laid at the feet of national conference of Catholic bishops who should act immediately to come up with a national hymnal that includes the propers for every Mass in the Ordinary Form set to chant and then hymns which have been scrutinized for their orthodoxy, spirituality and devotional qualities suitable for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as "filler music".

Hymns should be seen as filler and not integral to the Liturgy. Once we understand that, we realize we don't need too many of these and sticking with our good traditional hymns and motets is probably the best way to go.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

I acknowledge that Catholic publishing houses make all kinds of money on their hymnals and the bishops won't stand up to this money making machine and take over what is rightly the Church's. Episcopalians, Methodists and Presbyterians would not put up with what our bishops put up with in terms of these hymnals publishing houses foist on us as money makers for them!

Fr Martin Fox said...

We never use this. It is utterly dreadful in every way.

TJM said...

Bean's comments have the scent of a certain poster!!

ByzRus said...

I just read the lyrics of this hymn. To me, there is a greeting card style sentimentality that is present here. I also stumbled across a critique written by Father Z. For those of us who do not care for this and other similar hymns, I feel the following is a good summary:

"As a preamble, music for liturgical worship is not a mere add on or decoration. It is liturgical worship. Therefore the texts used should be sacred texts. The texts of those ditties mentioned in the question are not sacred, liturgical texts. They are not the prayer of the Church."

Bean said...

"Heavenly bread that becomes the bread for all mankind;..."

Maybe I'm paranoid, but it seems the author is saying that there are bakeries in heaven. And when the author says "all mankind" is he saying that it is wrong to turn away SOME mankind because they aren't in communion with the Holy Father? The author says "all."

"Bread from the angelic host that is the end of all imaginings;..."

Come on! "From the angelic host" could mean that angels function as mere delivery men for baked goods. "...that is the end of all imaginings;..." IMAGININGS? Why the plural? I can't figure out why this was done, and it comes off as childish.

"This body of God will nourish even the poorest,...

WAIT JUST A GALL-DARNED MINUTE! Is this author trying to say that God the Father has a BODY? If the author meant Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of JESUS, why didn't he say so? This is a travesty, something unclear and misleading that should never be sung in a Catholic Church!

"We who wish to reach the light in which Thou dwellest." REACH the LIGHT? The author might just as well have said, "Run to the light, Carole Ann!" We don't "reach" the light, unless one is a pure Pelagian and vastly overestimating the power of humans to do a good deed without the assistance of grace. I mean, the more I think about this line the more I find wrong with it and the more flabbergasted I am that we sing this in a Catholic church.

(Some of you will recognize that these very troubling words and phrases are taken directly, directly I tell you, from "Panis Angelicus." The bishops MUST do something about these and other highly suspect texts.....)

Victor said...

Can you really expect a non-Catholic to write hymns containing purely Catholic doctrine? Moreover, Haugen's and other Boomer's hymns are multi-denominational to maximise profits, hymns that will offend no major denomination, so they can use them too.

Oddly, most Protestant denominations have their own hymnal. I guess they care enough about what they sing to make that effort. Even more oddly, they are vastly better than any US Catholic hymnal I have ever seen, at least for the hymns.

Fr McD:
"But the actual problem is to be laid at the feet of national conference of Catholic bishops who should act immediately to come up with a national hymnal that includes the propers for every Mass in the Ordinary Form set to chant and then hymns which have been scrutinized for their orthodoxy, spirituality and devotional qualities suitable for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as 'filler music'".

LOL. Of course, what you say is true, but Catholicism in USA has become so perverted that Haugen's jingles are the norm, and people will leave their church if they do not get them. (still laughing in sorrow). Remember that the Catholic Church of today is in a New Phase, beyond Scripture and Tradition.

TJM said...


Your writing style is morphing into Mark Thomas' style. My condolences

The Egyptian said...

"Ah! Sweet mystery of life
At last I've found thee...
- Victor Herbert and Rida Johnson Young "Naughty Marietta"

wrong "the Young Frankenstein" truly a classic
Mel Brooks at his best

ByzRus said...

Bean -

Just because the Corvair was a car and had most of the things that would traditionally be found in one doesn't mean it was a good car by the standards of that time - particularly when it blew up.

Just because New Coke was a cola and had an obvious similarity to what became Classic Coke doesn't mean it was a good continuation of the original.

Just because Gather Us In might have borrowed words from, among other things, Panis Angelicus does not mean that it is on an artistic and theological par with that which was written by St. Thomas Aquinas.

TJM said...


Nothing says Franck’s Panis Angelicus quite like “Gather Us In!” LOL!

Gene said...

Walt Whitman was the most self-indulgent, narcissistic, lousy poet in history. "Song of Myself" is basically an ode to masturbation.

There are some powerful protestant hymns that should be in even the Catholic hymnal:

"Jesus, keep me near the Cross, there a precious fountain

Free to all a healing stream, that flows from Calvary's mountain...

In the Cross, in the Cross, be my glory ever,

'Til my ransomed soul shall find rest beyond the river.'

"A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing,

Our helper He amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing.

And, still, our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe,

His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate

On earth is not his equal."

These are songs with real guts and passion, and proper theology (the protestant view of the Atonement, the Calvinist one, anyway, balks some Catholic theologians), not mushy sentimentalism and doctrinal garbage.

Bean said...

"Gather Us In" may or may not have borrowed from "Panis Angelicus."

But that's not the point. The point is that the author of the essay does an exceedingly poor job of analyzing "Gather Us in."

Using the same non-critical critical analysis that the unnamed author from the no-name blog used, EVERY hymn/song/chant can be dissected in a way that makes it suspect.

Bean said...

From people who know better...

"Along with Emily Dickinson, he is considered one of America’s most important poets."

"Walt Whitman, arguably America’s most influential and innovative poet, was born into a working class family in West Hills, New York, a village near Hempstead, Long Island, on May 31, 1819, just thirty years after George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the newly formed United States."

"Whitman’s importance stems not only from his literary qualities but also from his standing as a prophet of liberty and revolution: he has served as a major icon for socialists and communists. On the other hand, he has also been invoked on occasion by writers and politicians on the far right, including the National Socialists in Germany. In general, Whitman’s influence internationally has been most felt in liberal circles as a writer who articulated the beauty, power, and always incompletely fulfilled promise of democracy."

"ONLY ONCE did I meet the great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. I had gone to his home where we both began discussing literature extensively. Gradually I noticed that on the desk in Neruda’s study there was a bust of Walt Whitman, and in fact, this was the only bust of a writer in Neruda’s home. So I asked him, “Have you been influenced greatly by Whitman? Whitman has been my greatest teacher,” he replied, “and I, myself, am a direct disciple of his.”

TJM said...

Bean Kavanaugh,

Give it up, the weight of educated opinion is against you. Strange, that YOU must always have the last word instead of graciously leaving the field. Got Clericalism?

Bean said...

TJM - "...the weight of educated opinion is against you." I'm sure you see it that want and count yourself among the educated.

Guess what? I don't.

Strange that YOU must always have the last word instead of graciously leaving the field. Got arrogance?

TJM said...

Bean Kavanaugh,

What's a "want?" You don't sound very educated.

Gene said...

Kavanaugh, I was an English major...we spent some time on Whitman and the consensus was as I mentioned above. I am sure that his homosexuality and being a so-called "prophet of liberty and revolution" are the reasons you think he was just great. Literarily, Whitman is small fry.

Bean (A non-English Major) said...

The above reviews come not from me, but from major literary critics with a little more background than "I was an English major."

Since you were an English major (!) maybe you heard once of twice of Ralph Waldo Emerson? "Emerson once described Whitman’s poetry as "a remarkable mixture of the Bhagvat Ghita and the New York Herald," and that odd joining of the scriptural and the vernacular, the transcendent and the mundane, effectively captures the quality of Whitman’s work, work that most readers experience as simultaneously magical and commonplace, sublime and prosaic. It was work produced by a poet who was both sage and huckster, who touched the gods with ink-smudged fingers, and who was concerned as much with the sales and reviews of his book as with the state of the human soul."

Maybe you and your English major (!) buds weren't sold on Whitman, but others, with credentials slightly more appropriate than yours, were and are.

"Dickinson and Whitman were two of the most sensitive intelligences in the making of American poetry." - David C. Ward, senior historian emeritus at the National Portrait Gallery

BUT, whether Whitman was great or not isn't the point.

The reviewer of "Gather Us In" says you can't write "We have been sung throughout all of history..." because WE aren't sung, SONGS are sung.

Well, that unnamed reviewer from a no-name blog is just wrong, isn't he?

"I sing the body electric..."

"I sing the mighty power of God..."

TJM said...

Ben Kavanaugh,

Still engaging in hyper clericalism - I MUST HAVE THE LAST WORD EVEN IF I AM WRONG

Bean said...

TJM - But, but, but, you have this interesting thing going on. You say something, then you say, "What I said is right," and then, by sheer force of will, you determine "I am right."

Pretty amazing.

TJM said...

Bean Kanavaugh,

I think you are hearing a reflection of your own thoughts!!!

John Nolan said...

Panis angelicus fit panis hominum; dat panis caelicus figuris terminum: O res mirabilis! manducat Dominum pauper, servus et humilis. Te trina Deitas unaque poscimus, sic nos tu visita, sicut te colimus; per tuas semitas duc nos quo tendimus, ad lucem quam inhabitas. Amen.

Perhaps Mr Bean would be so good as to point out where it says 'all men', 'all imaginings' and 'this body of God'. Nor does it say 'we who wish to reach the light'. So Bean's attempts at irony fall rather flat.

Perhaps he was using a translation by Marty Haugen.

Genre said...


The "Leaves of Grass," under which designation Whitman includes all his poems, are unlike anything else that has passed among men as poetry. They are neither in rhyme nor in any measure known as blank verse; and they are emitted in spurts or gushes of unequal length, which can only by courtesy be called lines. Neither in form nor in substance are they poetry; they are inflated, wordy, foolish prose; and it is only because he and his eulogists call them poems, and because I do not care to dispute about words, that I give them the name. Whitman's admirers maintain that their originality is their superlative merit. I undertake to show that it is a mere knack, a "trick of singularity," which sound critics ought to expose and denounce, not to commend.

From a well-known literary critic.