Sunday, September 16, 2007

Haugen “Shepherd Me, O God”

I don’t quite get the emotional attachment that many people have to this one’s being sung as a responsorial psalm at Mass.

I thought my parish’s liturgy director and I had settled this question in favor of using approved texts for responsorial psalms. But, today here she went again with “we’ve used it so much; one more time won’t hurt us.” UUGH!

I actually don’t terribly mind it musically. I hear it sung pretty ungracefully with frequency, but a cantor who knows how to sing with a good legato can make this one sound quite nice.

Maybe I should buy her a Gregorian Missal for a Christmas present. :) She doesn’t seem comfortable with the degree to which she knows VERY little about the chant propers versus how I am, well, getting there. I would know them better if I were able actually to use them with any frequency, but I do consult the Graduale Romanum pretty frequently, so I am getting a pretty good handle on at least the texts of the chants.

For instance, a couple surprises:
1) It really is not infrequent to have fragments of the same psalm, sometimes even the same fragment, used at the same Mass. (cf. 1st Sunday of Lent)

2) Psalm 23 is not prominent in the funeral liturgy. (I suspect it’s an element of Protestant worship that we have subsumed?)


At Monday, September 17, 2007 9:35:00 AM, Blogger Jeffrey Tucker said...

Whenever I hear that song, my mind also hears brushes on trap-set, wafting over the cymbals and doing soft but cool ripshots on the snare with the rubber handle, and perhaps a dotted quarter and eighth note riff on the bass drum. Oh so groovy.

Had this been a pop song, and an unlikely hit for a day, it would have vanished from memory very quickly. But plug it into a liturgical setting, and it sticks like a bug on flypaper. It's so embarrassing.

At Monday, September 17, 2007 1:27:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

Agreed that it's far more a "mood" piece, thus lacking in intellectual stimulus. In that regard, it's out of balance.

Note that the "new" Requiem Mass is celebrated in white and called the "Mass of the Resurrection."

But in addition, that change also changed the "direction" of the Mass--from praying for the deceased to 'comforting the survivors,' which is where Ps 22/23 comes in.

Nobody really gives a damn about Ol' Fred anymore--Ol' Fred Is Dead, May the Rest of You Feel Good.

At Monday, September 17, 2007 10:37:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...


I’ve never heard it done with percussion. :) I don’t mean to say this is my first choice by any means for a Psalm 23, but it could be much worse. Taken simply for what it is, I think SMoG does give a singable, graceful melody in the refrain. Judging from our past discussions, I imagine we will simply agree to disagree here. :)

My post, though, was more about why there seems the attachment to THIS song, and ONLY as a responsorial psalm (i.e. not communion or offertory), especially since rubrically we aren’t supposed to use it as a resp. psalm.


Psalm 23 is in the funeral chants for the vigil in the house of the deceased. Are the funeral vigils in the pre-V2 liturgy?

I think Psalm 23 is appropriate at a funeral - it is a psalm of comfort, yes, but comfort per se is not out of place at a funeral, particularly in light of how this psalm also talks about mercy - and mercy is very much on topic in a funeral.

I agree that typical contemporary liturgical praxis seems to tend too much toward comforting the bereaved rather than praying for the deceased. I don’t know that I’d describe it with quite the severity you use, though. The white vestments per se are not inappropriate because they refer to Christ; alas, I think most take them to symbolize the deceased.

This last funeral was for a 15-year-old girl who died suddenly of acute leukemia. Her family and friends were in shock. I can empathize with a priest’s desire to be as comforting as possible; that said, ISTM the message should be more one of God’s mercy and love rather than assurance that the deceased are with God.

They did make a conscious effort to eschew references to judgement in the funeral liturgy post-V2. I don’t feel competent to say whether that was a good idea.

At Tuesday, September 18, 2007 12:15:00 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

Ps 23 is used at Matins in the Office for the Dead.

Glad you asked. It's one of about 12 Psalms sung throughout the various Hours in that Office--and it's used only that one time.

Others include 41, 39, 150, and a couple of Canticles.

So while the tune is 'catchy' and rather nice (I still maintain that it's more "feely"...) it's curious that this is the ONLY Psalm that one uses.

OTOH, I've used Sr Theophane's Ps22 for funerals--which is certainly far better, musically, when one thinks of the instructions of PiusX on the topic.

At Wednesday, September 19, 2007 9:21:00 AM, Blogger Mara Joy said...

It's the "nostalgia" issue. Most people love pieces (whether inherently good or bad musically,) which they associate with fond memories. I think that "Shepherd Me O God" is actually a pretty decent song. (I would even go as far as to say that I love verse 4!)*
Could one use it somewhere in the liturgy besides as the Responsorial Psalm to avoid the text issue? (offertory?)
And we musicians find this particular Psalm more annoying than we would otherwise, just because we HEAR it so often. (compare our weekly funeral with the average person's once or twice a year funeral-of course it gets old for us fast!)

*(and I'd like to take a minute to contrast this to a song my choir subjected me to last rehearsal. We had a couple minutes left, and there weren't many people there, and someone requested that we sing through-just for fun- "Song of the Body of Christ." I obliged, mainly to appease them, knowing that I will NEVER schedule this song into regular Mass. But I'm not actually that familiar with it. However, I could hardly stand it a couple verses into it, realizing that it uses exactly 3 chords, and over the course of the song you will sing the exact same 2-bar melody about 32 times. good grief. I later asked someone (who should know better!) in the office if she liked the song. She said she did, then I asked if she had ever looked at the theology of the words, and she hadn't. good grief.
my point is, what nostalgia and the comfort of familiarity will DO to people!)

At Wednesday, September 19, 2007 3:51:00 PM, Blogger Cantor said...

Hi Mara,

I use SMoG for communion with some frequency - partly because of that 4th verse (i.e. banquet = communion). Apparently I’m not the only one because Breaking Bread has SMoG in the songs section, not as a “psalm”.

And YES, YES, YES! re “Song of the Body of Christ”. That “infectious groove” wears out by about the 10th time you hear that C-F-G..-A-F motive....which happens at about the 3rd verse the first time you hear the thing! The worst part is that, despite being basically the same thing over and over, you STILL have to rehearse all of it with your music ministry because the RHYTHM changes all the time.

And the text....well, in its defense, we do come to Mass partly to “tell our story” (i.e. Scripture), and we do come to know Christ, Who is “our rising from the dead”. The bigger problem I find when I hear this one is that, well, I ALREADY KNOW THAT STUFF! And yes, the entirely us-directed tone of the thing is weird.

At Thursday, September 20, 2007 2:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jeffrey, sometimes you come up with the oddest commentary. If the song in question ever were a pop tune, it would be something of a rarity being scored for piano quintet and SATB choir. I think the percussion technique you're grasping at is called a rimshot.

As with any piece of music modern or plainsong, you have to have it competently sung and played for it to work. So if your church music is really sounding like top 40, you probably have good musicians, just not directed in the right place. And if your idea of popular music is top associate it with poorly done music, two bits of news:

- Most pop music is played by competent musicians, and it pretty much always has been.

- The reason why chant propers are not done much today is that they were rarely done well in the past. Most decent, but non-trained musicians can do metered music better, because it's part of the culture.


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