By Barb Arland-Fye
Spanish-speaking singers playing guitars gave a kick to my step as I snapped photos during a prayer service in Iowa City last Saturday afternoon. Four hours later, an accordion player’s Polka Mass repertoire had me tapping my toes in a pew in LeClaire.
Music that moves me externally and internally during the liturgy feels like a gift from the Holy Spirit. So I was doubly blessed attending the Hispanic Theological Conference at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City and the Polka Mass and October Fest at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire.
St. Augustine, a doctor of the Church, once said that “Singing is for one who loves” (Sermo 336),” and I couldn’t agree more. A song that embeds itself in my soul heightens awareness of God within and around me, and provides me with a deep, abiding sense of love.
Music affects some members of my family in the same way. At his Grandpa Bill’s funeral Mass six-and-a-half years ago, my son Patrick, then 13, sobbed with each song sung. Some of his cousins, who lived much closer to Grandpa Bill, wondered why his death caused Patrick such deep grief. I believe the music stirred my son’s heart as he struggled to deal with the mysteries of our faith. Bill’s life and death impacted him in ways he couldn’t articulate at the moment; the music did that for him.
The Second Vatican Council underscored the role of music in the liturgy in its Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy. “The musical tradition of the universal church is a treasure of inestimable value, greater even than that of any other art. The main reason for this pre-eminence is that, as a combination of sacred music and words, it forms a necessary or integral part of the solemn liturgy” (CS, No. 112).
During the diocesan conference I attended at St. Pat’s in Iowa City, hundreds of Hispanic Catholics sang with their bodies and their voices — raising their arms to the heavens in praise of God. People I interviewed at the conference remarked about the beautiful, joyous music. It added to their sense of the life of the Church.
Mass-goers at Our Lady of the River didn’t raise their arms to the heavens, but I observed more than a little dancing in the pews, including my own. A number of attendees weren’t even members of the parish, but they follow accordionist Lyle Beaver of Iowa City.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy calls for instruments that are suitable or made suitable for sacred use. There’s nothing particularly sacred about the accordion, or the guitar (played at the Iowa City conference), but both were made suitable for liturgy and animated the Christian spirit in my mind.
“Every culture has its own way of singing to the Lord,” my friend Marcia Chambers Regrut observes. During a mission trip to Rwanda, Africa, she heard worship music that she describes as beautiful and inspiring.
In its document, “Sing to the Lord: Music in Divine Worship,” the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes that “The quality of our participation in such sung praise comes less from our vocal ability than from the desire of our hearts to sing together of our love for God. Participation in the Sacred Liturgy both expresses and strengthens the faith that is in us” (Nos. 26-27).
A favorite hymn has just entered my head; it seems so appropriate: “How Can I Keep From Singing?