Yesterday was the feast of Christ the King, the conclusion of the liturgical year. A new liturgical year begins this coming weekend with the first Sunday of Advent, which as always starts with enough singing of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel to satisfy any Catholic.
A day may come when Catholics will decide that it is not necessary to sing O Come, O Come, Emmanuel every Sunday of Advent. But at my parish, in my choir, it is thankfully not this day.
Another common hymn that is sung during Advent is something based on the Magnificat. The oldest hymns in the Church are based on the Magnificat.
The Magnificat is taken from Luke 1:46-55, consisting of the words Mary says when she is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth. We Catholics are often accused of not knowing Scripture or not referencing the Bible very much. Anyone making that claim has never attended Mass. Even a short 30 minute daily Mass contains more Scripture than you’ll hear at any given Protestant Christian worship service.
One of my favorite hymns to sing since joining the choir a few months ago is Behold by David Kauffman, which is based on the Magnificat. You can look for versions of it on Youtube, but none of the videos that I saw in my cursory search used the actual choral version of the song from beginning to end. Even the ones I saw with at least a small choir of 6-8 people didn’t actually use the choral version the whole way through, but what appeared to be something similar to the version on his album where he starts off singing solo and the choir joins in after the first verse. Even then they didn’t use the full choral version and left out things here and there. Possibly if they were missing one or more of the soprano/alto/tenor/bass grouping, or someone just wanted to do it that way for whatever reason.
Occasionally at my parish we sing the choral version of Behold as our meditation hymn after Communion, and we sang it yesterday. It’s much easier to sing than something like The First Nowell (he spelled it using the old English spelling or something) by Mack Wilberg. Yeah, that guy from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. However he spells it, he put together an epic version of that hymn.
We’ll be singing Behold on Christmas Eve ahead of Mass. Our choir normally puts on an impromptu concert for 30 minutes or so before each of our two Christmas Eve Masses, since lots more people than normal will be there and it helps keep the congregation settled. One of the other things we’ll be singing is the aforementioned The First Nowell. Oh, those high tenor notes in the third verse. Thankfully there’s a tenor 2 part where I “only” have to go as high as the E above middle C. Tenor 1 gets to go up to G.
These higher notes are supposed to be easier to hit strongly and consistently as I use my voice more. It’s slow going. Practice, practice, practice.
Like the Magnificat, the hymn Behold concludes with a recognition of God’s mercy. It’s fitting, as mercy is one of the things so many people discount when it comes to the Christian faith.
Just as one example, mercy leads me to not merely state that abortion is wrong and leave it at that. Wagging my finger and making “tsk tsk” sounds at a woman who is considering abortion won’t do anything constructive. I want to help her make the right decision, not just coerce her into doing so under threat of punishment. So I wholeheartedly support groups such as the Allied Women’s Center here in town (http://www.alliedwomenscenter.com/) that provide financial and medical assistance to women who choose to keep their child instead of having an abortion.
The face of mercy is not a scowling face looking down with condemnation. That’s the face of judgement without mercy. Mercy is a loving face. Mercy goes along with an extended hand offering help.