Thursday, July 28, 2011
(and we sang:) Kum ba ya, ma Lor, kum ba ya!
There are Traditional or Byzantine Catholics of English origin who seem to have been shocked by this song. OK, it translates as:
"Come by here, my Lord, come by here! Come by here! Come by here!"
Gullah happens to be a dialect of English, or of a West African language using its own grammar but English words (and some Portuguese). In Gullah "Come by here" comes out as "kum ba ya".
Gullah is not a Liturgic language, and Kum ba ya is not a strictly Liturgic song. But people outside the Church have used Gullah as a worship language and have worshipped God with the song Kum ba ya. Is it a sin to sing it, because it was first used outside the Church? How about "I am the Lord of the dance", then?
Of course, kum ba ya should not replace strictly liturgic words. But singing kum ba ya after mass or sacraments on occasions like baptism, marriage, funerals, or singing it at home or on occasions when one might sing "Laudate si, o mi signore" (praise of God through the creatures, "and first of all through mylord our brother sun", by St Francis) seems no problem at all, morally.
It does not replace liturgy, it does not replace theology, but it is a prayer. A prayer for God's tender presence, thus a confession one believes, basically, in the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
It also has a touch of Liturgy. It could be used by a choir not knowing the liturgic songs, between the benedictus and the consecration, because of the words "kum ba ya"="come by here". It has a series of human life situations, that is a miniature of the Byzantine Liturgy's lithanies in mass (for the clergy ... for the rulers of our nations ... for the sinners ... for the sick ... for the people on voyage ... in danger ... under persecution ...), and I think some Novus Ordo services with kum ba ya may have used it on offertory re-introduced litanies (I happen to think that "ad utilitatem quoque nostram" was a shortened version of the prayers as of Byzantine Liturgy).
This does not mean I favour the Liturgic change of 1969 as such (I paid my "tithes" - much less than ten % in France - to St Nicolas du Chardonnet today), but it means that to me "kum ba ya" does not qualify as a criterium of a mass being said in an unworthy manner. I want the priest to turn to the east though. And at least priest and mass servant to master the words of the Liturgy. And I want my priests to have ordinations from bishops consecrated under old form, if I can chose. But unlike some English trads, I am not against kum ba ya.
To me that song is a fond memory of the Lutheran services of Sweden. If they have no real sacramental presence of Our Lord, they do have - long after the reformation and along with many half-atheists without any faith (I seem to recall a Nietzsche admiring masonic "cultural Christian" from Norwegian news) - some devotion. And in the High Church/Broad Church parish I practised for a short while before deciding on conversion, borrowings from Catholic Mass and kum ba ya were both ok. To Swedes of course, there is another song which is also not written by "a Roman", but which also expresses the trust in the Sacred Heart of Jesus. If you ever meet a Swede who came from "Free Church" (Nonconformist) congregations, do ask about "Perleporten". And ask him to translate the first stanza - in Latin it would start "sicut fons divinitatis" for the first line.
Both songs are in melodies that some describe as tender (as I do, and find in context appropriate) and some find "musically not interesting" (as professional singers would say). Some would call them sentimental. Then again some would call much Catholic devotion sentimental - see the kind of protestantism that watered down to "free thought", for example. Or the kind of anticatholic argumentation of 17th C. and 18th C. devines (excepting methodists) that became the antichristian argumentation of "we understand the emotional value of religion, but we think it has nothing to do with objective truth" - quite what some Calvinists would say about Catholic religion. One can say that 18th C Viennese Classicism (a later term, some critics described Haydn and Mozart as the first Romantics, as did E T A Hoffmann) has a penchant for two things known from liturgy and devotional music: the repetition and then repetition with longer notes, as in the Greek liturgy on kyrie, and the cadence system and sequences one sees in miniature in - kum ba ya.
So, no, I do not require them two songs at mass, but I am not allergic to them either. In their proper place. And among protestants I have more hope for people singing that than for say - Dean Inge. I suppose readers of Chesterton know whom I mean.
Hope I have not offended too many English trads, but that is how it is. My Catholic Conversion was not about getting away from Avec vous toujours, avec vous ... (French song among Salvationists, one of first two songs I learnt in French, when taken to US to learn English and complaining about it not being French I was about to learn, melodically somewhat more miltary than other two), but of adding meaning to it, understanding that Matthew 28:18-20 - to which it refers - means that Our Lord Jesus Christ founded his Church as a people with a hierarchy, not as only individual plus individual. And of adding devotions such as Ave Maris Stella or Salve Regina. I learnt some basics of Christian Catechism by Bible and Mother in Vienna, and there was a Mary with Child in our apartment there. And a book where people who had said too much - one even sold his soul to the devil another treated with him - tended to get saved when confessing to Holy Hermits or by using the Sign of the Cross.
Bibliothèque Audoux, Paris